hold on to your headscarves ladies and gents, it's ramadan. or as the mandinka aptly call it, sungkaro, or fasting month. and fast they do. from sun-up to sun-down, no eating. or drinking. and those rice fields aren't going to tend to themselves.
naps are very popular during ramadan.
and, as you might expect, everybody wants to talk about it. there's none of this suffering in silence nonsense that my stoic catholic upbringing may have led me to believe (ok, ok. not that stoic of an upbringing. and i'm aware of the value of a well-timed sigh. i know what catholic guilt is). no, it's more of a shout-it-from-the-rooftops kind of suffering. here's an example of a typical exchange between me and your average ramadan faster, translated from mandinka for your reading pleasure
"hello, do you have peace (a typical greeting here)?"
aisha! (my gambain name). are you fasting today?
"no. i don't fast."
you don't fast? why not? fasting is nice.
"i'm not a muslim. how is your family?"
you should be a muslim. you will fast tomorrow.
"maybe tomorrow i will fast (here, when you say maybe tomorrow i will, that's code for i'm never going to do that. it's pretty handy, unless you actually don't know whether you're going to do something tomorrow or not)"
oh aisha, you should fast. fasting is nice.
"i know. i have to go now"
wait. what time is it? i am so hungry.
aisha, did you know i can't drink water until 7:30? i am so thirsty.
ok aisha. see you later.
yes, despite being told multiple times how nice fasting is, i remain truly unconvinced. i did go without eating for a few days, more because of a sinus infection than religious conviction. but at least i could lie on the mats with everyone else and complain about how hungry i was. and i did "break fast" with the family at sunset, where you have a small meal to celebrate you can finally eat again. then they pray. a lot. the prayer has reached a new level during these last 10 days of ramadan, where it is said that one of these days (though you can't be sure which one) counts for more than 9 years of prayer and supplication, and fasting. since they don't know which one it is, every night for the last 10 days of ramadan people go to the mosque and pray from 1-4 am, sometimes standing in holy reverance for hours at a time. it's a time of exhausted worship. after praying all night, they eat very early, around 5 am, and then nap, then work in the fields, nap again, break fast, pray, eat dinner, and pray. despite how tedious this sounds, it's not. it's really a very social thing, as well as pious. they get to commiserate. they nap together. they pray together. they mock those who almost fell asleep at the mosque and those who look (ever so slightly) more hungry than the others. all in all, ramadan isn't such a bad deal. for me. because i'm not fasting.