Saturday, August 21, 2010


This morning I woke up before 6am, went down to the kitchen in a half-slumber and started eating. I had half a mango, two pieces of toast, a bowl of cereal, a cup of yogurt, a mug of coffee, a glass of orange juice and a pint of water. I was stuffed to the gills before the sun came up at 630am – which was the goal. I’d made a decision, for the first time in my 33 years, to go from dawn till sunset without food or water, just to see what it is like for the millions of people around me doing the same thing.

It is Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims abstain from worldly pleasures during daylight hours as a way to show their faith. It is a bit like the traditional conception of the Christian Lent, meant to involve 40 days of fasting. But in practice, it’s completely different. For one thing, people actually do it!

Ramadan, this year, runs from Aug. 11 to Sept. 10, so I’ve already had a glimpse at what happens in Senegal – businesses close down, people drive absent-mindedly, and the daily prayers – when people prostrate themselves on mats anywhere and everywhere in response to the muezzin’s call – appear to the eye to be much more heart-felt than normal. I’ve also noticed people take a lot of pride in not complaining about the fast, which makes it all the more mysterious.

Here’s what it was like for me:

730 – Still feeling full, I bike to work under the already oppressive sun. I wonder if the construction workers are fasting.

800 – The water cooler looks really good when I arrive at the office. And wow, it would be nice to have a raisin Danish and a coffee like I usually do. Ah well…

900 – I start wondering if my mouth is getting parched? What will it be like in ten hours?

1100 – I momentarily wonder what will I have for lunch? Oh, right, nothing…

1230 – My colleagues are eating grilled fish with homefries and a wonderful sauce. I start concentrated deeply on work. Seven hours left till sundown.

1400 – One of my colleagues walks around the office offering chocolates from a box. I take two of them and put them in my desk drawer. I can hear them calling my name. I tell them to wait.

1530 – My eyes are starting to feel dry and burn a little, which makes me blink more often than normal. I have just the faintest hint of headache. My belly is grumbling. I take another chocolate from the box and stick it in my desk next to the others.

1630 – I get a surprising energy boost that arrives from nowhere. This is usually the time of day I want to take a nap. I feel clear-headed.

1730 – I’m biking home and notice the surf is really good. Is surfing a worldly pleasure? Some things are better left unsolved.

1800 – Kelly and the boys give me a surf pass and within five minutes I’m out on the waves. The empty feeling in my belly is replaced by surf stoke.

1900 – I get home and start really feeling thirsty. Sonko and I start counting down the minutes. He’s thinking coffee, I’m thinking water.

1927 – Time is going VERY slowly.

1930 – The sun dips below the horizon. Three pints of water. Then dinner. Ahhhh

All in all, it really was not too bad. There was no pain or serious discomfort. Instead it seemed like about a half-dozen moments of serious temptation during the day that required an act of will to overcome. For Muslims, this is an important act of faith, but I reckon a bit of exercising the will could be useful for anyone of any creed. Nonetheless, I’ll be taking lunch tomorrow.

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