October 29, 2004


This month of Ramadan is really enlightening for me. Besides seeing people's true nature when they are deprived of food, I also learn to appreciate the sacrifice involved in fasting...indirectly of course.
My colleagues often ask me "won't you fast with us, out of solidarity?". I respond "won't you come to church with me, on Sunday mornings at 6AM, out of solidarity?". They respond "of course". I have yet to see them really seriously consider the offer. Solidarity my ass!

I've also noticed that the month of Ramadan is also associated with masses of beggars usually congregating around the mosque. Some of them are women with babies that they breastfeed, other are old men with dark sunglasses, and others yet are people with leprosy who extend their fingerless hands in my direction. This has really been troubling me, and every morning, I seriously question my worth in Senegal.

This is a weekly newsletter for us American folks that explains the situation:

"A previous edition of the Khibar explained what Ramadan meant for Senegalese Muslims: during the ninth month of the Muslim year commemorating the revelation of the Koran to Mohammed (PSL) in 7 AD, Moslems abstain from food, water and worldly pleasures from sunrise to sunset for a month. This is to practice self-discipline and to recall the hunger of the poor.

And it is during Ramadan that the third pillar of Islam, almsgiving, is evidently and constantly enforced: Moslems believe that the charity given on earth to the poor, orphans, twins, aged and infirm will become one’s livelihood in heaven.
Dakar during the Ramadan month is literally besieged by hundreds of beggars falling into one or another category of alms receivers: one has to understand that Senegalese also give from a conviction that by giving they will receive. Foreigners are often perturbed by the number of beggars in Senegal; it is not perturbing for Senegalese Moslems, but since in Dakar the beggars are part of the landscape, and all the more so during Ramadan, it is best to learn a Wolof phrase if you are not in a giving mood at the moment. The phrase is Ba beneen yoon (the next time); one can also say: Baal ma (excuse me).

We had so many questions about the little beggars, the talibes, that a whole other Khibar is going to be necessary to cover this topic! Next week, then
Meanwhile, Deweneti (May God grant us life for next year); this is the phrase we use to wish people a nice Ramadan, too."

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