On a recent foggy morning, vendors at Boston’s oldest outdoor marketplace performed their normal routine: Arrive at about 5 a.m., set up their blue tents and unpackage hundreds of boxes with produce ranging from leafy greens and turnips to lychees.

Around sunrise, Haymarket near the North End opened to customers and the vendors immediately began hawking the fruit and vegetables as music blasted from some of their stands. “One dollar, one dollar,” some of the sellers yelled.

But on this day, many had no coffee in hand and their stomachs were starting a marathon.

As Muslims around the world celebrate the holy month of Ramadan from March 10 to April 9, they’re fasting from dawn till dusk as an act of self discipline, growing closer to God and empathizing with people who are food insecure. At Haymarket, which is open on Fridays and Saturdays, that means many vendors abstain from water and food for as long as 15 hours despite standing on their feet and looking at an array of fresh fruit and vegetables all day.

“I love it. This is only one [time] a year,” said Aymane Mahi, who’s originally from Morocco and has been fasting for Ramadan for the last decade, since he was 13 years old. “It’s really not about the food. It’s more about connecting with God. So it has a lot of depth that people don’t really get.”

Mahi said he’s able to tune out his hunger, although he added he has a tendency to grow irritable as the day goes on. Working at Haymarket, he said, provides him an opportunity to practice his patience while dealing with customers.

Boston Haymarket
Haymarket near the North End in Boston is open all day every Friday and Saturday.
Sam Turken GBH News

Other vendors said they have ways of managing their stomachs while fasting that ironically rely on seeing food all day. At Garden Halal Meat restaurant, which is open all week, Famta Kallouch said cooking kabobs and other dishes for people quells her hunger — so much so that she actually fasts even when it’s not Ramadan.

“Every Monday and Thursday, I’m fasting. All year,” she said. “I need Ramadan everyday.”

Still, fasting while working with food isn’t smooth for everyone. At his grocery store, Salim Marhamo admitted he recently forgot he was fasting and found himself eating a pack of Swedish Fish candy out of his pocket.

“God will forgive you if you did something like that,” he said before starting to laugh and saying he was now trying to resist a container of dates.

Salim Marhamo Boston Haymarket
Salim Marhamo owns a grocery store at Haymarket.
Elena Eberwein GBH News

Marhamo, who emigrated from Lebanon more than 30 years ago, noted he’s used to drinking three cups of coffee a day, so abstaining is especially difficult. The work culture in America is also challenging during Ramadan.

In Lebanon, Marhamo said people take time off from their jobs every day to rest as their bodies cope with the fast. But “here in America, you don’t have time for break,” he said.

And yet, Marhamo and other people said the struggle was worth it, especially this year amid the ongoing war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

“I live in a war for 15 years in Lebanon. And I know what it mean and what the impact on the human being and on the family and on the environment,” Marhamo said. “I pray to God that this war stop and peace come back.”

A young man wears a blue jacket with his hands in his pockets and looks off to the side of the frame.
Eismiel Kazdaoui works at Haymarket on Fridays and Saturdays. He celebrates Ramadan each year.
Elena Eberwein GBH News

As more customers flooded Haymarket in the afternoon, the effects of the fast on vendors became increasingly apparent. Some faces looked pale from dehydration as the morning energy turned into collective exhaustion with vendors admitting they were tired and hungry. Eismiel Kazdaoui said he was barely holding on.

“1 a.m. That’s the last time I ate,” said Kazdaoui, who moved to Boston from Morocco a month ago. “I want to sleep. … I don’t know if I’m going to wake up tomorrow.”

Then finally, Haymarket closed and the sun set. Iftar, the daily ritual of breaking fast, began.

Marhamo set up a table with chairs in the middle of his store and brought over a steaming pot of lamb stew with zucchini, potatoes and tomatoes he’d been simmering the past few hours. But first, he and his employees ate some of the dates with a glass of milk — a tradition of breaking fast during Ramadan.

“It’s amazing. It tastes delicious. You’re getting back all your power, all your energy,” Marhamo said. One of the workers, Abdul Jabbar, joked that his face suddenly looked a lot happier.

“You can tell [by] the colors,” Jabbar said, as he bit into his own date.

Marhamo, Jabbar and other vendors, who joined to break fast, then started feasting on bowls of the stew.

Soon, it would be time to fast again.

Break Fast Haymarket
Salim Maharmo hosted some of his employees and other Haymarket vendors for Iftar — the ritual of breaking fast.
Sam Turken GBH News