Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Eid Mubarak

Ramadan, helas – Ramadan is finished and now it’s time for Eid, 3 days of feasting, eating biscuits and dates, drinking guava juice and visiting everyone you know. There seemed to be some confusion about when Eid actually started, some people had seen the crescent of the new moon and some people hadn’t yet, so the end of fasting varied slightly, either yesterday or today. In the morning the prayers started as usual at 5.30ish but with a little more fervour than on other days. Then at about 7am (on both days), to celebrate the end of Ramadan, it was all guns blazing, for about an hour. I heard a variety of gun shots, the single sporadic shots from handguns, and then the machinegun rounds chuddering into the air. 7am strikes me as a funny time to want to shoot in the air for joy; you know, you’ve only been up a couple of hours, maybe you’ve been praying, maybe you’re drinking some tea… and suddenly you feel the urge to grab the gun and fire rounds into the air. The kind of release, and violence, I associate with gunfire seems totally inappropriate at 7am. Obviously not. The atmosphere is so festive that gunfire is starting to sound like exploding fireworks. Of course the only really scary thing is that you realise just how many of your neighbours actually have guns.

The bustle in the market just before Eid felt like Christmas Eve in Europe. I went shopping to prepare for everything being shut for a couple of days. By the time I got there, on the morning of Eid-eve, there were no eggs left, for example (bit of a shame seeing as eggs are about all I eat, still, I’m making up for it in biscuits). I feel sorry for the only guard who is working here today, sitting in the courtyard, all on his own. He came into the office this morning with a big smile and a glitzy tray of sugary biscuits and insisted on spraying us all with strong perfume every time we took a biscuit. Things are quiet now, in fact I’m the only one in the office so it might be time to call it a day and try and Eid it with someone else!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Camping it

Staying in one of the largest camps in Darfur. There is no running water, it is brought by donkeys, and put in these big blue barrels in the middle of the courtyard, to wash and cook with. No electricity either, (except with the generator) and no phone network. I loved being here. At night it's hot and people sleep on mats outside.

Holy Ramadan

I am now half-way into my first experience of the holy month of Ramadan. Though I am not actually fasting myself, when I work in the field I am obliged to be very discrete about eating or drinking. Usually I don’t eat at all, and in order to drink I have to find a corner to hide in (the car) and secretly slurp water. Not eating is not too difficult in this heat, but not drinking makes you feel thoroughly terrible. My staff told me that for the first few days they have bad headaches, but then their bodies adapt. I haven’t yet done a full Ramadan-day-fast. I guess I should try it. It may help me understand what everyone is going through.

I find myself really attracted to the rhythm of praying. It is not particularly the relationship with God that attracts me; it is more the discipline of the daily rituals that I find appealing. Everything stops for prayer time – we have to organise workshops so that they finish in time for 3 o’clock prayer, and during Ramadan that means the working day is pretty much over. The rest of the day is devoted to praying, resting, and then feasting.

The day begins at about 5, in order to eat before the sun comes up. I became aware of this routine early on in Ramadan, when I awoke at 5ish to the sound of a mob of children on the street, banging pots and pans and shouting loudly. I had no idea what was going on. I listened, in the darkness, and I started to panic. There were lots of very over-excited children just outside my window, with threatening sounding kitchen utensils, and from what I could make out they were shouting “Huwaji, go home, huwaji, go home”. (huwaji meaning foreigner). Oh my god, I thought, this is going to be the most embarrassing security incident yet - I’m going to be attacked by twenty hyper eight year olds. I leapt out of bed, quickly put my shoes on (I had been advised to always sleep with something decent on, just in case) and ran outside into the courtyard to ask the guard what was going on. The children were just on the other side of the wall. The guard laughed and told me that all was ‘tamam’, that all was OK. He reassured me. Soon the children moved on, to go and scare another sleeping foreigner no doubt, and I eventually went back to bed.

The incident played on my mind a bit, and I didn’t understand what had happened until two days later when the guard came into the office and asked for someone to translate for him. Through the translator he explained that the children had been chanting “huwaji gaum” meaning, “foreigner wake up”, which is by all accounts a very friendly thing to do, during Ramadan. The children go through the streets to wake everyone up, so that people get a chance to eat before fasting begins. I suppose they think I’m fasting too, and they just wanted to help. They haven’t been back since then, but there’s generally so much movement on the street, and blaring of mosques at that hour, that I wake up anyway.