“It’s forbidden to fast today,” Sumaia says. “It is required to feast. You have to eat.” She looks lovely in a new blue outfit, and smells wonderful too. All the women in her family got new perfume in honor of the day. She is explaining the feast to me, the Eid al-Fitr, which signifies the end of Ramadan. This feast can be officially one day or officially three days, and as far as I can tell, it’s up to the individual or the individual’s boss which it is. Many people seem to take two days, but international businesses usually give only one.
“Tomorrow you can start fasting again if you want,” Sumaia continues to explain. The 6 days following the Eid al-Fitr are good for fasting—they are equal in worth to a whole year’s worth, according to certain Islamic traditions. Since women in particular always have days that they couldn’t fast during Ramadan that they have to make up, many fast during these 6 days.
Yesterday WAS the end of Ramadan here in Mauritania. We went to sleep with the sound of the neighbours’ specially fattened sheep bleating in our ears and woke to the same. In the morning, we could have gone out to see a dead sheep in front of most houses, its throat slit and blood pooling beneath it. But we didn’t, because we had more important things to do, like sleeping in and letting the children watch a movie in English with English subtitles. Why did they do this, you ask? I don’t know. This was a movie borrowed from a French family for the express purpose of improving their French. Their English is great—they don’t need subtitles.
The end of Ramadan is celebrated with roast goat or sheep, gifts of meat to neighbours or to the poor, and new clothes. It’s fun to go out and see everyone—no matter their station in life—dressed in something new and bright and clean. Even the little girl who lives in a tent across from us, who loves to greet me and whose hand is usually gritty with dust, was bathed and clean, hair freshly-braided, and wearing a brand-new pink skirt. She looked adorable! If previous years are any guide, she will eat and sleep in this new outfit for the next several weeks, until it looks like all her other clothes.
Because everyone is expected and wants to have new clothes, the marketplace is a terrible place to go during Ramadan—unless you thrive on being jostled and pushed and trampled! Prices tend to be very high, too.
We have a leisurely morning and plan to spend the afternoon visiting people. However, our guard (a man we pay to sleep in our garden every night and to water it in the morning; theoretically deters thieves) appears at the door around noon, a covered plate in his hand. He is sharing his sheep with us.
We’re not hungry yet, as we had pancakes about 10:30, but I call the kids in to wash hands and we gather round. The plate contains roast sheep in onion sauce with fries on top, and is scooped up and eaten with bread. His wife is a good cook and the meal is really tasty.
In the afternoon, I go round with plates of cookies to greet the neighbours and we plan to visit several friends. We only make it to one house, but we have a great time. Sumaia decorates our hands with henna, a traditional way of celebrating. I now have a pattern of flowers and curlicues on my right hand that extends from my little finger down my palm and past my wrist. It’s lovely. (I know you want pictures but the camera is broken–sorry.) I bring a plate of cookies to their house, and leave with my plate filled with coconut balls, home-made biscotti, and crepes. The henna still isn’t dry, so I hold my hand carefully as I drive. We’re invited to spend the evening with some American friends, eating chili and home-made ice-cream and apple pie.
Today we visited Rana’s, and watched her drawing henna patterns on her sister’s hands with black dye. “Isn’t that dangerous?” we ask. Rana shrugs. Yes, it is, but her sisters want it, they won’t listen. Tomorrow, almost everyone will be back to work.