Alhumdudillah (Praise God!), the weather has been much cooler since I last posted. There’s been a refreshing breeze at night. The wind rustles the sugar-cane in my garden, which is not even remotely native to Mauritania, but a result of much effort on the part of my Hawaiian-bred husband. Thanks to him, our yard is our “petite coin de Paradis,” our little corner of Paradise. It’s colourful and green, and a refreshment to the eyes after unmitigated desert brown.

Last night, our local mosque, newly completed and right across the stretch of sand that passes for the street in front of our house, went off at 11 p.m. and kept broadcasting for about 25 minutes. Since this isn’t one of the normal call to prayer times, I knew what this meant—the local imams had seen the sliver of new moon in the sky at sunset, signifying the start of the holiest month of the Muslim calendar—Ramadan.

During Ramadan daylight hours, from sunrise to sunset, the devout swallow nothing, not even their own spit. Their fast is complete. Once the sunset call to prayer sounds, they pray and then eat. Usually, first on the menu is dates dipped in crème fraiche (which is wonderful), followed by soup and bread. Then, people stay up all night, or most of it, eating and talking, visiting, etc. Many visit the mosque every night, and some mosques broadcast a chapter (sura) of the Quran every night, finishing the entire book in one month. (As I write, our mosque is reciting the first sura). Everybody eats a big breakfast right before the sunrise call to prayer, after which another day of fasting has begun.

Friends explain to me that this time is good for the health, as the stomach has a time of rest from digestion during the days.

Ramadan is an interesting time. Shops and businesses tend to operate with a skeleton staff; the shopkeeper yawns behind the counter. It can be hard to get things done, and if your phone goes out it might stay out till the month is over. On the other hand, once the sun goes down the city wakes up. Boutiques are brightly lit and open until the wee hours, and everyone is happy and chatting and visiting—especially as the end of the month approaches, when everyone needs gifts and new clothes during the 3-day feast to celebrate. Women get elaborate henna patterns dyed onto their hands. The proper way to greet someone at the end is not just “Happy Feast Day!” but “Congratulations.” Muslims also believe that the 28th night of the month is a Night of Power, and prayers offered during that time are worth three times as much as normal prayers.

You take your life into your hands if you drive between about 5:30 and 7. Everyone is in a desperate panic to buy bread for the evening meal and get home before the sunset call to prayer, and the roads are complete chaos. But, if you happen to be out around 7:30, your isolation will be total—the roads empty of all but sand and wind. Soon, headlights begin to appear, and another night of feasting has begun.

Advertisements