Ramadan is wrapping up. For those that can’t quite remember the intricacies of Ramadan, if you would have asked me a year ago I would have been one of those folks, I’ll fill you in, well, sort of. It’s a month of fasting during the day.
Ramadan has been wonderful. I have the luxury of not being Muslim, so not fasting, and having all the perks of a holiday. Ie delicious food at 7:00 o’clock. I have fasted a few days and I can confirm fasting is awful. The few days I have fasted I bitch and moan like a 7 year-old who just wants the new Pokemon Silver and incessantly pleads with his mom drawing out vowels to the extent his mother wonders why she vowed never to slap the shit out of her children. The good news is when I complain everyone thinks it’s hilarious. Look at John trying to be Muslim. I have earned the moniker sheikh Johni because of my long beard. It’s been 8 months since shaving. The Muslims themselves never complain. Around 4 in the afternoon they are zombies or asleep but nonetheless they say it’s easy to fast.
Almost everyday of Ramadan I have gone to my friend Fanti’s house. They have made a tidy profit off coffee. Their house is the nicest in my town. Everyday there are about 8-10 various men ranging from the ambulance driver to the town crazy man who wears a skirt. Here’s a typical dinner. about 6:50 P.M. they break their fast with dates. They import them from Saudi Arabia, dates are delicious. Although, I had never eaten dates outside of Fig Newtons in America, the first time I had eaten them I chomped right in. Ouch. Ignorant John didn’t know they have massive pits. At 7 o’clock everyone comes in to pray. I sit in a corner and watch everyone pray. I’m just twiddling my thumbs in a corner while they do their thing. Last night there was a new little girl, Infantu. Her father was visiting from the town over Gordomo. In the middle of prayers she locks eyes on me from across the room and starts shouting Shaun, Shaun, Shaun! The name of the Peace Corps volunteer in her town, Gordomo. My palms sweat, my heart speeds, I panic. Luckily the universal sign for shut the f— up is a finger over the lips. In her pink dress she puts her finger over her lips too and sprints into my lap. A much better alternative than her shrieking. Back to Ramadan. After prayers we eat. It’s normally Fir Fir with meat. Fir Fir is chopped up and spiced injera with meat mixed in. I find it wonderful. There are two massive platters that the Fir Fir comes on and everyone digs in communally. Once that is devoured it’s time for the soup. Every place I’ve been it’s been the same soup. The best way I can describe it is a watery oatmeal with rice. It tastes okay, not much taste at all. During Ramadan I have eaten gallons of the stuff. With the soup is sambusas. For Ramadan they’ve made meat sambusas. I like to crunch them up and put them in my soup.
After we eat there’s a palpable satisfaction in the room. The seating in every Muslim house I’ve been to is thin mats lining the edges of the room. Everyone leans against the wall with a slight smile of primordial content. There is no doubt who the leader of the household is, Fanti. She is a older women of around 60. She is a rotund woman who holds a constant scowl on her face. I pity those who have gotten on her bad side. It’s a flip of gender norms here, she is the matriarch. She gets the prime seat in front of the TV. Fanti has shown me this unique, oxymoronic kindness. She commands me to come to their house to eat. Yesterday she said in terse words this is your house now too, after the fifth straight day going there. Her house is also a hub for visitors. There are constant visitors from different towns for various reasons. Some are coffee traders. I get to learn about the coffee business. Coffee sells for 23 birr ($1) a kilo for pure, pristine Oromo, Ethiopian coffee. Some are drivers. I get to inquire if fasting affects drivers abilities. Khalifia, the ambulance driver claims it doesn’t, but I’m skeptical. There was even a honey trader that came. He drove a yellow truck the color, of, well, honey. I got huge laughs when I made that joke to him. In Ethiopia I’m a lot funnier. He was seeing if the quality of honey in Lalo could be exported to an international market. The honey here is amazing but that seems like an uphill battle to me. Of course the coffee gets served. It’s 3 cups at around 8, 8:30 P.M..
This is where I’ll mention there are 2 serving girls doing everything. I never know how to feel about them. I’ve gotten used to them but it just makes me feel weird. They do all the work. They bring out the food, they pick up the date pits, they serve the soup, they make the food, they brew the coffee, they serve the coffee, they bring people water. It’s a lot of work. I try to get off my ass and do, something, anything. But that is met with a howl of dissent. From their perspective they are rich enough to hire these girls. And to the girls it’s their jobs. It’s mostly a lousy job though, they’re young girls who are from rural farms. They work in exchange for room and board along with going to school. To be honest I don’t know a whole lot about it because people won’t talk about it much. It’s just the way things are. From what I’ve seen they’re treated fine (I’m sure this isn’t the case all the time and it depends on who they work for), but definitely treated as workers. I’m not sure where I’m going with this. It’s just a complex situation that I have mixed emotions about.