RA­MADAN IN DAKAR

Al­though 92 per cent of Sene­galese are Mus­lim, the Ra­madan ex­pe­ri­ence is vastly dif­fer­ent from that of Malaysia

New Straits Times - - OPINION -

FACE it — when Ra­madan rolls around, we Malaysians are one of the hap­pi­est peo­ple imag­in­able. Ev­ery­where we turn, there are street ven­dors sell­ing food, ho­tels of­fer­ing buka puasa (iftar) deals and restau­rants pro­mot­ing mouth-wa­ter­ing cui­sine.

This year was my first Ra­madan in Africa. As Malaysians, we at­tach a lot of im­por­tance to this month-long fast, and with 92 per cent of its pop­u­la­tion pro­fess­ing Is­lam, I fully ex­pected Sene­gal to be one of those coun­tries where Ra­madan is of ma­jor im­por­tance. How wrong I was.

FIRST, Sene­gal is one of the Mus­lim-dom­i­nated coun­tries where Aidil­fitri is sec­ondary to Aidi­ladha. The haj sea­son, in­clud­ing the Qur­ban that ac­com­pa­nies it, is the peak of the Mus­lim cal­en­dar for Sene­gal. This means that there is very lit­tle fan­fare that ac­com­pa­nies the fast­ing month.

Wan­der­ing around the streets of Dakar, you would hardly know that it is Ra­madan — cafes and restau­rants are open as usual, as are the carts ped­dling cof­fee at prac­ti­cally every street corner. Un­like in Malaysia, where eater­ies op­er­ate only in the af­ter­noon, in Sene­gal, it is busi­ness as usual.

SEC­OND, the iftar pack­ages and deals that Malaysia is renowned for are prac­ti­cally non-ex­is­tent in Sene­gal. Only the ma­jor ho­tels such as Ter­rouBi and Pull­man of­fer buf­fet-style din­ing for the break­ing of the fast, or ndo­gou ,as the Sene­galese call it.

In Malaysia, reser­va­tions for iftar would be made days and weeks in ad­vance be­cause of the high de­mand at many restau­rants.

In Sene­gal, if you were to break the fast at a ho­tel dur­ing the week­day, it is likely you can just wan­der in and still snag a ta­ble for you and your guests. Week­ends, how­ever, are a dif­fer­ent mat­ter as many Sene­gal fam­i­lies choose to break their fast by go­ing out. Reser­va­tions are then a must at these ho­tel restau­rants.

Then, there’s the mat­ter of the con­duct at these ho­tel restau­rants. Malaysians nor­mally ar­rive early, head straight for the buf­fet line, pile their plates with as many things as they want, bring it to the ta­ble, and then keep on bring­ing plate af­ter plate of food un­til no sur­face of the ta­ble is spared.

Things are a bit dif­fer­ent at the Dakar ho­tels. The break­ing of the fast is nor­mally around 7.30pm, but very few peo­ple would be seated at the ho­tel restau­rants then. Peo­ple wan­der in any time be­tween 7pm and 9pm with the lat­ter be­ing the time when all ta­bles are full with pa­trons.

Sene­galese are more cir­cum­spect with the amount of food they take — not for them are the plates and plates of un­eaten food at the ta­ble. They will take from the buf­fet line only what they are con­fi­dent of fin­ish­ing, choos­ing to re­turn for the food rather than pil­ing it on their plate.

Even though the ma­jor­ity of Sene­galese are fast­ing, you would not find food sold at every street corner. The idea of a Ra­madan bazaar the likes of Malaysia is un­heard of, since the break­ing of the fast is es­sen­tially a pri­vate af­fair and every­one cooks at home.

Which is why there is such a mas­sive traf­fic jam in Dakar from 4pm on­wards. A jour­ney home that would in other months take only 35 min­utes would now take more than two hours to com­plete in the month of Ra­madan.

Malaysia be­comes a bee­hive of ac­tiv­ity even af­ter the break­ing of the fast as peo­ple con­tinue eat­ing, go for prayers, then go out again in search of more food. The all-night ma­mak shops are a par­tic­u­lar

The sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences do not stop there. At Eid (which in Sene­gal is known as ‘Korite’), every­one still goes back to home­towns to cel­e­brate with fam­i­lies. In Malaysia, we take days and even whole weeks off; in Sene­gal it is a one­day cel­e­bra­tion with no ‘open houses’ the way we un­der­stand it.

favourite for those who find re­newed en­ergy af­ter dusk.

But in Sene­gal, the same eater­ies that are in other months open un­til 10pm are sud­denly closed early. Very few es­tab­lish­ments are open af­ter 10pm, and none af­ter 1am. As I said, eat­ing dur­ing Ra­madan is a pri­vate af­fair.

The sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences do not stop there. At Eid (which in Sene­gal is known as “Korite”), every­one still goes back to home­towns to cel­e­brate with fam­i­lies. In Malaysia, we take days and even whole weeks off; in Sene­gal, it is a one-day cel­e­bra­tion with no “open houses” the way we un­der­stand it.

This year’s Open House for the Asean com­mu­nity will be hosted by the am­bas­sador of In­done­sia. With no other op­tions avail­able, it is likely that the event will see a high turnout of the Asean cit­i­zens liv­ing in Sene­gal with all 53 In­done­sians, 20 Thais and six Malaysians con­gre­gat­ing un­der one roof to cel­e­brate Eid.

The writer is a for­eign ser­vice of­fi­cer and an honorary re­search fel­low of the Univer­sity of Sheffield. These days, she writes pri­mar­ily on in­ter­na­tional af­fairs, with a par­tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on Africa

Mem­bers of the lo­cal com­mu­nity dur­ing prayers at a re­cent ‘iftar’ event at Rumah Malaysia in Sene­gal.

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