Pictures from Senegal

Sunday, August 29

Ramadan

You’ve probably heard me mention Ramadan a few times. And if not, then you live in a hole apart from the happenings of the rest of the world. But don’t fret too much… I used to live in that hole before I came to Africa, so I’m just as useless. However, since you’re reading this post now, we’ve both taken a step in the right direction.

OK, Ramadan is a month long tribute to the Islamic god called Allah which takes place in the 9th lunar month of the year. From the day after the 9th new moon of the Islamic year (starting somewhere in December and also following the moon) until the day after the 10th new moon, every devoted Muslim deprives themselves of all food and water (and other unmentionable sins or gratuitous pleasures) from sun up to sun down. The moment the sun disappears behind the trees we “break the fast” by eating and drinking breakfast foods. This should sound a bit familiar as in English we call morning foods “breakfast” in honor of having not eaten all night (because we are asleep… unless you’re a midnight binger that is).

So last Sunday I spent my first day fasting for Ramadan. The month actually started back on Aug 12th, but my family was pretty cool about me not participating. Then one day my oldest brother (and friend) asked if I would try it one day for him. I figured a Sunday that I wasn't planning on doing much anyway would be the best day to try. And so that was last Sunday. The point is its not easy... especially in Africa. I have no ground to complain because I only did it for one day, but I did make it and I'm just a little too proud of myself for it.

It wasn't so bad until about lunch time. Then I started to get hungry. So I distracted myself by watching a movie. In the afternoon I played with my littlest brothers a bit until that ended when they wanted water and ice cream and I had to walk away. The thing is young children are exempt from fasting. Elders, pregnant women, and the sick are as well… but they are expected to make up those days during the rest of the year. I actually saw my mom fasting a few days this past July because she’d been sick last year. Anyway, with my brothers bugging me for food and water (because I’d previously been making lunch for them to make life easier on my hungry family), I thought I’d go crazy. I was getting hungrier. And thirsty. And hot. So I went to lie down again and watched another movie.

After that the little boys were really starting to drive me crazy. They were being loud and obnoxious, asking me to give them food and water every half hour (talk about a tease), and they started calling me toubab (derogatory word for white person) because they'd just learned it and wanted to see me get mad. They were right, but I assume it was mostly because I was so hungry- it was all I could think about. And I was already grumpy by then.

So I watched another movie. And by the time that was over it was 7:15 and I only had to wait 15 more minutes. Those have to have been the longest 15 min of my life. My oldest brother (the one who'd asked me to do this) tried to distract me with hugs and talking... but it was hard. And then it was finally time to break the fast when we heard the mosques singing in the distance. We break with a date fruit that is imported from who knows where, but is sooooo good.

In honor of my first attempt to fast (actually I succeeded so I shouldn't say attempt anymore) my family bought cheese and sausage to put on our buttered bread. We eat breakfast foods when we break the fast. I don't know if that's common outside of Africa, but I also didn’t stop shoveling food in my mouth long enough to ask. So we have bread and butter usually, but added these extra ingredients because of me. We also had traditional African tea called Quenquilliba which is brewed with mint and lemon grass leaves. It's really very good, especially with milk and sugar added.

I was so hungry my mom made me another bread sandwich, but after I was done my stomach just hurt more. Like it was too full and didn't know how to digest this sudden intake of food, so it was cramping. But not like the kind after you eat a huge steak that was delicious, more like the kind of hurt after you've been sick a long time and haven't eaten... and when you finally do your stomach is confused and feels like an ulcer. Yeah. Fun. I also drank a lot of water with propel packets in them. My mom gave the kids Gatorade mix that I'd gotten around Christmas and given to the family. We ate our actual dinner (which we sometimes call 2nd dinner) a few hours later. And I ate about the same I usually do, which isn't all that much, but I'm still proud of having room for it.

I’d been breaking the fast with the family every day, but that day’s breaking had a little bit more meaning and a whole lot more satisfaction. Since then I've tried to make breaking the fast just a little bit better than normal breakfast foods. One day I made egg salad sandwiches (a huge hit!) and another I brought fresh pastries from a bakery in Thies. I don't know if I'll try fasting again, (I started to this morning until we forgot to tell the maid and she made a big lunch just for me), but I do understand why almost nothing gets done during Ramadan. It’s hard to have energy to do anything, especially in this heat. So I guess it will be a good time for me to catch up on reading and movie watching.

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