Here I am another turn of the earth around the sun. Another eight turns of the moon around the earth. And we are back to the month the Muslims call Ramadan. A month where the devout fast from dawn to dusk, if they are able. The fast, similar to the fasts in many religions, is about putting aside worldly concerns to better concentrate on the spiritual. To be closer to God. And also to become more aware and thankful of what one has. And more aware and considerate of those who have not and what it means not to have.

Since living amongst the people who practice this fast I have always kind of enjoyed this month. It puts me in mind of the "spirt of Christmas" that the Christians display near the time of celebration of the birth of their prophet. The spirit of fellowship and brotherhood, a tendency to actually see the downtrodden and be willing to help them. The sharing and taking the time to nod at passers by. This sort of solidarity for your fellow men is very present in the month of Ramadan. Break-fast time is a time when every one, even those who aren't fasting come together to share in the bounty however humble of a meal. Perfect strangers offer each other a sip of water a date a cracker so that everyone can at least taste something after hours of hunger and thirst.

I know butchers who lower the price of meat for the months so that people can afford to have some. There is an old lady in the neighbourhood who make panges and gives them out to the girls so they can be sure to dress with the modesty required in focusing on God and giving up the pleasures of the flesh. Alms are given. Devout who are unable to fast distribute foodstuffs to the less fortunate feeding the poor in place of fasting.

This solidarity is one of the reasons I have chosen to join the fast. Some fast only as an obligation and because everyone expects it of them they complain and flaunt their suffering or pass the day sleeping and waiting for the sun to set. I personally have not found fasting a burden. Though I do experience the thirst and hunger it is not overwhelming nor a cause to complain. There is a sort of serenity that allows one to move beyond that, to know that one is part of something bigger and the petty concerns of everyday life can not touch it.

For the first time since I came to Africa for the first time since the turn of the century, the turn of the millennium, I am not fasting. Somehow I almost feel more tired by it all than if I were. I am still taking part. Still preparing the break-fast for others. but I feel as run down as if I were fasting. Of course that may be the extra 20 pounds dragging me down, making it more work to stand up or sit down or bend at the waist. It could the fact that while I didn't drink several liters of water right before bed I still have to get up to pee several times in the night. Or that while I don't myself get up to have a last drink before dawn I am woken by the criers to walk the streets at two a.m. beating drums to wake those who do. And again at 3:30 when shindouk and Hapsa get up to eat. And again at 4 by the cries of the mosque telling people it's their last chance to drink before dawn. And again by Shindouk getting up to pray. And then the sun comes up over the wall and the roof top is too bright to sleep any more.

I rise and put away my bedding. Help collect the dishes and things left on the roof for the morning meal. And prepare to go to the hotel. I spend the morning working on my computer and hoping for clients. The season is slow getting started. There are hardly any tourists in town and we haven't had any here for days. The weather is humid and heavy, muggy for Timbuktu even for this time of year. At 2 p.m. Hapsa goes to get the meat and I head back to the house to get the kinkiliba started.

I find a child of about 4 under a thorn tree and send him to a neighbor who sells charcoal. When he gets back I go to another neighbour's whose fire is still going and get a few live coals. Leaves of the kinkiliba go in a pot with a few small lemons cut in half. Fill the pot with water and leave it on the heat. It must boil for hours to steep the flavour out that makes a local tea.

Then the slab of dried goat cheese that I scrubbed broke up and set to soak in the morning must be pounded up and sifted. It will be added to the soured goats milk to make it creamier. I also pound a hard grey seed pod and some small yellow kernals to go in the milk. A few hot peppers whole and some sugar and water round out the drink.

The dried ginger that we pounded to powder the other day, I measure into a pitcher and add water stir and strain. I squeeze a few small lemons into it and add sugar and water to the right consistency.

I rinse dates and set them on a plate. I measure out the spices for the tajine and Hapsa who has come back with the meat begins to prepare it. I also measure out the spices for the dinner meal so that it will be ready to start when the kinkiliba comes off the fire.

A girl comes by selling porridge. I get a large bowl full. and a smaller bowl for the morning dish. I add a bit of the goats milk i'd set aside.

I refill the tea and sugar canisters..

As dusk draws near. I remove the kinkiliba strain it and add a small amount of sugar before pouring it in a thermos.

A boy has arrived with the ice. Another with a pillowcase of hot fresh round flat breads, I put a chunk of ice in the pictures of ginger-aid and milk. I put the rest in a large thermos with a spigot and fill the space with water.

The children take the drinks, the cups, the dates, the porridge, the tea things, the small stove with hot charcoal, the thermos of water, and other materials onto the roof terrace and arrange them in the center of a carpet on a table cloth surrounded by mattresses. Shindouk arrives. The other men of our household, some who fast and some who don't, mount the stairs. A radio is singing the koran is it ours or the neighbors or both. The sky dims you can see the crescent in the western sky. The mosque cries "God is great" and people echo it "in the name of God" they say and rinse their mouths and eat a date and sip some hot tea and some water before getting up to pray. After the evening prayer they settle down to really appreciate the beverages the porridge and, of course, their three little glasses of green tea. A little later we serve the tajine along with the hot bread. People relax and talk.

Much later we will serve the more substantial dinner and then more tea before people head to bed. and the cycle begins again.

This is more or less how things will continue for the next month.

16 Sept 2007