Saturday, October 14, 2006

Learn to love the local food -- then stop eating

A brief aside from the village stories.

It’s currently Ramadan across the world, and this is pretty strongly felt in the Northern Region of Ghana (where approximately 60% of the population is Muslim). Ramadan is the holiest month in Islam, and it’s considered the religious duty of all adult Muslims to fast during this month, from sunrise till sundown.

While I had many Muslim friends back home in Canada, it had never occurred to me to give fasting a try during Ramadan. But here in Tamale, I’ve been given the perfect opportunity for a completely different cultural experience. Since I live with a Ghanaian Muslim family, it’s almost expected that I try to fast along with them.

People at work are also pretty adamant that I join in and avoid food or drink during the day. “How’s the fasting?” is a common greeting this month. Or, “Are you fasting?” (asked in a semi-accusatory tone of voice) is also heard.

So while I haven’t maintained a stringent schedule of fasting, I have managed to do 9 days’ worth.

The day usually starts around 3:30am, when a man patrols the neighbourhood with a drum, playing loudly to wake up households to prepare food to be taken before sunrise. It’s not unusual to hear the pounding of fufu shortly thereafter.

I’ll get up at 4am, and bike out with my Ghanaian brother Samed to a food stand that has opened at this (un?)Godly hour to provide sustenance to observant Muslims. There, I have a three-fried-egg sandwich, and drink at least a litre of water. After that, I usually head back to bed, while Samed heads to the mosque for the first round of the days’ prayers.

The next phase of my Ghanaian family’s plan for me is to get me into the mosque. “It’s good that you fast,” my house-father said to me, “but your head also has to touch the ground!” So far I’ve tactfully dodged conversion.

It’s surreal to be awake at 4am and see the city coming to life: people on bicycles or on foot on the streets, lights coming on in houses and the sounds of food preparation drifting across the town. The other day, I was looking at the night’s (early morning’s?) sky and saw the most brilliant shooting star I’ve ever witnessed, burning up in the atmosphere.

Hunger and thirst usually aren’t too bad throughout the day, so long as I’m not sweating excessively. There have been a few days where I’ve had to bike across the city in preparation for our STAND UP! event (see below), which left me pretty thirsty by the end of the day. But I have it really easy compared to people who work outdoors in the sun all day, performing manual labour – I can’t imagine being a Muslim farmer for this month.

At 6:10pm my Ghanaian family breaks their fast, usually with oranges (which are generally not eaten completely here – the flesh is too tough –, but rather sucked through a hole in the rind). Dinner then comes later on, once the stomach has expanded enough to allow for solid food.

On another note, fellow long-term EWBers Christian, Kristy, Gwen and myself are preparing for tomorrow’s STAND UP In Support of the Millennium Development Goals event. This is a global advocacy effort, in an attempt to set a Guiness World Record for the most people across the globe standing in support of a cause. In this case, the cause is the eradication of global poverty.

We’ve lined up traditional dancers and drummers for our event, as well as a few guest speakers and a DJ. We’re hoping to have several hundred people come out in support – stay tuned for pictures and an update.
STAND UP events in your own area can be found by visiting


Anonymous said...

Say whaaaat $800, Luke do not pass up this opportunity.

I could be wrong on this but don't you have to be muslim to actually go into a mosque?

Luke Brown said...

Not at the mosques I've visited.. as long as you're respectful (e.g. remove your shoes, dress appropriately) then people seem to welcome visitors who are interested in learning more about Islam or participating in some ceremonies.

Anonymous said...

What did you do with the first post, now the 1st paragraph makes no sense.

Luke Brown said...

Want me to delete the first paragraph too?

Anonymous said...

You can edit my words? What kind of facist blog is this? and yes take out the first paragraph of the 1st post.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna try eating oranges like that!

Luke Brown said...

Actually I don't think I can directly edit posts. I can only delete them fully.

Sorry, you'll just have to look like you make no sense.

At least you're anonymous.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm well can you repost the 1st comment then? That would also help.

Anonymous said...

Your event sounded awesome! Wish I had known about it! Stand up!

Nickolas said...

Not sure if you know but the results are in! Over 38.8 million people, in 110 countries have broken the Guinness World Record – set last year at 23.5 million - for the largest number of people to “STAND UP AGAINST POVERTY” in 24 hours.