The Ramadan Food Diary

Day 18

5:00AM             “It’s time to get up. The time is. Five. O. Clock.” Hit snooze.

5:07AM             “It’s time to get up. The time is. Five. O. Seven.” I leap out of bed, forgo the mosquito repellent and grab a scarf to wrap around me. For Ramadan the adults wake up before sunrise to eat and go back to bed until about 6:30AM. They then fast until evening prayer, which is usually around sunset. Yesterday I didn’t set my alarm and woke up at 5:30. By the time I’d doused myself in bug spray and made it outside, everyone had already eaten and gone back to bed. The subsequent hunger all day was…memorable.

5:08AM             Opening my doors. I survey the moonlit compound. No one sitting on the cement beds. No one on chairs or mats. Just me, and a small orchestra of crickets hidden in the surrounding fields. I make my way across to Ya Koura’s hut where I can hear the metal food bowls getting reheated on her little gas stove. Thank God, she hasn’t served it yet.

5:15AM             Ya Koura’s husband, and my village mentor, Doudou emerges from his hut. No words are needed. We greet with a nod and sit next to one another on a cement bed, staring sleepily into the cricketing darkness while Ya Koura places two covered bowls on the ground. One is millet with what looks like four cups of sugar in the middle. The other, leftover Yaasa – white rice with sautéed onions. Sugar glut or MSG pains? I opt for a little bit of both.

5:30AM             Returned to my hut, it’s too early to do anything productive so I wash down the acid reflux from breakfast with a Nalgene bottle of water and climb back into bed.

7:00AM             I wake up to yelling outside my door. It’s louder than usual; sounds like a group of visitors are in the compound; probably here to see my dad, the village chief, before they make their way to the fields. Rainy season has had more unpredictable drops and spikes in temperature. I was freezing when I woke up earlier but now am sweating through my nightgown. Clearly it’s going to be a hot one today, which is inconvenient given the whole no drinking water part of fasting.

7:18AM             Open door to see everyone awake and milling about. Women are bent over sweeping the ground, putting freshly washed dishes away and getting things cleaned up before heading to the fields. Men are hitching plows to their donkeys. After doing morning greetings, I plunk myself down onto the same cement bed; resuming the same position I had two hours ago and watch my family, one by one, leave for the morning.

7:49AM             Enough of all this sitting. I’m tired. It’s time to lie down.

8:00AM             The voices of productivity are getting louder and compelling me to get out of bed for the third time. I grab my French and Serere language books, my chair, and head out to the communal tree in our compound. We untouchables, as I affectionately like to call us, are useless in the field and thus man the station; sitting at home, day in and day out. This band of outsiders consist of: my father, likely the oldest man in village; my aunt, an old ornery woman with a bad leg and sharp tongue; her daughter, hard of hearing and married to a man in the road town 4k away – a unique arrangement that doesn’t really make her a part of either our village or her husbands; my cousin, an autistic child with cerebral palsy that crawls everywhere; and my best friend Koumba, the 4 year old neighbor girl who gets sent to hang out with us while her family is in the fields because she’s a troublemaker. Then there’s me, the useless Chinese Toubab (foreigner) who asks too many questions.

9:00AM             Is it nap time yet?

10:11AM           Wrote some dialogue to practice in French and Serer. Managed to get a few new Wolof vocabulary words from my aunt. Apparently baambaanekat means babysitter, and lu means a dumb person. I get the distinct impression she was being cheeky.

12:00PM           Made my way through a 2009 New Yorker. I forgot about Sarah Palin. She’s the last person I would ever think to think about when thinking about what I’d think about in village. And now an irrational hatred for U.S. politics is making me visibly angry and I WISH I had internet so I knew what was going on in the WORLD and WHY IS IT SO HOT?

12:18PM           Hanger subsided. Koumba made me laugh.

12:20PM           Helped my family unload from the field. It’s getting really hot. But more importantly, it’s almost nap time.

1:43PM             Just finished watching children wipe the bowl clean. My little sister, and the one whom I’m named after, thought it was funny to ask if I was hungry. “Do you want some?” she asked me. I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly­­­ which sparked a wave of laughter. Hunger is hilarious.

2:00PM             NAPTIME. Everyone has retreated to their rooms. It’s too hot to do anything but that. So this means in three hours I will wake up and it will be two hours closer to breaking fast. ALHAMDOULILAYE. GOOD NIGHT.

5:00PM             “It’s time to get up. The time is. Five. O. Clock.” Hit snooze.

5:07PM             “It’s time to get up. The time is. Five. O. Seven.” Open door to the backyard. Lay down in my hammock and listen to Bob the Goat on the other side of my fence. Bob is a new addition to the family. I’ve grown fond of him because he’s so fluffy and adorable and it’s fun to say Bob like the sheep in the movie Babe. (Baa ram ew, sheep be true…) But it has come to my attention we will be eating, nay sacrificing, him for Tabasci in October. I’m in denial.

5:38PM            Peeling onions in the kitchen hut. Dicing without a cutting board and a dull knife – tricky. Must not think about how good the rice looks in that pot over there.

5:39PM             This kitchen is a torture chamber. I’m so bloody fucking hungry. If my tongue could salivate, I’d be drooling right now.

6:30PM             We all wait. My leg is shaking in anticipation. My head hurts. A whole hour and ten minutes until we eat. The women have finished cooking dinner and I can smell it all in it’s MSG entirety. I chew on a stick and think about how beautiful the sky is. I try to remember what sunset is in French and Serere. I give up and ask someone.

6:31PM             Coucher du soleil. Mook no ciid ne. One hour to go. I gather the kids and teach them “4 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.” I am literally jumping on the cement bed. I am jumping and yelling and very very hungry.

7:20PM             Seven rounds later and I cannot sing this god-forsaken song anymore. But now everyone knows what “jumpeen’ on dabed” means in Engrish and now I have a taste of what it’s like to hear someone butcher my language.

7:21PM             I hear cups being brought out. Oh my god…Is that a bowl of beans?

I think I’m going to cry.

7:46PM             The women do a quick and swift distribution of bread, beans and cups of quincillaba (sweet tea). I’m the first to get mine. A loaf of warm, freshly made tapalapa (artisan bread made in village), a plateful of hot beans with sautéed onions, and a large boiling hot cup of tea. I take a deep breath as Doudou says, “Bismillah.”

First bite in 12 hours and 40 minutes.




I love beans.

7:47PM             The good thing about eating with your hand is you can lick them clean without looking like a glutton. I down a liter of water.

8:00PM             Staring into the cricketing darkness with a full belly. Feeling incredibly thankful and relieved. The adults are more relaxed and joking with one another. The edge has been taken off those of us who were fasting (ie: have never fasted before…me), now that the flame of hunger has subsided. I am called to the first of two dinner bowls I eat every night. Mental note, pace yourself.

8:20PM             I did no such thing. Damnit that woman can cook. I’m so full. It hurts. Why is oily rice so tasty?

8:30PM            Feeling a little queasy.

9:00PM            Got called to the second bowl. Insisted I’m too full to eat, but the women protest so much that I concede to wait another hour.

10:00PM           Damnit this is good too, but there’s no way I can eat more than two bites. I push a lot out with the back of my hand; scoop back a little into my palm before releasing and repeating. Then I fluff it with my fingers. I grab a tiny portion in my cupped hand and eat, slowly – looking down so I as not to make eye contact with anyone who’s noticed my, ahem, method.

10:08PM           I stand up to wash my hand, insisting I’m not good at eating three meals in such a short period of time. Now I understand why eating portions throughout the day is the way to sustain one’s health. Starvation followed by consuming a days’ worth of calories in an hour is not the consumption process we were made to have.

10:30PM           Caffeine high and food coma sets in. I am very awake and very full. I sit with my family and listen to the music Doudou’s daughter has downloaded on her cell phone. She also has Indian music videos. We all huddle around to watch in the pitch black, because, of course, there’s no electricity but everyone has a cell phone. Ah, globalization.

1:33AM            Got through a 1/3 of my book. Really wanting to go to sleep so I can wake up on time for breakfast, but I can feel my body turning more and more nocturnal with every mid-day nap I take. I attempt to think about something soothing. Goat cheese risotto. Crisp grilled brussell sprouts. Peaches and strawberries. Spinach.

2:00AM             I can’t breathe. It’s too hot. I step out into my backyard for some cool air. I listen to the absolute silence and it sounds so beautiful I can’t help but do a little dance and twirl for my man in the moon.

Ramadan is so mosu.