On Ramadan

Trip Start Sep 01, 2006
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18
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Trip End Dec 15, 2006


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Flag of Senegal  ,
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The month of Ramadan has been both enlightening and extremely challenging in many ways. Senegal changes drastically during Ramadan because the vast majority of the country is Muslim. Although I'm nowhere near being an expert on the topic, I can tell you that Ramadan is the most holy month of the Muslim calendar where the Muslim community fasts between sunrise and sunset. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, the other four being the belief in Allah as supreme being, giving alms to the poor, praying five times per day, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca once during one's lifetime, if possible. The month of Ramadan is a time to align oneself with those less fortunate who feel intense hunger every day, to reflect on one's own lifestyle, to bring one closer to Allah. When a Muslim does a good deed during the month of Ramadan, it will be returned to him or her one-thousand fold; conversely, when a Muslim commits a sin during this month, it is magnified by one-thousand times.

That said, I find it odd, as many other students do, that petty theft increases greatly during the month of Ramadan. Most believe the reason is that people generally carry more money with them during Ramadan to buy clothing and other supplies for Korite, the holiday that marks the end of the month of fasting. I myself have fallen for one of the more obvious Ramadan scams. It's a common belief in Senegal that all Americans are rich and have enormous amounts of money at their disposal; therefore, toubabs are often targets for theft or scams. On Friday the 13th (go figure), I actually handed over 40,000 cfa, which is about $80, to a Senegalese man who told me that he was going to get me smaller bills. Hah. That worked out well for me when I realized he wasn't coming back at all. Ever. I definitely believe that it is when we become most comfortable and least suspicious that we are most susceptible to scams like this. I had become so trustful of Senegalese people as a whole that it never crossed my mind that it was a horrible, terrible idea to hand over almost $80 and watch someone walk away with it. C'est la vie, I guess. Now I know to be cautious, to stay with friends, to suspect everyone and everything in my neighborhood. Knowing that this man's theft will be multiplied one-thousand times in Allah's eyes makes me feel much better about losing so much money.

Besides the rise of theft, impatience and irritability also run high during Ramadan. Taxi drivers are much less willing to stick around and bargain down to a good price to get to school, to the market, to my neighborhood. When you finally get into the taxi, they drive faster and more reckless than normal. Let me preface this next sentence by saying that I am FINE so that my parents don't freak out (again), but I actually had to stop a taxi driver the other day to let me out of the car after he almost hit a few horses, goats, other cars, and light posts trying to get me home faster. Other taxi drivers become very fatigued during the day and simply stop on the side of the road to talk to a friend, to the police, to anyone who will stop and talk to them. My friend, Sam, walks home every day and I've started walking with her just to avoid the hassle of taking a taxi.

People other than taxi drivers become more short-tempered and fatigued during Ramadan, as well. I can tell that our professors are moving much more slowly by the early afternoon, but luckily we have a long lunch break during which they can take a nap or at least lay around our classrooms. The students that have been fasting for the entire month, granted they've been doing so on and off, have been much more testy. If the fasting doesn't bother them, the heat certainly does. Basically, if anyone does anything out of the ordinary... like throw peanuts at you or make odd noises when you pass, we like to attribute it to Ramadan and hope we're right.

Ramadan began while I was in the village of Keur Sa Daro, but I did not begin fasting at that time because I was sick. It's hard enough for "toubabs" to join the fasting tradition when in good health, so I decided to wait and join my Senegalese family in Dakar in fasting during the last week of Ramadan. I started fasting yesterday as most believe that Ramadan will end next Sunday or Monday, depending on the moon. For the past two days, my brothers have woken me up a little bit after five in the morning. Yes, me... getting up at five in the morning... I know it's hard to believe, but the dark circles under my eyes will assure you that I do not lie. My entire family and I sit in a circle, sip steaming hot chocolate with exorbitant amounts of sugar, and chew silently on bread with butter, gruyère cheese, and sausage slices. I have tried to go back to sleep but my stomach is so full that I haven't been able to the past two days. I still drink a little bit of water so as to not die in this heat, but I'm starving by the time I get home after school around six o'clock. We break the fast together as the sun sets below my window with the same food used for our morning meals, and that is followed immediately by a heaping bowl of some combination of rice and fish or meat. After that, my family's servant, Ndiay, brings in cold fruit and peanuts. By the time all of the food is gone, my stomach feels like it's about to overflow, but I am quite satisfied nonetheless.

Like most other people in Senegal right now, I am having a new bu-bu, a fancy set of clothing, made for Korite next week. For now, I'm planning on taking it easy, lounging at school, taking several naps during the day, and preparing myself for the grand celebration that is Korite. All of us, the SIT students, have ridiculous amounts of work to complete before Korite for we leave for Kedougou, our second village stay in the hot, mountainous region of southeastern Senegal, the day after Korite. Since it's harvest time in Kedougou, my family there will make sure they fatten me up after this week of fasting. I can hardly wait!
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