Korka, aka Ramadan
This is purely my experience in one village and does not necessarily represent that of the rest of Senegal.
The anticipation leading up to the holiday. Every night for a month, eyes looked towards the sky at the moon. The day that it reappears as a sliver, the month begins. The expected night arrived, everyone looked to the West, but a few clouds hung in the sky. They waited. I went to bed, not knowing what the verdict was: moon? No moon? Ramadan started? It didn’t start? When I woke up, nothing was out of the ordinary. My mother was preparing coffee and bread for the house, so apparently Ramadan would wait for another day.
Unfortunately, I left that day to head to Kedougou for the 4th of July celebrations with the other volunteers, but it was a bittersweet goodbye. I knew I would be seeing Ramadan and experiencing it with my family when I returned, but missing the first few days (or even any of it) was a little disappointing. My quick event in Kedougou became a bit extended by a sickness that proceeded enough to where I called Peace Corps medical, who takes medical concerns (that they perceive as potentially bad) very seriously. By the time I got to Dakar, I had begun to feel better. It ended up being nothing more than a fever and a stiff neck due to prolonged uncomfortable public transportation. My stay there was actually quite enjoyable, really the opposite of Ramadan – I ate everything I could afford in the American grocery store and also had gelato and pizza and smoothies! As they would say, me doggii korka sabu me suusa – I ran from Ramadan because I was scared.
Finally I made it home, half of Ramadan over. I began by ‘fasting’ food only – not eating all day, but still drinking water. This gets you absolutely NO cred. You can’t say your fasting because you’re not. Also, when it’s hot outside, it’s really not that hard not eating because I don’t usually have much appetite in the heat anyway. But then I decided I would suck it up and fast for reals the next day. All of them can do it, I should be able to do it too, right? Granted, most of them have been fasting since they were 14 or so. So I fasted that day, and really just slept at my Tokara (namesake)’s house all day, but BOY did I get mad cred! Everyone I passed asked if I was fasting, a hoorii hande? and I said yes, then they proceeded to ask again because they thought I had misunderstood their question. The look of shock and disbelief or exclamations of appreciation/satisfaction made the discomfort worth it. I took the next day off, being Friday and market day. Then I returned to fasting, again this time without water. I kind of pushed it those few days because a lot of men, women, and children were out in the fields working and I needed to work with them on extending seeds to farmers, so I made my way into the fields of the Jerri (away from the river) to contact farmers and familiarize myself with the area. I usually drink between 3-8 liters of water a day when out and about, so not drinking water… Rough. I decided if I walked slowly and wore lots of sunscreen it would decrease the affects of sun and exposure a little. Hah.
Afternoons are so long. Sleeping can be difficult in the heat and due to the flies that showed up recently to celebrate Ramadan in the Fuuta with us. The women dampen scarves or old skirts and drape them over themselves to cool off their bodies so they can nap. The 5pm prayer time breaks up the afternoon, but at the same time reminds you how far away you still are from sunset.
The time to break fast approaches. All children huddle around their mothers near their respective living areas. The mothers and older girls prepare the juices and coffee while the younger children are sent out with the bread to get it sauced (sausde – to sauce, verb) and to go buy ice. Everything prepared, multiple bowls in front of each group, all await the singing of the mosque to announce the time. Slowly, the speaker creaks and a few notes are sung by a very tired and dehydrated-sounding man. Everyone slowly hands each other cups of ice water that they drink without haste. Then they pass around dates, one date for each person. Tradition. Then hibiscus juice and sweetened milk by the ladle-full. Every mother makes her own batch of hibiscus, and if you don’t drink from one, it’s an offense. Rough… Delicious. Then the bread with sauce (onion or tuna or spiced mayonnaise) and coffee, all sitting in respective groups, listening to the singing of the prayers of the radio echo through the house. Then each spontaneously stands to pray, bowing and standing, each on their own rhythm.
Then the evening cools and everyone dips into their own routines; the women lounge or sleep, Baaba comes back from the mosque and is doted on by whoever’s turn it is that day, the children run about, terrorizing the dark, reenergized by the sugary coffee, juice, and bread, the older boys converse or promenade along the road. Around 10pm, the neighbors come over for a communal prayer led by my Baaba – a beautiful site really, all bowing and standing in unison while he sings a gutteral ‘Allah’. This is usually around the time that I want to lay down and sleep, but then feel awkward because the prayer going on is kind of in the way of my bed, so I wait awkwardly in my room watching a movie or laying on someone else’s bed until they finish praying.
Then I set up my bed and usually go to sleep, only to be woken up around midnight to eat ‘lunch’. I groggily stumble over to the bowl of rice and fish, really wishing I could have just stayed asleep. It’s not awesome eating rice and fish at night, actually, but in the dark it’s easy to pretend like you’re eating normal-sized handfuls but really not eating much at all. Sometimes there’s a second bowl of macaroni and meat from an event or a neighbor as well.
Then everyone goes to bed, the radio finally silenced for the night. In the dark of the morning, all awake to eat again before sunrise. Really, sun doesn’t rise until like 6am or something, but we wake up for the prayer time at around 5 and stuff ourselves with sweet milk over steamed millet cous cous or sticky rice paste. Chug water. Go back to sleep until the flies and the sun wake you up. Then move your mat indoors and go back to sleep. Then, around 8 or 9am, get up and start your day.
Ramadan is not only a time to avoid food and drink during the daytime hours, but also a time to cleanse one’s heart. It is a time to keep from thinking bad or lustful thoughts towards one another. Muslims give up food, water, and other physical needs in order to cleanse themselves; to purify one’s soul. It is a time to reevaluate your life. To make peace with those around you. To forgive anyone who has wronged you. Fasting is not purely physical, but an entire commitment of mind, body, and soul. To refocus yourself on the worship of God.
The word itself comes from the words for, scorched ground, intense heat, and shortened rations
This is the month where the Qur’an was revealed, and therefore the most holy month of the year
It is a bonding time, a time to be close with friends, a time to be close with family. A time to thank each other and forgive. A time to bond through struggle, through discomfort – together. Many people leave the Fuuta to celebrate Ramadan elsewhere in cooler climates, but those who stay in the north become of one body.
Enen dendi – we are together.