On Being Hungry

I don’t consider myself devoutly religious in any sense, but I do believe I am in a very limited pool of people who have celebrated both Yom Kippur and Ramadan in the same year. I was raised in a Jewish household and have always fasted for Yom Kippur but I chose to celebrate Ramadan with my village to learn more about the holiday and Islam.

Both holidays require fasting – no food, no water, no sex. Yom Kippur lasts 25 hours, from sunset to sunset. Ramadan lasts 30 days, fasting from sunrise to sunset.

sunset Santa Barbara

During the month of Ramadan my alarm always jerked me too quickly from the respite of sleep. I would groggily pull back my mosquito net, stumble out of bed, aluminate my flashlight and waddle to my desk. It’s 4:00am – ready for breakfast? Half a baguette, sliced open, slathered with mayonnaise, topped with sardines. Even now I can taste that delicious medley. Enough time, enough fasting, enough of a protein deficiency and anything can become gourmet. I would inhale my daily bread, pray with my family, and go back to bed. No food, no water – not a drop — not until 7:30pm.

This morning, this Yom Kippur 5775, I awoke at 8:30am neither full nor hungry, just pleasantly prepared for the day. There was no rush out of the bed; I’d opted to sleep as long as possible to avoid thoughts of food. I threw on my outfit and was out the door to services by 8:50am. The last drop of drink and morsel of food had hit my tongue the prior evening at a local Chinese restaurant. I would have to wait until sundown at 7:00pm for the next meal.

yomkipput

The atmospheres of the two holidays are very different. Yom Kippur goes out as quickly as it comes in. This year it fell on a Saturday, but Jews around the world always take off work and spend the majority of the holiday in synagogue praying. The day is devoted to thinking of all the sins and wrongs you committed in the past year, reflecting on the changes you need to make in the upcoming year, and praying for the strength to be a better person.

The best thing about Yom Kippur is that it only lasts one day. In this way, it’s truly incomparable. Yom Kippur requires 25 hours of fasting; Ramadan requires 435.

The month of Ramadan transforms an entire village, an entire nation. Women who make their living selling rice on the street have to go without for 30 days. Girls who walk up and down the road advertising their delicious fried goods are suddenly absent, gone without a trace. Street food is a thing of the past. It’s seen as incredibly rude to eat in public or in front of another if you are not fasting. Unlike its 1-day cousin, Ramadan doesn’t provide a month-free of work; you must still plow your fields, go into the office, drive your taxi.ramadan

Both holidays claim to bring people closer to God. Both holidays are an exercise in self-control and will. Both holidays lead to compassion, a greater understanding of world hunger. Both holidays offer the religious a relief from their past sins.

The thirst, the hunger grumbling in to greet you mid-day, the anticipation of the nighttime meal, the physical enjoyment and savoring of whatever it is you break the fast with, and the likely fate that you’ll eat too much and go to bed with an extended belly – these, too, are shared.

Allahu akbarElohim gadol – God is great

praying_

Ramadan was perhaps one of the most difficult things I’ve ever attempted to do. The first day or two of no food is painful but the body quickly adjusts. More difficult is no water in 110 degree, 100% humidity weather – when you have to bike 5 miles to work and your work is outside. In comparison, Yom Kippur was a breeze. It’s a chilly autumn, I didn’t have to bike anywhere, and to nap and not work was encouraged. It was the first year in a very long time that I actually did not cheat – not a drop of water, not a mint, not a cup of black coffee.

I felt spiritually connected as I prayed before the break-the-fast meal with a group of 70 year old Guinean women; as the Arabic chanting filled the tiny mosque, the sunset backlit the evening, and we kneeled up and down silently thanking God for another day. Just as I felt spiritually connected as my entire synagogue sang a heart-wrenching rendition of Avinu Malkeinu, holding the draped-in-white torahs and looking up to God for forgiveness. Both holidays brought me closer to my own personal religion.

I’m not sure I’ll fast again for Ramadan – perhaps if I find myself living in a Muslim community next calendar year I will try again. It was a painful experience, but also very rewarding. And for any Jews who have always had trouble making it the 25 hour fast, Ramadan is a sure-fire cure – you’ll be fasting like Abraham in no time.

 

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Ramadan: Staving off Hunger by Staying Occupied

Hi friends! I hope you had a lovely 4th of July and enjoyed the fireworks for me. I was able to spend it in Labe with a large group of volunteers — we whipped up BBQ chicken, mac and cheese, pasta salad, and potato salad so don’t feel too bad for us out here. It’s been a while since I’ve updated on what I’m doing at site and I know you all are curious as to what I actually do out here so let’s get to it!

Ramadan

Ramadan began on June 29. I’m a reform Jew who complains about fasting for Yom Kippur and I’ve been known to sneak a few nibbles in years past. For those not familiar with the holiday, it’s only one day. Ramadan is thirty!

Well, if anything I’m always up for a challenge. I’ve been fasting with my family and it has been an interesting, rewarding, and difficult experience. We wake up at 4:30am to eat before the morning call to prayer at 5:00am. Break fast is at 7:30pm. In the hours in between not a single drop of water or crumb of bread is consumed. People are also supposed to stop all conflict, loud noise, non-Arabic music, sexual contact, and smoking. Fasting is supposed to make you more “God conscious” and allow you to connect on a deeper level with Allah. It is one of the 5 Pillars of Islam and is obligatory unless you are ill, pregnant, or menstruating. In which case, you must make up the days at a later time.

I chose to fast for the opportunity to learn more about Islam and to “do as the Romans do”. The hunger pains hit hard around 2:00pm and I’ve snuck a few swigs of l’eau, but I keep busy with my work and friends and being on the ‘inside’ of all the Ramadan jokes and struggles has brought me closer to my community. They are all very proud of me but I suspect many of them think I can’t do it. Stubbornness drives me to prove them wrong. I have also been praying with my family. I am of the belief that all religions are different answers to the same question and I am relishing in the opportunity to fully immerse myself. A Baltimore Jewish girl praying in Arabic in West Africa — stranger things have happened. Wasalaaum alaykum. Shalom aleichem. 

Also, fun note, I turn 22 on the fête de Ramadan. This is a big party after Ramadan has ended where everyone busts open the piggy banks and slaughters cows, sheep, goats and eats and dances their little hearts out. I’m excited!

Ismael

I spend a lot of time reading English novels and debating with my friend Ismael. He was taught English by the 3 PC volunteers who were at my site before me and is fluent at this point. You want inspiration in your life? Take one look at this kid.

His parents are both deceased and he has little contact with his remaining family members. He lives alone in a small hole in the wall that also functions as a boutique. He is fluent in Susu, Pular, French, and English. He spends his free time studying organic chemistry and teaching English to his neighbors. He just took his high school exit exam and we are waiting on the scores to find out what his college options will be. He dreams of being a doctor and living in a house filled with books. He dreams of studying in Canada. He dreams of education, opportunity and something more.

Ismael reading "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Albom.

Ismael reading “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom.

A former PCV from Koba just sent over a Kindle to give to Ismael. I can’t wait to see the look on his face when he realizes he now owns hundreds of books.

YETP/Dare to Innovate

In May I attended a training of trainers for PC Guinea’s Youth Entrepreneurship Training Program. It is a 12 class course that teaches basic business skills and project design. In September, I will start teaching the class to a group of final year university students at the National Agriculture and Animal Husbandry School located at my site. I am hoping to also offer the course to members of my community at large, focusing on different skill areas (a class for farmers, a class for boutique owners, etc).

I am also involved with a very special and exciting program, Dare To Innovate: The Conference for Social Entrepreneurs. This program leverages the success PC Guinea has seen with the Youth Entrepreneurship Training Program and searches for the most dynamic and motivated youth of Guinea’s communities. Through a competitive application process, we will choose 20 candidates to attend a 6 day conference in Kindia on social entrepreneurship. The candidates will then be put into contact with mentors, successful men and women in Guinean business, and will work with them for a 6 week period to develop a business plan. After this period of research and development, we will hold a competition in Conakry and the candidates will have a chance to present their business plans and receive seed money to start their social enterprises.

From our website, http://www.osezinnover.com/:

The mission of Dare to Innovate is to create a community of socially minded individuals and entrepreneurs that fosters the exchange of ideas, knowledge and resources, catalyzing and promoting the social entrepreneurship movement in Guinea. As Sally Osberg, President of the Skoll Foundation said, “Social entrepreneurs don’t just pursue a social end, they pursue that end in a fundamentally communal way.” Dare to Innovate: The Conference for Social Entrepreneurship will challenge youth to become actors in their economy while combating social issues. Through partnerships with thought-leaders in the field of social entrepreneurship, the conference will be an opportunity for Guinean youth to access top-level training and jump-start a social entrepreneurship sector in Guinea.

I am extremely excited to be working on this project. I will be able to learn management and organizational skills of running a conference, teaching and language skills from the sessions I will be facilitating, business skills and creativity from the mentors, and I will also have the chance to meet 20 young Guinean change-makers. The conference will be held in mid-August and the competition late-September. You will definitely be hearing more!

Moringa

Back in May, Mangue TP and I started a Moringa tree nursery and they are ready for transplantation! We have 50 trees to give away. The past few weeks we have spent going around the community — to gardening collectives, the Agricultural university, the houses of the authorities — and teaching people about the medicinal, nutritional, and agricultural benefits of Moringa. Next season I am hoping to have two or three times as many saplings, distribute seeds, and hold taste-tests of meals prepared with Moringa.

Kala and Bafode, leaders of a gardening groupement, posing with one of the Moringa trees we planted on their land. The Nitrogen fixing plant will improve their soil quality and the leaves can be periodically cut back and used as a green manure.

Kala and Bafode, leaders of a gardening groupement, posing with one of the Moringa trees we planted on their land. The Nitrogen fixing plant will improve their soil quality and the leaves can be periodically cut back and used as a green manure.

mangue_moringa

Mangue TP, or as I call him “L’Homme de Moringa”. He has a huge Moringa tree at his house and we recently added about 15 to his garden.

Planting Moringa trees at the house of the Chef of the town.

Planting Moringa trees at the house of the Chef of the town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We just welcomed G26, the newest member of our PC Guinea family. There are 24 math, chemistry, and physics teachers. It’s been great to meet them and now this means I am officially 1/4 of the way done my service. It’s weird how fast time has flown and it’s even weirder to not be “the baby” anymore. I kind of know what’s going on in Guinea now… kind of.  She always surprises you, though. She always keeps you on your toes.

Until next time folks! Love you all and know that I always keep you on my mind.