West Africa Love

Peace Corps Volunteer Experience in Mali and Guinea

Ramadan in a Guinean Village

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I spent the first two weeks of Ramadan in my village.   Fasting is hard as it is but with no fridges or electricity it can be even more difficult. Here is what I observed:

Typical Ramadan Day in My Village

4:00 AM- Wake up to eat.  Water will usually have been heated the night before and kept hot in a thermos. Most people also have a food thermos to keep rice warm.  Most people are eating with light coming from a solar lamp or flashlight.  Morning prayer is around 4:30 am. You have to eat finish eating and drinking by sun up. Morning meal may consist of coffee with sugar, rice, bread and mayonnaise.

No food or water during the day.

4:00 or 5:00 PM- Women will start cooking dinner.

7:25 PM- People will gather at someone’s house located next to the mosque. Men and women will split off and break the fast and pray separately. They break the fast with a some spoonfuls of porridge called mboydi. Porridge may be made from corn, fonio, rice or millet. Everyone will bring whatever kind of porridge they made to share.

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Here are the bowls of porridge that people will break the fast with.

Then they do the regular evening prayer which consists of 5 prayer repetitions.  Women will pray at home while the men go to the mosque.

After this prayer people will eat more porridge as well as some rice and sauce.

8:30 PM- Additional evening prayer that consists of 14 prayer repetitions. Apparently it is optional but as far as I know everyone in my village has been doing it.

People will continue to eat/snack in their homes until they go to bed. Foods include boiled mangoes, coffee, bread, boiled eggs, sardines and of course rice and sauce.  I see people eat boiled eggs often but I would say sardines are a luxury.

I didn’t notice a huge difference in the meals. Some days we ate special things like fried fish and riz gras (African fried rice) or there would be ingredients such as fresh fish or beans added to the sauce, but for the most part people were still eating mainly leaf sauces made with sweet potato leaves, cassava leaves, etc. Other common sauce ingredients are tomato, potato, okra, and eggplant.

This is definitely not the case everywhere (a lot of families in the town will eat pasta and more protein during Ramadan) and it may have more to do with the fact that there is no electricity (and thus no fridges) in the village to store foods and no market versus people not having enough money.

Some Background on Ramadan in Guinea:

  • Muslims are required to fast during this month. Being sick, breastfeeding, doing long travel and having your period excuses you from fasting but in some of those cases you are supposed to make up for those days later.
  • Men will give women money before Ramadan starts to buy supplies such as rice, sugar and oil.
  • You cannot listen to music, sing or dance.
  • Muslims believe you can ask for anything you want during this month and that you have a greater chance of getting it.
  • On top of the normal 5 prayers throughout the day there is a longer evening prayer.
  • On the last 10 days of Ramadan people try to do extra prayers because they are supposed to count for even more. Some people will even spend the night at the mosque praying during this time.

Attempts to Fast               

This is my second Ramadan here in West Africa and my second time trying to fast.  Fortunately or unfortunately, I always end up getting sick and have to stop.

In Mali my efforts to fast were thwarted because of ignorance and the heat.  It was just way too hot and it was too early on so my body was still adjusting to the different food and climate.  I was still drinking water throughout the day but my stomach did not bode well with the oilier foods that people eat during Ramadan to pack in more calories.  Also I really had no idea how to fast at that time. I would gorge myself at 7:30 pm when we would break the fast and then I would go lay down.  At 4 am when I was supposed to eat again, I’d wake up feeling very uncomfortable and wouldn’t be hungry.  I did not realize you have to do a good amount of research or ask people the right way to fast.  My host brother explained to me later that during Ramadan you try to turn the day into the night.  After I had already quit fasting, I realized that the people who were fasting would try to nap during the day and stay up at night drinking tea and eating at intervals.  I have not witnessed this napping strategy in Guinea.  It is not as hot in Middle Guinea so that may be part of it but people continue going about their work as if they were not fasting at all.  Long meetings are still held and I’ve seen women weeding their gardens during the day.

Here in Guinea, I attempted to fast again thinking that it would be easier because of the cooler weather but I got sick with a cold by Day 3 and had to stop.  In the short time I fasted here is what I gathered.  When you’re fasting the way you view food is completely different.  The food you choose to eat becomes a function of how many calories it has and how long it will keep you full.  You eat till you can’t stomach another bite in the hopes that it will sustain you the whole day but no matter what you are still going to get hungry later.  Also, you’re not sleeping well because you’re waking up early morning to eat again.  I don’t know how Guineans can last all day on basically rice and sauce alone.

For the two weeks I was in my village I was getting the best of both worlds because I wasn’t fasting and I would be offered the special foods when they were available.  I said this to someone in the village and they said you’re going to become “Oumou la grosse” (Oumou the fat one) =).

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Author: moniq77

Peace Corps volunteer in Mali before the program was suspended due to security concerns. Finishing my service in Guinea.

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