Sunday, August 11, 2013

Hunger & Heat... for what?

Like water trinkles to the depths of its watershed, people flow down trails and clay roads that cut through the woods to the community mosque. Last night's new moon sighting announced the end of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid or "Korite."
The morning was kicked off with holiday mugs of cafe sweetened with condensed milk *cringe* to chase hazy skies away followed by traditional bowls of rice topped with tidbits of fried beef. The richness filled a shriveled and unexpecting spot now accustomed to waiting until dusk. Fasting combined with seasonal farm work has stripped most down to bones. In the fervor of Eid, they seem determined to replenish those hollow cheeks, that can attest all too well to the last 30 days.

As we near our humble mosque, the Jumanji pounding of the drum synchronizes with my heartbeat.  My brothers and the elder women discussed how old western films can attest to a day without cars or high technology. At some point we all have to slow down and walk to get where we're going (old man talk). They removed a few degrees between us as they reminded each other that we're all flawed, vulnerable humans. (Did this conversation really start with horse-drawn carts and wagons?) And here I am, calloused hands and sunburned shoulders, adorned in flamboyant, tailored drapes and tight braids, sharing another bookmark holiday in what finally feels like my corner of Senegal.

We rush for cover in the small mosque. The usual picnic spot in the mango courtyard was only slowing the rain. I haven't been inside this mosque before. Like most village structures, its simple by design and somehow offers a comfort in its patterned floor mats and quaint blue shutters. The men file inside and the women shuffle along,
beneath the periphery overhanging, situating prayer rugs and offering the better real estate to tardy elders. Enduring a life in the Sahel entitles them to such privileges. The elders, or "mawdos," can be recognized first by the several meters of fabric layered head to foot, then by the respectable wrinkles that tell stories of their own, and finally by the grandparent twinkle in their eyes.

The last month has been enlightening as most volunteers are non-Muslim Americans. We are all faced with the opportunity to fast with our families and communities, if even for a few days, which could respectably respond to the daily question: "Are you fasting?". The hardships, especially this year as Ramadan fell during the long, farming days of July, outshine the richness and depth of the religious practice nine times out of ten. Its understandable that at the surface the practice seems intimidating and unhealthy. Beneath, however, this core duty of Islam is a reminder designed to promote service, appreciation and empathy, self development of character and spirituality, and devotion. I was told regularly (as everyone grows grumpy and eager to bicker) that the smallest acts of kindness would return the giver with mercy and blessings. What I took away with the closing of Ramadan and glorious Eid celebration was that in this scope of Ramadan, we finally let the demands of our physical being ease up a bit as we serviced our overdue spiritual needs. Ive now closed my third Ramadan, only partially participating, with a clear mind and open heart.

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