On August 11th, Muslims started fasting for Ramadan. From sunrise to sunset, they do not eat, drink or even swallow their own spit. Without much thought, I decided it would be a rich cross- cultural endeavor to fast with my villagers. So, I commenced fasting the following day. I thought that day was never going to end. My stomach felt like it was going to collapse and my mouth felt parched like a desert wind. I tried to occupy myself by sweeping my house, doing several sudoku puzzles and reading. Finally at 7:10p.m. I broke fast with my host family. "Barka da sha ruwa!" they greeted me (meaning "Greetings on drinking water"). Then, one of the women handed me a cup of tea, followed quickly by juice, then water and lastly a porridge millet drink. I already felt full, and we hadn't even eaten. So, then I took a few deep breaths before eating. Spinach and peanut butter. Then bread and meat. Rice and sauce. Pineapple. I have never eaten better in Niger. I could barely walk to my house after the meal.
Each morning since then, I have awoken at 5 to the towncrier drumming and chanting to wake people to prepare and eat breakfast prior to the first call to prayer. Drowsiness and darkness and a lack of appetite discourage me from preparing real sustenance, so I shovel a couple of spoonfuls of peanut butter in my mouth, wash it down with a glass of water and return to bed. Some days of fasting are harder then others. Bright sunshine brings sweat and thirst. But rain and clouds give me respite and make the thirst much more bearable. I try to rest for the hottest hours in the mid-afternoon. This replensishes me just enough to maintain a friendly disposition. Otherwise, crabiness lurks around 5p.m. and all it takes is one annoying youngster chasing me on the street for me to start yelling....well, this has only actually happened a couple of times.
To my surprise, the most challenging aspect of Ramadan has not been thirst, hunger or exhaustion, but rather answering the brigade of questions. "Are you becoming a Muslim? Do you pray? Do you pray at the mosque? Will you continue fasting after you return to America? Does your family know you fast?" As I said, I hadn't put much forethought into participating in Ramadan, so their questions caught me a little off guard and made me really ponder why I am fasting and what I can learn from it. More than anything, I have appreciated the commradery with my villagers and breaking fast with my host family has brought us closer together. They greet me on my efforts and I have a little more understanding of their committment to Islam. Ramadan has reminded me that food, water, health and family are, regardless of creed and beliefs, true blessings and things that should never be taken for granted in America, Niger or anywhere in the world.