Friday, September 12, 2008

The Fast

“Okay, a thousand?” I shook my head. “How about 800? 700? Alright 500”
“Non merci, pas aujourd’hui,” I said and closed my car door, and slowly pulled away. His bead necklace was nicely made if a little chunky but not quite my thing. I, initially encountered this street vendor when I got out of my car pick something at the “White Shack”—a little grocery store about the size of a 7-11 corner store. His starting price as I headed for the store was 5000 cfa, a little over ten bucks, and the 500 cfa he ended with about $1.
As I pulled away my mind went back to a conversation I’d had with a young neighbor the weekend before about Ramadan. After a month of daily fasting, there is a great feast and everybody gets a new set of clothes. The day everyone dons their new duds, the streets are filled with people as everyone heads into town to show off their new clothes. Most people seem to head for the Musée near the centre of town, a cross between a zoo, artisan village, and a museum. How many people actually get into the Musée, I’m not sure but I’ve seen the line-up on the fete-day to get in.
My friend suggested a comparison between the fete-day and Christmas. “And your kids, don’t they look forward to getting clothes at Christmas?” He had explained that if someone doesn’t get new clothes, they are too ashamed to leave the house. “Last year, my friend’s father had not managed his money well during the fast and so he had no money to buy clothes for the fete. My friend hid in his house and cried for two days—he was too embarrassed to be seen in the same old clothes. If you don’t have new clothes when you go out on the street, everyone will taunt and mock you.” When I tried to explain that my children would cry if they only got clothes for Christmas, I could see the incomprehension on his face.
I know that the desperate attempt at a sale that I’d encountered on the street was a reflection of Ramadan. The price of everything but food and clothing drops as people become desperate for money so that their families can celebrate and they won’t lose face in the neighbourhood.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Isaiah 58:6-7

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very interesting!