Ramadan and Taking Risks

There’s a link to a video that contains local church music in here, guys. Skip down a few sections if that’s what you’re interested in.

Have you ever really thought about Ramadan? I must confess that I hadn’t. It’s sunrise to sunset, with no food or water. Every day. For a month. If you’re in Russia, that’s 20 hours. Every day. For a month.

What if you have a manual job?! Here, you sweat constantly. How do you not die? Even in a job in AC, my Muslim colleague across the hall looked about to pass out on Friday and confessed that he was very, very tired.

Predominantly Muslim countries actually shut down during this time (one of the potential new hires for the English Prep department is having trouble getting references from Saudi Arabia because workplaces are closed). It’s very, very quiet here. I’m told that if I go to Morocco (my layover is there in July) the streets will be empty. Here, it’s about half Christian so there are plenty of people out and about and frying dough balls with hot pepper sauce on them.

fried dough
This. I’m pretty sure they’re called gbofloto. My vegetable lady was making them, but they’ve cropped up in multiple points on my way home. Just in time for Ramadan…. They’re the best fried thing I’ve had so far, and that’s the fault of the hot piment sauce. No, I take that back. AN brought some millet/banana dumplings coated in savory spices that were amazing.

A friend of mine once took the train from Florida to Philly. She’s normally a homebody, content with whatever, a beautifully humble and meek person. So why did she decide to take a train ride? “I was afraid to do it,” she said, “and I’m tired of being afraid.”

This echoes in my mind at times like these. Now that it’s summer, it’s harder to stay on task (especially when your task so far has produced a rather long list of potential funding sources with strikethroughs). Weekends are suddenly free. I have no friends to hang out with. This was also true in the States for the last four years, with the exception of my boyfriend at the end there– grad school  is full of transient relationships and incompatible schedules, and the rest are having kids and dropping off the face of the Earth.

So you’re faced with a few choices. 1) Stay home and live on your computer. 2) Do the two things you’re familiar and semi-comfortable with. 3) Do new things.

#3 was my plan during the semester, but now I realize that I’ve done all the easy things, and the new things are terrifying. Will people stare at me (more than normal)? Will I offend someone? Will there be some unforeseen difficulty that I’ll not understand, resulting in offending someone? Or paying too much? Or taking the wrong taxi? Is there a wrong taxi? Well, after a few weeks of being boringly safe, I’m tired of being afraid.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s nothing big, and they’re not big fears. They’re also silly fears. It’s stupid little things, like finding exotic ingredients at the market, and taking a taxi in Abidjan, and going to a church service myself. If I had to, I could, but I can talk myself out of it. I can make cookies instead of sauce d’aubergine. Why bother buying the fresh fish? It’s probably been sitting out too long, and won’t be good. You’ll just be an idiot trying to find ‘adjovan,” since you have no idea what you’re looking for. Better to wait until you go to Abidjan. Better to wait until G shows you how to cook Ivorian.

One of the pastors on OnePlace (Rick Warren?) says, “The enemy of great is good.” I respectfully disagree. If you wait until the perfect time, you’ll never do anything. It’s better to try and fail than to never start at all. Also, it’s better to do something that causes you a little pain or time and that might not be necessary than to forever wonder if you should have done it. Within reason, of course. Preorder my inspirational book on Amazon! Anyway.

So these are my accomplishments this weekend, for which I am proud:

  1. Getting strange new ingredients from the market.
  2. Going to church by myself, on a weird day.

1 – So, after browsing several Ivorian recipes, I decided on an easy one to start. The only new thing to get would be fresh fish. I figured it would be pretty easy to tell if a fish was old, by the smell and all. So down to the market, and back to the meats. First stop was some greens from a lady with whom I’m familiar, who sells what I’m pretty sure are Jute leaves (kplala). I turn around, and there’s a lady with dried shrimp.  She sees me looking and beckons me over. This is what you want– there are some women who are very excited to introduce la blanche to local ingredients. I got some of the shrimp just because why not, I’ll use it next weekend, and she asks what else I need. “Adjuvan?” She didn’t understand it at first, but then she realized what I meant and corrected my pronunciation and was very excited, I’m assuming because this is a super-local thing. According to this site, which has been a great deal of help, it’s a fermented fish. Her friend was selling it. After I fumblingly tried to ask whether to buy from the woman, she gave up trying to understand and took it from the friend and bundled it in the price with the shrimp.

Next up was the fish. I looked at the most obvious fish seller, right in the main path, and she called out to me. It was mackerel, and mackerel can be pretty high mercury, so I moved along. A woman had a bunch of spices and powders stacked on the table, including something that looked like flat, wide fava beans. She said it was for sauce, but  hesitated like there’s some special use for it, and suggested instead the okra powder (this has happened before, with snails). Eventually, not finding better-looking fish, I returned to the woman from before, who spoke clearly and patiently while I realized that the fish was actually frozen. The really good communicators will point and use hand gestures and hold the cleaver to the fish when they ask if you want it cut… So chop-chop-chop and into the bag, 2000 CFA, done.

It turned out to be really tasty fish. That will be a future post.

2- Sunday was Pentecost. It was also the first Sunday of the month, so the pastor and possibly all of the congregation would be in Abidjan. My translator who took me to her church was out of town. But darnit, if you can’t go to church and get some compassion and understanding, where can you go? So I went. If nobody was there, then I would have a nice walk. There were people there, however, and they motioned me to a seat.

It was a pretty regular service, except for the point where the guest pastor (in training) asked everyone how they felt the Holy Spirit (he did a lot of sketchy things during that service I think are more show than Spirit, but maybe I’m too cynical). I thought he was asking the woman behind me and had my head down hoping to be swallowed into the floor, until he asked the rest of the (small) congregation if I spoke French. So I think I accidentally rudely ignored him. Oops. There’s that “better to fail than not to try” thing in action. At the end, they hung around, for what I don’t know. I had a migraine and left after the greetings that usually signal the end of the service.

Anyway, I’ve talked before about how the music has a beat that doesn’t quite mesh with my musical sensibilities, and I can never figure out what the heck they’re saying. So this time I recorded the singing/dancing. It’s only audio because I feel too strongly that it’s disrespectful to stand in the back videorecording worship. That means I have no internet storage space. A lot of today (a holiday for Pentecost) was spent figuring out how to deliver this to all of you, until I finally settled on making a slide show of random photos (chosen on the basis of not being embarrassing for anyone and being in the proper proportions for the slideshow). Four video editor downloads and a lot of troubleshooting later, HERE IS THE SLIDESHOW. Remember the quote about the enemy of great, and how I disagree? This. This right here. There are a lot of errors in this video, and not all the pictures are super great, but it’s for the audio, so if you’re interested you’ll just have to deal with the imperfections. Imagine about 15 people dancing in a small circle.


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