Sunday, October 5, 2008

Happy End of Ramadan!

Tuesday was Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims abstain from food, drink, and sex during daylight hours. In Mokolo, it means you see a lot of people lying around under trees during the day because they are so sapped of energy. In true PC fashion, I’d joined in a little solidarity during Ramadan and had fasted… once… it was a Friday. It felt like my Islamicized version of Lent.

So although I had by no means shared in the trials of Ramadan, I still got to enjoy the fête! No one went to work Tuesday, and Brooke and I started the day by walking out to a huge field outside of town. The field is only used once a year for the prayers on this particular day. I’ve never spectated at another religion’s holy days. I realized that as many different variations of Christian retreats I’d attended with various middle school friends, I’d never been to a religious event where I was completely outside the realm of participation. I remember going to mass at Sacre Coeur cathedral in Paris and being irritated at tourists who trouped through in the middle of the mass.

So I wasn’t quite sure how to ogle the proceedings. Fortunately, some of the local non-Muslims were also gathered to watch. As hundreds of Muslims lined up in the field to pray, we stayed atop a little ridge on the side of the road. There must have been a few thousand assembled. All the men and boys lined up in the front and made up the majority of those present. The men all had on their best boubous for the occasion, the long flowing garments, and little round caps. The boubous came in a plethora of blues and whites, a few seafoam greens, salmon, even a couple of bright turquoise and one lucky dude in hot pink. I had to hand it to a seven year old boy who really took the cake for the best boubou award. His was purple, dyed with pink polka dots. His little skull cap was teal, and a set of yellow flip-flops completed the ensemble. His mama will not lose him in a crowd.

The women and girls lined up in rows in the field behind the men. Their pagne was brighter, in more of the traditional prints. Even with the babies strapped on their backs they knelt down in the same prayers. I think a baby would fall off my back kersplat into the sand.

The faithful were packed in neatly and close together. When the formal prayer calls began, it was beautiful to watch the up and down movements of thousands in unison. When everyone was bent over, head on the sand in mid-prayer, it was a vast sea of color. The rows on rows of textiles reminded me of an endless outdoor fabric store, dotted with only a few trees at the far edges.

When the prayer finished, kids streamed from the field, running excitedly across the street, sand still pressed onto their foreheads. The dirty foreheads reminded me vaguely of Ash Wednesday in South Louisiana… but on speed. I had no idea what was going on, but then realized there were yogurt and juice vendors set up across the street, and the month of fasting was now officially over.

From there, Brooke and I proceeded to get our fête on. We’d been invited to four different houses to break the fast. After only the first house, we were lying on her friend Aboubakar’s bed, holding our bellies and digesting. One down, three to go! Fortunately, the second destination was only light snacks. Number three was a full-blown feast, with more proteins than my body knew what to do with. Finally, I got a reprieve when one of my co-workers who’d invited me over for feast #4 was still out making his own rounds. Like Thanksgiving times four. As if there weren’t already enough food in circulation, kids go from door to door to collect candy. Like Halloween, but everyone wears the same costume: boubous. I caught a picture of these little goblins in the mini—bous when they came by our friend’s place.

Lastly, to commemorate my first Ramadan, I got my first Cameroonian tattoo. Cameroonian ladies all put on their nicest pagne dresses at Ramadan. I am always wearing pants, to keep the flashing-on-a-bicycle down to a minimum. But for the big day, I’d pulled out one of body-loving tight tailored Cameroonian skirts. Here’s the only pictures I have of me in my get-up. (Note: Scaring small children is not typically a part of Ramadan festivities.)

In the beauty of my full ensemble, I tried to mount a motorcycle, somewhere between feasts number 2 and 3. Try being the operative word. After take one didn’t work, I hiked up the skirt even more and jumped on, sizzling my leg on the tailpipe in the process. I promise this would never have happened in my practical pants! Peace Corps Medical Office had warned us that a huge percentage of us get these burns over the course of our two years here, cause we take so many motorcycles to get around. So for Ramadan, I got branded, my first official second-degree burn, taking up a cute chunk of my lower right leg. This is the price I pay for integration. Happy fête de Ramadan! :)

1 comment:

Siobhan in Cameroon said...

Hey! Sorry to hear about your burn! I attempted side saddle the otherday.. once. I hope it gets better. I loved your story about the berry mush too. I'm so glad your post is working out for you! Take care of yourself up there