Thursday, August 23, 2012
Ramadan in Village
It’s the 18th of August, the 29th day of Ramadan. If the consistently cloudy sky accepts we’ll see the first sliver of the new moon tonight and this long, holy month of fasting will be over. Tomorrow (or at latest the next day!), will be the festival of Korité. Everybody will don their very nicest clothing and follow the sound of the village drum out to a special field behind the mosque to pray. We’ll spend the rest of the day wandering around the whole village on an extended greeting tour, passing out and receiving little candies and small change like an August Halloween. And we’ll feast like there’s no tomorrow; oily rice, beef and mutton, and drinking water all day long. But for now we’re still fasting. Ramadan is an amazing, difficult, incredibly slow month here in village. In an expression and reaffirmation of faith, every able bodied person fasts a full 30 days. No water or food from sunrise to sunset. This means everyone gets up around 4:30am to eat a light breakfast, usually bread and coffee, and drink a whole bunch. Afterwards some drift back to sleep for an early morning nap and others head right out to the fields, trying to get their work done in the morning before the hot afternoon fatigue sets in. Later in the day folks kill time snoozing, playing cards and studying the Koran as they wait for the sunset call to prayer. This call can be heard all across the village, a long cry in Arabic belted over the solar-powered loudspeakers at the mosque signaling the end of the long day of fasting. At the chief’s compound as many as 40 to 50 people gather around huge bowls of porridge that they drink with laughably large gourd spoons. Down at the health post breaking the fast is a decidedly tastier, though less energetic, affair. My two counterparts and I and the health post maid Siré have coffee, bread with mayonnaise or beans, and dates. Afterwards is the standard greeting and prayer: “did you break your fast in peace? May God make the rest of Ramadan easy”. And folks drift off to their homes to eat a late late dinner and catch a little bit of sleep before it starts all over again the next day. This year and the last I have been able to participate in the vast majority of Ramadan. Except for a few days when I was traveling I have done it all, and am just now wrapping up my 22nd day of fasting. As I said, it has been a trying and incredibly slow month- it is amazing how slow the days go when there’s no midday meal to eat or water to drink and you’ve been up since 4:30! It also takes its toll physically. I’ve definitely lost weight (though not too much, alhamdoulilahi!), and everyone is less active in order to conserve energy. But it has been amazing overall. It has been a huge source of bonding between myself and my family and other villagers. Everywhere you go folks ask how the fast is going, you joke about how hard it is, and then exchange prayers for peace and health. Too, there is an incredible comradery in getting up with seven sleepy host brothers at an absurd hour of the morning, everyone sprawled out on the ground of my counterpart’s hut while the coffee boils in the darkness. I have also delved into the mental and spiritual aspects of this time. The long, bright afternoons leave infinite time for reading, studying, and writing music. Too, I have been praying alongside my two counterparts when we break the fast in the evenings. We face east, which turns out to be the back wall of the health post salon, and bow our heads in prayer. The point, I believe, of such rigorous rituals like Ramadan is twofold: First, you really, really to appreciate the blessings of food and drink (that first sip of water is like heaven each evening!). Secondly, fasting removes worldly distractions. When your day is open and your stomach empty you look past the things that normally take up your day and towards God.