An integral part of American culture is spending time with family around the dinner table. At a basic level, it’s supposed to be a time to decompress and catch up on the day’s events, a family bonding time. My family was often busy during traditional “dinner table” times, but we made up for it in other ways, especially Saturday night dinners out after swim meets. We caught up on everything and compared different restaurants’ Caesar salads, French onion soups, and spinach and artichoke dips.
Gambian culture revolves much more around the lunch bowl. Lunch, usually right after 2pm prayer time, is a time for everyone in the compound to come together around one bowl. It’s the mid point in the day, usually after work at the farm and before afternoon time brewing tea. Breakfast and dinner are small affairs compared to lunch, and all meetings or workshops should include lunch as an integral part of the day’s proceedings.
That all changes during Ramadan. Most teenagers and adults are fasting from sun up until sun down, and so lunch is out of the question. But the bonding time around food just pushes back to the “break fast” time around 7:30 pm. Everyone brings out their mats, we sit outside the houses or under a mango tree and prepare. The cold water is ready in a cooler, the tea or coffee are poured in everyone’s mugs, and the bread is distributed. Sometimes we have sauce or eggs or chicken, usually we pull out all the stops for Ramadan. We sit and chat, commiserating about the heat and about our thirst, and wait for the “Allah Akbar” over the mosque’s speakers to indicate it’s time to eat.
Break fast comes in several rounds – it’s not easy to not eat or drink all day and then stuff your face – and so there’s more family time in between bread and tea, chicken and eggs, and the eventual rice bowl. Then early in the morning, before 5 am prayers, we wake up to eat and drinks again. This meal is a little quieter and everyone is a little groggy, but it’s a special time nonetheless.
Ramadan ended on the 30th day, which was Friday, June 15th, and we celebrated Koriteh. But no matter the season, Gambians never forget the importance of family meals.