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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Hunger Games: Ramadan 2014, week four

Ramadan came in like a lion and out like a lamb.  I came back from my meetings in Kolda ready to buckle down and fast like a champ for the last week of Ramadan, but I quickly found that others in my village had lost interest in it while I was gone.  The last week, I wasn’t asked if I was fasting as frequently as I’d come to expect, and when I asked the question to others, I was answered with a shrug and a smile instead of a determined “Yes.”

I biked to Velingara (a city 15K from me) during the last week of Ramadan and brought back dates, pineapple juice, and crackers as a gift for my family.  I got home at 5pm, well before sunset, and presented my father with the gifts.  He immediately opened the packages and began to pass them around.  “No one is fasting today?” I asked in Pulaar.  He put another date in his mouth, shrugged, and smiled.  Well, come on.  If the Muslims weren’t fasting, the foreigner shouldn’t be, either.  I took a cracker with no guilt.

A few days later, I had the last meeting of my English Club (which has dwindled to three very smart enthusiastic dedicated 15 year old boys I adore) before I left for PST2.  My ancienne (the volunteer who was serving in Teyel before me) had left me a stack of flash cards.  There’s English on one side and a picture on the other.  Most of the cards work well here (lizard, bird, cat) but there are some ill-fitted to Senegal (xylophone, rocking horse, yoyo).  Since “strawberry” and “jam” are two words they had learned through the cards but didn’t understand, I bought a jar a strawberry jam from the western goods store in Kolda and brought it and some bread to our meeting. We meet from four to six, so I also brought with small plastic bags so they could bring the jam bread home and eat it as they broke fast.  All three of the boys ate the bread and jam punctually at four while listening to the one Akon song everyone in this town knows by heart.  I joined in the party - if the Muslims weren’t fasting, the foreigner shouldn’t be, either.

Ah, well.

All told, I fasted for all but the three days in Kolda, and the two days I biked too far when it was too hot and felt like it would be a good idea to drink water, and the two days mentioned above.  Not bad for a first Ramadan!

When I woke up on my first non-Ramadan morning, I happily grabbed my running shoes and trotted through the woods for almost an hour, delighted to find that my month of near-total inactivity had not impacted my running endurance.  When I got back, my family was confused and upset.  “No!  It is Korite,” they explained in Pulaar.  “You are so tired from Ramadan!  Today and tomorrow, you must rest and eat.  Do not work today.  Do not work tomorrow.  Rest and eat only.” 

Because it's so exhausting doing nothing but napping every day for the last month?

Maybe this culture will make sense to me some day.

Between breakfast and lunch everyone went to the mosque for a big public prayer.  I’d never been to the mosque before (I wasn’t sure if it was taboo since I’m not a muslim) but my mom said I should come with to the Korite prayer, since literally everyone in the village would be there.  I wore a loose floor-length sleeved muumuu dress and a head scarf that my mom kept adjusting as it drooped, which made the cramped hot air of the mosque extra uncomfortable.  I had wanted to stand anonymously in the back, but since I’m the foreigner, I got a place of honor in the women’s section – front row center – although since the women’s section is behind the men’s and boy’s section I still couldn’t see what was going on.  The prayers were in Pulaar instead of Arabic, so I could understand a little.  I went along with the prayer movements (bowing, putting my head to the ground, standing, lifting my arms) hoping that I wasn’t offending anybody.  Where I’m from, a non-Catholic taking a host at mass is very taboo – hopefully a non-Muslim participating in an Islamic mass is not the same.  And if it is the same and I did offend people I hope they can write it off as me not knowing what the heck was going on.  I’m an idiot here, but at least I’m a kindhearted idiot who means well.

The village killed a cow for Korite, so most people bought and cooked meat, which is an extreme rarity here.  Don’t get too jealous of my good fortune, though – at my house, the “meat” was skin and organ (I think it was small intestine, because it had a fuzzy texture, which I think was cilia because on the Magic School Bus where they went inside Arnold his intestine looked like that) so I didn’t have the bravery to eat more than a couple small polite bites, swallowed like pills before I could taste it.

Besides the extra prayers, everything went back to normal seamlessly.  People have more energy, everyone’s nicer, and there are occasional naming ceremonies or weddings to look forward to again.  

Will I do it again?  Probably not.  I’m glad I did it, but hopefully by next year at this time I’ll be busy with projects and won’t be able to spend the whole month hangry.  I think most people in my community appreciated the effort, so there are no regrets.

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