For those of you who are not so familiar with the traditions of Islam, I wanted to write a small post about Ramadan! This year I am participating in the fasting, alongside my village, the rest of the country, and most Muslims on this Earth (oh yeah and the Peace Corps volunteers who live in Islamic countries)
When the moon is seen the first few days of August, the month long tradition (and requirement for Muslims) of fasting begins. This is a time of turning our energy, thoughts, and bodies toward God. From sunrise to sunset, absolutely nothing "sweet" can enter the body. This includes the following:
* food or drink (ANYTHING you can think of in this category is not allowed)
* saliva... yes it's true. I try and keep my guard up for the stray spit that may come my way throughout the day!
* incense, or anything artificial that may be sweet to the senses
ALSO not allowed:
* sex (ouch)... I can sympathize with the people on this one haha!!
* cigarettes, or really any sort of addiction the person may have..
* attaya - I previously touched on this phenomenon in The Gambia, see previous blog postings for details.
SO, from 5:40am to 7:40pm, the people in my village cannot partake or consume anything that may turn their attention away from God. I love the idea of spending more thought-space and energy on God, and this isn't the first time I've done a fasting for this purpose; however, I have never participated in this type of fasting and am extremely grateful to be participating in such a challenge! I have altered the fast a little and am still consuming water when needed, but all else I am staying within the rules (this is considered cheating by all men of my village, and I get heckled for it everyday...).
At 5:00am, I wake up with the women and men of my compound to eat a rice porridge filled with sugar and sour milk (ewwww, avoid!). Once full, I stumble back to my bed and passsss out for a few hours. My family, however, gets ready to farm for the rest of the morning - from around 7:00am-12:00pm on average. This includes sowing crops, weeding the fields and all the intensive labor involved in farming/agriculture. I still believe that Gambians are robots and have no idea how they stay moving without food OR water while working so hard. After farming, the men mostly take the "rest of the day off" and lay around. The women continue with the day, doing laundry, watching the kids, cooking for the people who are not fasting (kids, pregos, elderly, special cases), preparing the break-fast meal, and MAYBE catching a nap in between all these chores. I have the utmost respect for all of the Gambians who are fasting, but DAMN the women have it hard.
I'm sure I haven't hit all the details. I know the praying is prolonged and more frequent throughout Ramadan, and I just recently witnessed the most beautiful occurrence last night. It was about 10:30pm, and my whole family was lying out under the stars. Just as I started to doooze into dreamland, my whole family got up together (men and women) to pray under the stars. It is very rare to see men and women pray together here, so it was quite entrancing for me to watch. My father led the prayer, alongside my mothers, sisters, wives (brothers wives), and daughter. It was a very humbling experience for me and made me very happy to be here in the Gambia - it EVEN makes being called "toubab" bearable. Islamic prayer uses a series of movements and prostrations; these were all done in sync by my family which was SO beautiful.. too bad it's rude to take pictures during prayer or else I would have been alllll over that!
So far, the fasting has been fine with no problems. The first few days were hard, with trying to farm beside my family and not eat/drink (i don't want to drink in front of them). After the initial shock, my body has adjusted and I find myself thinking less and less about food throughout the day. HOWEVER, come 6pm I start counting down the minutes until the sweeeet foodbowl of veggies, fish, meat (on accident, when I can't tell what it is), and rice. I love breaking fast with my family with bread and coffee. I feel healthy as ever, cleansed in mind, body and spirit.
For those of you who are curious, find a Muslim buddy to fast alongside - I'm sure they would appreciate your efforts to become God-conscious and understand a tradition of their beautiful religion.