Today’s blog post is brought to us by Jenifer Denison, a former Peace Corps volunteer and current Publicity & Marketing Assistant at Murasaki Press. Ramadan (koor gui) has started in Senegal, where she now lives permanently. Enjoy her incredible story and experiences.
Fasting for koor gui is fasting of the whole body; mouth, eyes, ears, etc, not just the abstinence of food and water.
Koor gui has begun. The new crescent moon is visible signaling fasting will begin the next day. No more breakfast sandwich stands set up on nearly every corner. Walking through the sand-filled streets you don’t smell the omelets being made, the fresh café touba being poured or the fresh bread being delivered to the boutiques and breakfast stands. I miss the stand that sets up right next to where I’m staying, to the right of the palms and in front of a defunct dibiterie, with its stereo blasting Senegalese pop and 90’s American hits Monday thru Saturday. The beignet sellers come out in the evenings instead of the mornings now while most are fasting. The days are a bit sleepy and you can see lips become dry with the absence of consuming water.
Just before 7pm there’s a long line of people waiting to buy fresh bread at the bakeries for their upcoming break-fast. The bakeries change their hours during the month so it can be difficult to find bread if you’re not Muslim, or not fasting. All the fruit sellers have dates now, the first morsel most fasters enjoy when they break their daily fast and replenish some energy. The supermarkets are promoting Ramadan baskets filled with powdered milk, coffee, dates, thiakry and other nourishment.
The beach is less busy than usual with fewer tourists because of COVID-19 and the shrimp, fish and rice sellers aren’t selling during Ramadan. There’s always that light sea mist in the air and you can always see the shape of a few pirogues full of fishermen out at sea. Around 17:30 there are still plenty of people running, playing football, doing squats and pushups, getting in their exercise with a cool ocean breeze just before consuming their first calories since early dawn. It’s the best time to expend the decreased energy people have during the month. All the bustling of people out and about builds during the last stretch before the day’s fasting is over. But, things are easy here on the peninsula compared to most of the country inland.
During my Peace Corps service in northern Senegal many people gave up exercise for the month or only were active at night, after ndogou, because of the oppressive heat. I can remember sitting down outside on a colorful plastic mat laid out on the hot cement in front of the house. The whole family was spread out; the women preparing bissap (sweet hibiscus juice) and hot water for coffee and tea, the kids being sent to buy bread, the men tiredly waiting for the clock to hit that minute of relief, and me feeling the heat of the day start to soak through from the cement beneath, through my thin cotton dress and into my already exhausted body.
It can feel a bit lonely when almost everyone around you is taking part in the holy month and you, the foreigner, are not. The only real expectation I’ve been aware of is to respect those who are fasting by not flaunting the things that they are abstaining from. I’ve tried fasting before as an act of solidarity, but it doesn’t equate to the real thing.
In the first few days of Ramadan, I thought to myself, I need to make sure I have travel plans for next year. But then, I retracted, how can I be so negative when I love so many things about this time of year? Breaking the fast with my host family I had for two years in the hot and dusty north is one of my favorite memories. I love eating breakfast foods at dinner time. Seeing the spiritual dedication and solidarity of Senegalese Muslims is truly remarkable and I am grateful to be able to witness it. It makes me ask myself: what I am dedicated to? What part of my life do I act in this same diligence that so many people in the world do this every lunar year?
As the sun goes down this evening, I’ll be able to take part in this short wave of energy before the hour of relief arrives. As my fasting partner and I return from our evening run, I’ll be able to greet all the familiar faces, buy some beignet if I want, and prepare for our own ndogou.
Jenifer Denison served as a Peace Corps volunteer in northern Senegal from 2018-2020. After completing her Master’s degree in Public Administration in Portland, OR she is back in Senegal drinking attaya and eating breakfast sandwiches. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out more photos from her service on instagram @secondtrysenegal