Friday, October 5, 2007

Ramadan

The title of this entry is:

Why Ramadan Is The Worst Month EVER
Or
If I see one more creepy crawly…
Or
Sophomore Slump
Or
All of the above = a perfect combination for early termination of service (ETing).

Title #1

All of the other volunteers have been preparing us for how frustrating Ramadan is, but I am finally really experiencing it for myself. It really is just horrible.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. It’s still ridiculously hot. In fact, this morning at 8:30 am it was already 90 degrees in my room. I guess October/Ramadan is some kind of horrible anomaly. The rains have stopped so there are no more cool and breezy, wet days. But it also hasn’t started cooling off yet, and won’t until mid-November or so.

2. School is still out and all of the teachers and headmasters that I need to meet with are on vacation so I have been at site since mid-May and STILL can’t start my main project (which is to be teaching health classes at the schools) until it really gets going in November.

3. Everyone and their mother give me crap for not fasting and praying. And boy am I tired of it. It doesn’t matter that I attempted (or told my family I did) for one day in “solidarity.” Or that um, the most obvious one… “I’M NOT MUSLIM!” And if you’re fasting you’re supposed to be praying and obviously I’m not praying so where is the sense in fasting? For some people that’s an acceptable answer. At least for those people who have had a little more exposure to other cultures/more education. But for everyone else, I’ve gotten awful, disapproving looks, head shakes, and comments as lovely as “you’re a bad person” or “tssk, then your name isn’t Binta Lam” or “well you live here now so you should be praying and fasting and then just stop when you go home” or even from my own family “the previous volunteer fasted and prayed…why aren’t you?”
When I’ve tried telling them that they should respect my choice not to be a Muslim they just push harder and tell them that I should convert. I’m getting to my breaking point with this conversation. Every time it comes up I’m ready to scream. If anyone has any advice other than lying to them and sneaking food and water for the remaining 2 weeks, I enthusiastically welcome all suggestions.
(Oh, and actually fasting is not an option. And not just on principal. One girl in my stage put herself in the Dakar hospital because she was so dehydrated. Another girl one year gave herself a kidney infection.)
I think next time it comes up I’m just going to say, “I respect your choice to be a Muslim. Why can’t you respect my decision NOT to be one? If you came to America I wouldn’t try to make you change your belief system and pray to a different god, or tell you that you’re wrong and bad, and don’t deserve your American name.” Problem is that that is a logical argument and as I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, the strategy of using logic to prove my points has thus far not served me well.

4. Everyone is too tired to do anything. I have tried YET again to organize a girls group meeting (I still can’t seem to get them to come together for a meeting) and none of them showed up. Classic.

5. The health post is crowded with people spending the little money they have on medicine. Why? About 90% of them all have the same complaint, and I bet you all can guess what it is: Headaches, body aches and colds. I just want to take them all aside individually and say,
“Well let’s see, it’s 4pm, it’s 104 degrees outside, you haven’t had any food or water since 5am, and when you DO break fast finally at 7pm the first thing you put into your starved, overworked, dehydrated body is Nescafe, and sugary soda. And you’ve been repeating this same thing for almost 3 weeks now! So yeah, I can prescribe something to make you feel better…DRINK WATER!! STOP FASTING!!”
I think my favorite moments are when people tell me that fasting is good for them.

Right. Especially for my 9 month pregnant counterpart (yep, she’s even fasting).

6.Children suffer because the adults are fasting. What I mean is that no one cooks meals during the day, not even for the children, because they are all so tired, so the already malnourished children subsist mostly on white bread, sugary drinks, and a hot milk and rice drink called goossi.

7. It’s impossible to sleep for two reasons:
The mosques have been going at all hours. Now instead of the usual call to prayer 5x a day, the mosques go off at all hours for unspecified lengths of time. Last night for example, a recently arrived marabou decided to sing over the neighborhood loudspeaker for two hours 12-2am. Koranic study sessions are also blasted over a speaker every single day from 11am-2pm, just a couple houses over.
Middle of the night acid reflux. Because my family cooks the main meals at night and is so hungry, that the meals are heavier, more oily, meatier, and being served later. And they get really upset when I try to bail early and tell them I’m not hungry.

8. I get harassed more than normal to give out money because it’s supposed to make for me not fasting.

9. Everyone is short-tempered, cranky, bored, and exhausted. I’ve already seen more arguments and fights breakout in the past few weeks then I have my entire time in country.

Title #2

For some reason I have had a lot of really disgusting “creepy crawly” moments lately. Everyday I seem to be battling some new bug.

*The mosquitoes are still out in full force and despite my protective night gear (long sleeves, pants, and socks despite the 90 degree weather), they still manage to make my life miserable and bite me through my clothes. I am amazed I don’t have malaria.

*Every night spiders build huge webs in my douche that I literally have to walk through in the middle of the night when I have to use my latrine.

*Today, I noticed that there were some big red ants crawling on my wall in my room. I moved my bike and sleeping pad out of the way to discover 2 FIST SIZE PILES OF MAGGOT EGGS WITH HUGE RED ANTS SWARMING ALL OVER THEM (see picture under Kanel album). After I dry heaved, I got myself together, took a picture (for proof) and then went a little bit crazy with my DDT, a broom, and a dustpan. Disgusting. I hope that none of you ever have to experience that. Worst part is I have no idea how they got there. There was no rotted food, or garbage, or piles of water, or animal feces anywhere in sight. It had only been 2 weeks since I had moved everything away from that wall and swept my whole room. As if I wasn’t compulsive enough already checking for scorpions all the time, now I have maggot nests to worry about.

*Crickets have infested my room and they make a ton of noise all night long.

*I now have 3 toads and 4 or 5 mini-frogs living in my douche that like to hop all over my feet and legs when I bathe.

*The flies. Oh the flies. The fly phenomenon is one that until you have lived in Africa during the “fly season” you cannot understand how close the constant swarms bring you to the brink of insanity. And they are not like flies at home. These guys are fearless. They fly right in your face, up your nose, in your eyes, and are not easily flicked away with a jolt of the hand. Nope, they’ll come right back. Even in the middle of my bucket baths.

*Lizards. A lizard the size of my forearm fell from the rafters in my room and could not climb back up and was trapped in my room for two days and I could not get him out.

*Beetles. I have a lot of big black, kind of dopey looking beetles that I periodically accidentally crush in my door, or step on. They never really bothered me until I recently discovered that they fly, right into my face. Wonderful.

Title #3

Maybe there is a sophomore slump that happens in the Peace Corps that is just exacerbated by Ramadan. The next new group of PC trainees arrived a few weeks ago so we are no longer the newbies, but the official “sophomores” of the groups in country. It’s a tough place to be. No real work has started yet (for the reasons I listed above), despite coming back from IST with lots of momentum to affect change (inshallah!). The next 18-20 months are still looming ahead, filling me with uncertainty and shaking my confidence that this is the right place for me. The PCVs a year ahead of us in our same programs have the end in sight and are constantly talking about COS and homecoming plans. It has helped to talk to my closest neighbor (also from Davis, CA) who confessed to me that this time last year was the worst point in her service, and if I can just hold on and make it through Ramadan in one piece then it will all get better.

I mean I’m not actually really thinking of leaving. If I really do feel on the verge of a mental breakdown and need a break I can always retreat to the regional house for some R&R. But when I’m sweating in the heat, with bugs crawling all over me, people yelling at me for not being a Muslim, and wondering when I’m ever going to be able to start working, America and all the luxuries that come with it start to sound pretty darn wonderful.

If nothing else, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?…Right?