Yep, maangi dawna. I ran away from Ramadan. It wasn’t intentional, but I planned a vacation to Paris, London, and Barcelona just 5 days into the month of Ramadan.
But now I’m back in my village, experiencing the last two weeks of the holiest month of the year. Initially when I accepted my invitation to serve in The Gambia, I was a little apprehensive about the fact that the country is 97% Muslim. It would come to mean living in a place where I didn’t know the culture, customs, language, or religion. Everything is completely different, but as I’ve grown to see the cultural exchange in my every day interactions, the ability to live in a Muslim community makes my Peace Corps experience all the more better.
So the biggest part of Ramadan, for me at least, is the fasting. I’ll begin by saying that during Lent, Christians in The Gambia also fast in this way. From sun up to sun down, we don’t consume any water or food. There are exceptions to the fasting, of course, for small children (my host sister in Grade 4 doesn’t fast, but my host sister in Grade 6 does), the elderly, and the sick. But those who are willing and able will keep fast for the entirety of the month.
“Ali, yaangi orr?” – Ali, are you keeping fast?
“Waaw, maangi orr.” – Yes, I am fasting.
“Bull lekka, bull naan?” – You don’t eat or drink?
“Waaw, dafa meeti torop. Nich bi dafa tanga.” – Yes, and it is very painful. The sun is very hot.
“Hey, Ali, yaangi jambarla!” – Ali, you are trying!
Everyone is very excited and happy to hear that I am keeping fast with them. To be honest, and I don’t share this around the village, but my main rationale for keeping fast is so my family doesn’t have to make me food while they’re fasting. Of course I’m excited to experience the fasting and the many traditions, but I do sneak the occasional sip of water inside my hut. Sue me, it’s hard! We live in the desert! These people go about their daily lives, heading to the clinic and to school and to the garden as if nothing has changed. I’M STARVING, are you guys not starving? And they’ll laugh at me and say that they will be rewarded for their sacrifices. That it’s important to survive without things like food and water so that we appreciate them when we have them.
“There are people who can’t afford to have food, Ali,” one of the teachers told me the other day. And I just laughed at the irony that people in the United States use that terrible phrase, “there are starving people in Africa,” to get people to eat more. And here I am, in Africa, being lectured to appreciate the food I have. I’m going on my ninth month in country, and there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t been blown away by the humility of the Gambian people.
Anyway, Ramadan. The most incredible part is when that stupid sun finally decides to set and we get to break our fast. The food in my compound is always great, but during Ramadan it’s AMAZING. People are so hungry and thirsty all day that all they can do is think up incredible meals and buy ice blocks and brew tea for us to eat during break fast. We’ve had chicken and spaghetti, omelettes and bread, beans with mayo and sauce. Everyone gets together and eats one or two dinners, sips attaya tea, and is very happy for the end of the day and excited for the next.
This weekend, we’ll end Ramadan with the celebration of Korité. It’s a major religious holiday but, as per usual, I’m looking forward to the food. Ramadan has been a really cool time to learn more about the Islamic faith and share a little of my faith with my family and friends here.
During Ramadan, sometimes the adults are too tired to work in the afternoon so the kids are called to duty. This is what cleaning up our trash disposal site looks like: