Ramadan has descended upon Senegal like a cloak of stillness. The difference is startling. Men have put down their tea sets and cigarettes, young people have halted the usually incessant music playing from their phones, and women no longer spend all morning shopping for and preparing the afternoon meal. Everything is quiet.
Even the greetings have slightly shifted. Instead of ‘how’s the work?’ or ‘how’s the heat?’ now it’s ‘are you fasting?’ and ‘how’s Ramadan?’ the answers to which can be ‘little by little,’ ‘it’s difficult,’ or, the most stoic, ‘it’s nothing.’ I usually answer with the latter, since I’m not fasting and so it actually is nothing, but I say it with a laugh and a smile so people understand. Then they ask me why I’m not fasting. My best response I’ve found so far is to say that if I fast I will die — that one always gets some laughs.
Ramadan here means no food and no drink sun up to sun down. Also no cigarettes, and no music or any loud activities. It is a very subdued time. The tremendous strain on your earthly body is supposed to bring your spirit closer to Allah. No question it is difficult. People spend most of the day laying down or sleeping, whether it’s under a mango tree, in a hammock, or outside of their storefronts. Sometimes you have to wake someone up in order to make a purchase — something I don’t like to do but which seems to be completely normal and expected.
Towards the end of the day people get cranky and a little mean. I don’t blame them. It does make it a hard time to be an outsider though. Even my most patient family members have been more frustrated with my lack of language skills lately. I find myself waiting for the reprieve of dusk along with everyone else.
As soon as the sun sets, everything comes back to life. The music resumes, and everyone stays up late eating, drinking tea, and having lively discussions.The first night of Ramadan, as we were breaking the fast, there was a small rainstorm — the first rain we’d seen in a couple of weeks. The lack of rain isn’t normal for this time of year, and for a country where 90% of the population is engaged in agriculture this is quite concerning. People say that if it doesn’t start raining more soon, next year we will all starve.
I don’t consider myself to be a particularly religious person, but when the rain started right as the dusk call to prayer sounded, and the people and the earth drank together, it sure did seem like Allah’s doing.