Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Feast Of Ramadan

Ramadan ended with a big feast that reminded me of a cross between Thanksgiving and Halloween, but with the stress of Christmas. It's officially a three-day feast, but the days of the feast get decidedly less intense as they progress. Everyone goes home, and public transportation the day before the feast (which I foolishly took) was packed with tired, stressed out people.

Since the month of Ramadan is all about fasting, the feast is, well, about feasting. On my way out of Bamako the day before the feast, I saw a large number of four-legged creatures slaughtered on the side of the road. I'll spare you the details, but rest easy that I'm not a vegetarian yet.

We ate non-stop the first day, consistently the second day, and a little more normally on the third day. This was the first time since I've been there that my host family has bought meat. Not a morsel was wasted, and we all enjoyed it thoroughly.

The kids all go around finding adults to sucker into giving them money. They start by showering you with a series of special blessings: "may you have many years, may you have many wives, may you have many children, my you have many grandchildren, may they all live forever..." This goes on long enough that it starts to feel a little ridiculous. At the end, you're supposed to give them some small amount of money. The kids make a business of this. Just like I used to map out the best neighborhoods for Halloween, they map out their richest relatives and acquaintances, and prioritize their precious time over the three day holiday. I think there's a run on candy at the general store in the following week.

I guess for the adults of the community, this is a cute thing. I, however, get hit up for money by kids I don't know on a nearly daily basis. It doesn't happen all the time in my village, because once they know me, it's decidedly more difficult for them to shamelessly ask me for money for no reason. Nonetheless, it happens often enough that I've developed strategies and vocabulary to deal with it. Because of the feast, kids who normally leave me alone suddenly found me to be a great target (which I wasn't quite ready for on the first day).

The Peace Corps encourages us to participate in festivals, ceremonies, and other cultural events as a way to integrate into the community. But I took a moment to ponder the lasting consequences. In a small village, what happens if word gets out that the white guy is giving money away? I decided to sit this one out.