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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Hungry

It’s that time of the year again. Ramadan is upon us.

(Actually… Ramadan is almost over, but it has taken me too long to finish this blog.)

According to www.holidays.net:

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. It is during this month that Muslims observe the Fast of Ramadan. Lasting for the entire month, Muslims fast during the daylight hours and in the evening eat small meals and visit with friends and family. It is a time of worship and contemplation. A time to strengthen family and community ties.

We Jews have a Get Out of Jail Free card comparitatively. We are only required to fast for one day a year and all of our sins are wiped away.

Catholics are constantly revisiting and repenting for their sins and some even avoid meat on Fridays.

Many Christians give up a favorite food for Lent.

But Muslims… they do the whole shebang - a full month of fasting from sunrise to sunset. I bet your religion can’t beat that!

Being the sheltered American suburban girl that I was, my first real exposure to Ramadan (and Muslims in general) was in the 1990s when I used to spend a lot of time in Senegal which is about 92% Muslim. Somehow I always managed to plan a trip that coincided with Ramadan, and it was always an awkward time for me.

See, I wanted to be able to eat lunch every day… but my time was always so highly programmed and my colleagues always looked so hungry. By 2 PM they were tired and sweaty, and they were oh so thirsty. And although they never verbally complained, I could feel their pain.

But there was a light at the end of the tunnel, Eid. According to Wikipedia:

Eid ul-Fitr is a joyful celebration of the achievement of enhanced piety. It is a day of forgiveness, moral victory and peace, of congregation, fellowship, brotherhood and unity. Muslims are not only celebrating the end of fasting, but thanking God for the help and strength that they believe he gave them throughout the previous month to help them practice self-control.

Here in Tanzania I’m getting a different view of Ramadan than I did in Senegal. I think it is because I am closer to people here but also because Tanzania is a mixed society (about 38% Muslim, 60% Christian, 2% Hindu and .0000001% Jewish) and in a mixed society perhaps one is required to approach the tenants of one’s religion more stoically.

Take my main counterpart, Abdulrazak, and another colleague, Nassor. Both Abdulrazak and Nassor WANT people to eat in front of them. They say it makes their fast more meaningful. These are guys who are not particularly religious during the rest of the year. (Or at least that is my impression of them.) But now, Abdul seems to enjoy scheduling meetings during the lunch hour or late in the day, and he participates in them with gusto – so much so that it is easy to forget he is fasting and offer him a banana.

(Nassor told me a really cute story about his daughter. She is about 6 and not required to fast yet, but she has decided to be “in training”. Every day she tries to push back her breakfast to 10 AM… but usually by 9 AM she is hungry and reminds her Dad that she is just in “training” after all…)

Then there is “Salima”. “Salima” is approximately 26 years old and is the youngest daughter of the first wife of one of Tanzania’s former presidents. During the rest of the year I would describe her as a hot commodity. She wears form fitting and sexy clothes with little stiletto heals that go clickity-clack as she walks down the hall. She flirts with the guys we work with and definitely makes use of her feminine charms to get things done. Call it what you will… she knows what she is doing and it seems to work for her.

So imagine my surprise when on the first day of Ramadan she showed up in a loose black robe with a black scarf placed “just so” over her hair. She’s been like this every day since, pious as can be, even though underneath is all the shoes are still making their clickity-clack down the hall.

I’m dying to see what happens when Eid hits.

But the point I’m trying to make is that is it is actually really interesting to see the different ways that different people (and different societies) respond to Ramadan. Some people make a 180-degree switch of behavior. Some struggle with making it through the day. As a side note, I’ve been wondering if one of the reasons Dar didn’t explode after the government edict banning the informal sector shops is that people were too tired from fasting to get mad. Who knows.

In any case, you can think of the Mahlers next Monday and Tuesday. The kids and I will be at the beach, enjoying the benefits of Eid for us non-Muslims – two days of vacation.

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Since we are speaking about religion I could use your input on another issue.

As I’ve said, we Jews are just shy of 0% here in Tanzania. I am not expecting anyone to wish me Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas in December (although with all these Muslims that would be a nice nod to a multicultural society). I don’t expect to have T-MARC give me Passover instead of Good Friday as a vacation day.

But I realize that I’ve really come to appreciate that in DC at least, there isn’t always the assumption that every kid comes from the same religion or cultural background and there is at least a nod to diversity and different holiday traditions.

That said, the kids are allowed to borrow books from the school library every week. Last week Rowan brought home, Teddy’s Wonderful Christmas. I thought it was the bear on the cover that attracted her to the book, but really, it was all the wrapped presents depicted inside. All she could say was, “Look Mommy, presents!” She didn’t want to read the book. She just wanted to look at the fabulous wrappers and bows and count how many presents were on each page.

Instead of having a negative reaction to this, I thought, well OK, she picked out this book, no one forced it on her, she is enjoying it, so Hally YOU enjoy it too. And I did, sort of. Well… to the extent that I could.

But then on Tuesday I was taking the kids to school and we were late. I walked down the lane to the classroom and heard the telltale tune of Jingle Bells being sung by the whole class.

JINGLE BELLS???? In October? I mean I know that Macys probably has its Christmas decorations up in NYC, but here in TZ, during Ramadan, with plenty of Muslim kids in the classroom and at least two Jews, they were singing JINGLE BELLS?

Is it just me???

6 Comments:

Blogger Mothering Mini said...

Target had a display of Christmas CDs set up by Labor Day of this year. No joke.

2:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It might take two months for the kids to fully memorize all the words to Jingle Bells: you didn't mention their ages, but memorization may have to be used if the children are too young to read.

3:14 AM  
Blogger Mom101 said...

Let's not forget...we sang Jingle Bells too. I mean, as far as Christmas songs that one's pretty secular. They're going to be more influenced by you in this case, so I know you and your awesome parenting skills will kick in and you'll explain the different holidays to them in an age-appropriate way.

Besides, what? We don't give presents on Channukah anymore? I didn't get the memo.

4:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

if you want advice mine is that you should talk to the teacher and sensitize her and explain that jingle bells is about xmas and your kids don't celebrate and maybe suggest some Eid and hanukah and diwali or whatever songs. or light unto darkness songs. maybe handels messiah. just kidding. anything but jingle bells.
good luck.
and also you can unionize against evangelism with other parents.

4:42 AM  
Anonymous becky said...

i wasn't trying to be anonymous- the handel's messiah comment was from me.

4:43 AM  
Blogger KathyB said...

I know Jingle Bells reminds most people of Christmas, but isn't it just a song about sleighing around in the snow? The jingling bells are found on the horses pulling the sleigh... reminds me more of winter, just a thought.

9:08 PM  

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