Sunday, September 7, 2008


ramadan/fasting has been an interesting experience.
a day of fasting usually goes something like this:

i usually wake up a little later these days -- almost at 8 since there's no breakfast to be eaten or water to pull (i'm not even going through one bennoir of water since i drink -- and pee -- so little). i'm supposed to eat "breakfast" at 5AMish, but this hasn't happened. i've woken up for it but haven't been offered breakfast or anything so i've just given up on the idea of that happening and enjoy the extra hour of sleep. i putz around the hut and if i haven't been convinced to go out to the field and work (which i cave into more often than i ought to), i sit around and read a book or color in my coloring book. sometimes i go into my yard and attempt to weed but usually just wind up staring at my trees and plants. a two hour nap at some point in the day helps the hours go by. i never thought i would complain about this, but my villagers work TOO hard -- even when fasting they are out working at least until noon and some people all day (including talla, my counterpart). so much for the rumors that ramadan is about naps and lying around.

by 5PM (and usually after a nap) i am really freakin' thirsty and have to keep away from my water filter. i battle temptations to cheat. bread and beignet (fried dough) sellers start to come around -- this is the only time of the year my village has bread come to every day, it is usually a luxury/novelty item -- and it is hard to buy food and then put it away for the next two and a half hours. around 6:30 i shower to kill time and count down the minutes to fast breaking. they crawl by.

the sun starts its descent around 7 and we all sit in the compound and wait and talk about how much we want to drink water. we anxiously wait for the call to prayer that comes around some time between 7:15 and 7:30PM. as soon as the sunset call to prayer begins, we break fast with bread and cafe touba (spiced coffee). then we have jolly jus (a sugary drink packet), beignets, and lots and lots of water. dinner -- which is really lunch -- happens around 8 to 8:30PM and i am surprisingly not very hungry. the food actually usually makes me feel ill and i have to hold back from throwing up.

what IS amazing though is to drink. i drink water until i feel as if it is going to come out of my ears. water is never as delicious as it is after it has been denied for an entire day in hot hot senegal. around 10PM, they serve dinner but by then i just want to go to bed so i typically decline. i pay for all the water drinking throughout the night as i have to wake up a million and six times to go pee. it's worth it.

on a religious level, i'm not entirely sure as to what fasting achieves. i haven't received any epiphanies from God and even if i did, i'd sooner call it a hallucination from the lightheadedness caused by no food/water and standing up too quickly.

i suppose that fasting teaches me will power. there's water and food readily available but i have to resist the temptation of taking it. there are several camps of thought within the volunteer community: 1) some don't feel the need to fast, 2) some fast but drink water, 3) others fast food and water, and 4) a few even go through the religious aspects of ramadan (praying) as well. i guess i fall into the third camp because (though i'm not really sure why, considering that i'm not doing this for religious reasons) i would feel guilty partaking in fast breaking if i cheated. bread and coffee and all the other little treats that come with fast breaking is costly and our meals are a slightly nicer than usual (i suppose because we deny ourselves food all day, it may as well be extra "good), so i feel that if i cheated in fasting, i would be costing my family unnecessary money. i guess it's slightly silly because much of the money used for fast breaking is my contribution but the principle gets to me. my friend says it's not principle but pride. maybe he's right.

however, on an experiential level, this is an important lesson. they say that part of the ramadan experience is for followers to relate to the hungry of the world and if that is the case, then hunger makes a lot more sense to me now. i've never before lived off of one meal a day. i never even really thought about it being a possibility in my life before. but now that i am fasting, i see how quickly i become tired, irritable, and lethargic (another reason why i don't see how this can help me spiritually). food is no longer an epicurean pursuit. it is now just energy, sustenance, elements of nature that keep me from taking a nap and not waking up again.

fasting certainly isn't as hard as i thought it would be. i'm not very hungry, it's just the weakness, drain, and THIRST that gets to me. i want to do little else than just lie in bed all day but even though i am fasting, there are trees to look after, fields to tend to, and beans to pick. i reflect on stories of hunger and exodus -- what is the what, a long way gone, moses and the israelites, the trail of tears -- and i see an entirely new element to the struggle. we forget -- or rather, we JUST DON'T KNOW -- how hunger affects the body, weakens the spirit. we say we're "starving" at moments when we're really hungry -- maybe we missed breakfast or lunch -- but are we really?

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