Thursday, August 4, 2011

Experiment in Fasting


I love to eat.  Most of you who know me probably realize the gravity of that statement and do not need further explanation.  Each of you probably has their own story of my incredible mood swings caused solely by hunger, funny in retrospect.  For those of you who do not know, when I have not eaten enough, I am not happy.  So for me to decide to fast with my family for Ramadan is either extreme dedication, a tendency towards masochism, or things have finally caught up with me and I am insane.  I tell myself it’s my dedication.  I would not really be able to understand the people I am trying to work with and would be missing a huge part of Senegalese culture without fasting.  So to the delight of my family I told them I would fast, probably not every day, but I would at least start.  I also told them that, truthfully, I would drink water in my room without them seeing because I am from America and do not understand heat and would die if I didn’t drink water.  This also delighted them.
Yesterday we saw the moon and I wasn’t sure whether to be excited or horrified.  I didn’t know if I should eat a huge dinner to over-stuff myself into not even wanting to eat, or just going light to get myself used to less food.  Should I get rid of all my food so it doesn’t tempt me or should I buy more in case things get really ugly.  I know nothing about fasting.  I have never even put myself on a diet.  All the more reason to try this… and let you know how it goes.

5:50 a.m.  My first mom knock on my door to wake me up.  It’s pouring rain and dark.  She hands me a half a loaf of village bread balanced on top of a steaming, tie-dyed, plastic cup.  It’s good, but I’m not really sure when the leaves they picked in the bush then boiled for flavor, sugar, and powdered milk  became ‘coffee’.  I eat it by dunking the plain bread in the super sweet drink, like dunkin’ donuts in reverse.  Before I decide how I should properly savor this last meal it’s gone.  I also decided to eat my last banana, and go back to bed before the sun rises.

7:30 a.m.  I slept in since I didn’t need time to eat breakfast.  And it was raining.  I brush my teeth and head to the garden, no big deal.

9:30 a.m.  I return from the garden early, without really having done anything, because no one was there and I wasn’t about to do someone else's manual labor, by myself, without the promise of lunch.

11:30 a.m.  We don’t usually eat lunch until 1:30, so I should not be hungry.  Especially since I have not done anything today.  But I keep thinking about food.  Not so much because I want to eat it, but because I know I cannot.  I also have nothing else to do.  So far the fasting isn’t that bad, but the prospect of hunger is killing me.  I’ve got to find something to do other than sit and watch my sister braid hair.  I move slowly, not because I’m that tired, but to conserve energy.  I’m making this into a way bigger deal than it is.  I decide to take a nap.  Really, I’ve got to find something to do.

1:30 p.m.  It worked!  I did some laundry and cleaned some dishes while listening to Neutral Milk Hotel.  I didn’t look at my watch or think about food for two hours!

2:45 p.m.  I don’t know where everyone is.  Maybe I’ll go hand sew a skirt…

5:00 p.m.  I had thoughts of sneaking a piece of Vache qui rit cheese or a spoonful of peanut butter from the bucket in my room.  No one would ever know, after all I’m the one who controls what I write here and I’m not even Muslim.  But I would have disappointed myself, so I didn’t.  Promise.  I think I’m going to do some yoga.  Don’t they sometimes fast at those intense yoga retreats.  It’s probably cleansing, that’s what I’ll tell myself.

7:00 p.m.  I do feel clean, or at least empty, after a day of fasting, yoga, and a bucket bath.  Souleman returned from Tamba so I suspect we’ll eat soon.  To be honest I’m hungry but don’t feel near as bad as I thought I would.  My hunger level is on par with hunger before dinner after a long day of pulling water and digging.

7:30 p.m.  Prayers done – we eat!  More ‘coffee’, water, and an oh so delicious macaroni meat sauce eaten with chunks of bread.  I relish licking the salt off my fingers! I’m proud that I actually did it, and dinner is still to come J

9:30 p.m.  I swear they made the peanut sauce differently today.  Some extra ingredient, some substitution, some new technique, something to make it taste so much better.  They won’t tell me and deny doing it any differently.  I am now very full.  My stomach doesn’t understand what’s going on and keeps asking me, which makes my mom giggle.  Then I surprise myself by agreeing to fast again tomorrow.

Sweet Ride

Peace Corps used to issue motos to all volunteers in Senegal, that is until they realized that the leading cause of death of Peace Corps Volunteers was motorcycle accidents.  Now we get bikes.  Not that I’m complaining.  I love riding my bike.  Often I’ll travel into Tamba on bike, not because I have to but because I enjoy the two and a half hours of exercise, wind through my hair, feeling in control of my pace, and getting distracted by the trees along the way.  Bike speed is the perfect speed at which to view a landscape.  But love for my bike did not prevent the twinges of jealousy while watching the Kedegou volunteers in my stage and then all the health and environmental education volunteers in the new stage receive new bikes.  Faster, smoother, more comfortable, fewer ticks, less rusty, sexier.  When my uncle compares my bike to his, he calls mine sweet and his bitter.  If my bike is sweet it is like a butterscotch from your grandmother’s cut glass bowl and these newer bikes are like crème Brule eaten on a Parisian veranda during a warm spring evening.  Sweet but…
Well, one of the new health volunteers in the Tamba region had to go home for medical reasons.  Her return was speedier than that of her things and now her bike is sitting in the Tamba regional house, marked for Dakar.  Peace Corps had us write down our specific pin numbers associated with our bikes to make sure they are all returned at the end of our service.  But that did not stop me from dreaming about what it might be like to switch bikes and send mine back to Dakar instead.
If I were to have taken her bike I imagine that it would be like switching from a Honda sedan to a Mercedes sports coupe.  In an instant my status would be elevated and I am now part of a club I don’t quite feel like I belong in.  I would simultaneously gloat in and feel slightly embarrassed about the complements and envious glances directed at my new ride.   First justifying why I deserve the bike then submitting to how awesome it is and showing off the new bell and flawless gear shifts.  I might feel like I was on a completely different road the first time I took it home, the ride being that much smoother on the new shocks.  I would probably change the tires just for the sake of playing with my new toy and to further affirm my ownership of the bike.  I would probably wash it incessantly, compulsively removing mud splatters, and become extra meticulous about keeping it out of the weather.  I would be amazed at the speed and the comfort of the seat.  I would smile as my gears no longer clicked down the road and the handlebars did not melt onto my hands.  The bike was even my size…!