Sunday, October 17, 2010

For Whom the Imam Calls

Ramadan started while I was in Nioro during site visit. This means that all Muslims must fast, so they can’t eat, drink water, smoke, or drink tea which is really funny because this might be the hardest part for them. Not drinking tea makes them jittery and some were irritated during the first week or two before they got used to not being constantly caffeinated. Other than eating breakfast at 4 in the morning before the sun goes up, life goes on as usual. The women still pound millet, corn or shea, do laundry, cook, fetch water, and take care of the kids all day. The men still go out to the fields, and as difficult as I thought it might be, they sit around and take naps even more than before (I think a result of not drinking tea). At around 6:30 or 7:00pm, the Imams on the radio begin to announce the end of the fast. The women break out the monni (millet cooked in water with lime juice and sugar). I think that this is to cut the thirst, because with enough lime juice it is refreshing. A few times they had a ginger juice which was good, but rather spicy.

After the bucket bath, my host father dresses in a nice full length boubou and sits down in his new bamboo recliner. He listens carefully to the radio and although it doesn’t show, I know his stomach is pounding, his head is light from dehydration, and I can almost visualize his thumb striking the lighter while his fingers itch for the feel of a cigarette to rest lightly between them. The air explodes with the sound of prayer as the sun dips slightly behind the horizon. Every concession has a radio tuned in to the same program, and the mosque’s sound system begins the chants that proceed the break of fast. After ensuring that the men have everything they need, the women can finally sit down for a few minutes. The children are eating, and the food is ready, they only have to wait for my host dad to grunt or say a barely intelligible word for them to get the bowl and set it in front of his chair. After going to mosque one more time, the family will stay up late, sometimes until 2:00am before going to bed. The whole time they eat corn on the cob, monni, and whatever has been prepared. Then they wake up at 4:30am to eat before the sun rises again.

The month of fasting ended when I got back to Nioro as a volunteer. It was pretty fun because everyone enjoyed their day off by killing a sheep, roasting it and spent the whole day eating and drinking tea. The kids also go around and bless everyone wishing them a good year for them and their family and in exchange you give them a little gift. This is the only time I have given a gift, but I still avoided giving money and only gave them little things I had brought specifically to give as gifts such as pencils or stickers (they really didn't like the stickers and found them boring). Ramadan is really an awesome month. It really helps the Muslim community understand what it's like for a large portion of the world. Many people do not have the luxury of eating all day or even eating 3 full meals a day. So for a month the Islamic community joins these people in fasting and understanding what it's really like not to have food or water in their stomachs for a whole day. Of course some people cheat and just about everybody has a day or two where they are very irritable, but for them it's spiritual and brings them closer to their families and every human being in their community. They create the support network of understanding that nobody else is eating or drinking and help eat other through the day.

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