Surviving Ramadan

Friday, September 3, 2010

Ramadan: "is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is the Islamic month offasting, in which participating Muslims refrain from eatingdrinking and sexual relations fromdawn until sunset.[1] Fasting is intended to teach Muslims about patience, humility, and spirituality. It is a time for Muslims to fast for the sake of God (Arabicالله‎, trans: Allah) and to offer more prayer than usual. During Ramadan, Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. As compared to the solar calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary, moving backwards about eleven days each year depending on the moon. Muslims believe Ramadan to be an auspicious month for the revelations of God to humankind, being the month in which the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to the Islamic prophetMuhammad" (Wikipedia)

In Senegal, Ramadan and fasting is observed by almost everyone, except for the small percentage of Catholics, and even then, I think they are somewhat forced to observe it because essentially the entire country changes it’s pace of life from slow, to barely moving for a whole month. I had said to myself  before the holiday started “ I am not fasting, no way, I neeeeeed to eat!”. Well, was I wrong, since I pay my family to include me in cooking the meals, there is only food and beverages when they eat, which during Ramadan is only between sundown and sun-up. This wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t rainy season and peak agricultural production season also. My typical day is as follows:

5 am: Xudd (my breakfast, but what is typically served for dinner) A porridge of some sort, or bread and sour milk (like yogurt or buttermilk), or millet and beans. All not so bad, but takes a bif of getting used to so early in the AM.

8-9 am: wake up, NO coffee means NO caffeine… I struggled with this the first few days for sure.

9- 11 or 12: work. This is typical for almost everyone to be working at this time.

12-6 pm: sitting, talking, watching tv, LOTS of reading

6-7pm: I have to exercise to salvage my sanity; 12-25k bike ride, depending on weather and heat.

7:28pm: Breaking Fast!!!! We start backwards from meal times so Breakfast is first, then lunch, etc. We have bread and butter with spiced coffee (Café Touba). Then we are given glass after glass of sticky, minty, limey, sweet Bissap (hibiscus) juice. WITH ICE!

8:30/9 pm: Lunch. This is the biggest meal, and is what we typically would eat during the lunch hour…lots more veggies in the bowl, chicken or other “meat” 2-3 times a week. Often followed by a smoothie like concoction of powdered milk, pineapple  or mango juice, and bananas, or Orange Soda.

10:30 pm: Snack, tea. I am usually in bed by this time, either reading or doing stuff on the computer, but when I am not we roast corn over the fire.

So that’s that. It is rough not to drink during the day, and I am not going to lie, but I have cheated on the water thing a lot. I hate the feeling of dehydration, but my body has gotten really used to the food thing. I was grateful to get the care packages my parents sent, because it allowed me to eat AFTER dinner too, and stuff that was yummy like fig newtons and chocolate. 

I think Ramadan wouldn’t be all bad, but I have a few qualms with the idea that people here do it because everyone else does regardless of their religious convictions (kind of like Christmas for Americans). The time is meant to reflect more deeply on your spirituality, and get closer to God…unfortunately it is not practiced as that here, since most people have never even read the Koran. But my biggest problem, comes down to the women and children. The Koran specifies that women who are pregnant, nursing, and menstruating should not fast. The same goes for children below puberty. I have talked myself in a circle of this fact, since the kids and mothers are typically malnourished to begin with, it often makes the situation worse.  Of course people here say “you’re not Muslim, how do you know it’s bad”, so I say “can you read the Koran, do you know what it says?” This confrontation is usually between myself and a teenage to 20 something male, so it’s OK for me to be a bit snarky.
I was rather upset at my very pregnant sister who was fasting, and my sister who is breastfeeding. They just told me I didn’t “understand”. Despite all of it, my sister has stopped producing enough milk and my other one has a bad bad respertory infection (along with all the kids who eat mainly stale bread and old rice all day). I think what bothers me is that they ask me for advice, medicine, money, but as soon as I have something useful to offer, something that is important for health and wellbeing, they ignore it. Oh Senegal.

SO; after 1 month of not leaving the village, after fasting the whole time, after no beer or wine, after killing and plucking chickens all by myself, after a rain storm knocked down one of the huts in my compound, after a giant rat attacked a goat and we ate the rat for dinner, after both schizophrenic adults in my village came to my hut…I headed to my regional house, where I currently have a beer in my hand, and an abundance of food. (note: I still have 1 week or so of Ramadan when I head back).


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