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.


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  2. Yeah you! now you have whetted my appetite for more news about how this experiment is going (oh, sorry for the analogy .. not really, only a little sorry)

    Yes Maria is very unpleasant to be around when it is feeding time but as any ornithologist would know: Gannets (the bird) are big eaters.

    Maria, sorry for the timing on the package I just sent. You may want to wait til the end on Ramadan before you open it.
    Love Mom :)

  3. Maria!!! I just now discovered your blog, thanks to Ms. Em Potosky!

    It's really admirable that you are participating in the fasting - I'm dieting, but calling it fasting so I look less selfish. :P

    Your photos are beautiful - they're the background on my work computer now! Wishing you all the luck in the world on this venture, you can do it!

    - Katie

  4. I love that you wrote about this. I think my favorite entry is 2:45 because it is hilarious to me and is so you! I also love the very last one about dinner. how did the rest of ramadan go? The "coffee" sounds like a "tea" I had in malaysia...super sweet but i still liked it. haven't found it since....