Since I moved to The Gambia, an Islamic dominated country people have always asked me if I would revert to Islam. *Muslims call it revert rather than convert as they believe everyone is born a Muslim and Islam is the one true religion. *
My answer has always been; if I feel it in my heart and believe what Muslims believe then yes, I would. That being said, I do not think I could stick to the 5 Pillars of Islam, which would make be a bad Muslim and a hypocrite. No way could I fast without water here. My education means I understand the damage withholding water can do in hot climates, although my Muslim Dr friends in the UK manage to fast and perform surgery. So, although I am still drinking at least 5 litres of water every day (all year round) I am fasting from food to show support to Sol. Not that he has ever asked or implied I should. More I feel it is unfair to ask him to prepare food or watch me eating while he is fasting. He says he is used to it and not to worry, but that’s part of being married. You do what you can to support your partner.
Week 2 of Ramadan has been relatively quiet. We still don’t have any water. I haven’t washed my hair in a week. Not the look I usually go for. Not only because I can’t move with my spinal problems but because the water we have collected is not enough to do everything. I mentioned last week there is no well in our street. So, to find water, Sol has bought 3, 25 Gallon oil drums from the market and cleaned them out. He then caught the giley giley to the family compound where he drew enough well water to fill them. Then he struggled to bring them back home on the giley giley. Each Gallon weighing around 25KG.
After contracting Leptospirosis and then Weils Disease in January, I am now paranoid about rodent urine contaminated dirty dishes (the source of my infection). Having had no water for days meant a stack of dirty pans and dishes were building up, which in turn attracts the cockroaches (which also spread up to 30! fatal diseases) and the mice and their big cousins; the rats. This morning I paid our pregnant neighbour D100 (£2) to wash all the dishes outside. in our outside tap area. That may seem a pittance to you and you may think I am mean to pay her £2 to wash the dishes for an hour’s work. To put that into perspective, a building labourer who labours all day in the sun will earn the same in a day as she earned in an hour. I have heard people try to justify Gambian low wages by saying it is comparative to our low cost of living. Really that deserves a post of its own, but to give a quick example: Diesel and Petrol is the same price in the UK, as it is in Gambia. A 10KG bag of rice from Tesco costs £11.00. That is the same price as here for a similar quality rice of the same weight.
The 2nd week of Ramadan sees people covering their mouths when talking to each other or keeping a respectful distance. Personal space is not usually a Gambian practice! This is due to fasting and dry mouths exacerbating halitosis. Don’t get too close, it aint pleasant!
Demba who is in fact under our “in loco parentis”, after his mother returned to Basse, (the eastern most village in Gambia) leaving him in our care so he could remain in school; has been complaining of toothache on and off for months. Until we met Demba he had never seen a toothbrush. Poor Gambians and the uneducated use sticks from certain trees to clean their teeth and have done since time began. If you check out most Gambians teeth, who avoid Attaya, (a green tea brewed and stewed with copious amounts of sugar), have on the surface clean white teeth. So, these sticks do work.
However, Demba’s toothache is worsening so Sol took him to the dentist yesterday. The prescribed some antibiotics and painkillers and a day later Demba is insisting he is better and does not need to return on Saturday. Mother in loco parentis disagrees. Everyone here is afraid of the dentist, that’s nothing unusual in my experience! The difference here, is dentists just remove teeth as the first and only treatment options whereas UK or European trained dentists are taught to save the tooth no matter what. Oh, and then there’s the missing local anaesthetic!
Not long after we had been married, one of the tailors who made our wedding dresses was complaining to Sol about his front teeth, which were perpendicular to his mouth following an accident in an giley giley. I chose to pay for him to seek dental treatment. What neither I nor Samba knew, was they would extract both front teeth without any anaesthetic! Eventually after the PTSD subsided and Samba’s gums healed I paid for the dentist to make him a set of false teeth on a plate. To look at him now, 7 years later you would never guess they were fake. I can’t remember exactly how much that cost me, but under £30! That might be cheap but personally no dentist is touching any of my teeth without full anaesthesia.
Back to Demba, who by hook or by crook is going to have treatment on Saturday. I hope they will drill and fill under anaesthetic for whatever is wrong, or I won’t ever get him back to a dentist again. Ever.
My point in mentioning Demba and the tooth, was before Sol took him to the dentist I gave him some painkillers to ease the pain. As he is taking exams, he can’t afford to miss any school. He said, “but I am fasting” implying he couldn’t take the meds as they need a full glass of water to swallow. I had to persuade him that he can make up this day where he broke his fast early, another time. And that being pain free to do his exams was more important. No doubt there are devout and strict Muslims who would disagree with me allowing him to break his fast to alleviate pain at an important time of exams. The result of these exams determines what schools he can attend in September. Demba is bright and we want the best school for him, the sponsorship money can afford. Being a Mom to a Muslim son as a non-Muslim I try to understand and educate myself as much as I can about his faith and customs. But at times like this, my education and need to “do the right thing as his mom” overtook my respect for his faith. Life is one big balancing act here.
Thursday of week 2 of Ramadan, now 7 days without water. My hair is a cockroach trap. As if Ramadan in the heat and humidity isn’t bad enough, poor Sol is traipsing to the other side of Serekunda by giley giley to collect water. Did you know that when you break your fast, many Muslims break it with dates and a hot drink and wait a couple of hours before eating? Because Sol cooks for me, we are not eating until 10pm, by which time its med o’clock and within an hour I am zonko until 10 hours later. The pain meds work when I’m immobile but not exactly much fun.
YAY WATER!! Last night we had water from 2 -3am. Instead of sleeping I filled every receptacle I could find (without lifting on Dr Badjie’s orders) and because I don’t want to paralyse myself. The next day a dribble of water at 8pm, then as I write nada, nothing, zero, zilch. Those who think we live a “lavish lifestyle” you have absolutely no idea. Try living in Khayelitsha township next time you visit South Africa and you may begin to realise what life for the black people of Africa is really like.
Internet here is a nightmare, who remembers dial up? Our net is as slow as that but 3 times as expensive as modern net deals in the UK. When we visit the UK, I have unlimited GB fast as anyone could need for £19 a month. In the last 24 hours, I have used £25 worth of net uploading and downloading documents needed for the charity. All gone! That’s £25 for 24 hours net. Part of the problem was the old regime had a monopoly on everything and nothing has had the chance to change yet. Some wealthy retired ex-pats do have a better internet service but that is around £80 a month! To top up, Sol must walk for an hour to buy scratch cards which have a number on, which we put in the dongle. During Ramadan in the heat and humidity. Yes, a right old lavish lifestyle we lead!
If you go back to my blog post on the sound of the Gambia, I totally missed the sound of call to prayer! I have become so accustomed to it, I never even hear it now. But at 5am, 2pm, 5pm, 7pm and 9pm Mosques all over Gambia call their fellow worshipers to prayer. With a very loud megaphone. Sol told me a story about the 5 daily prayers. He told me that originally Allah wanted Muslims to pray 20+ times a day. The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh)approached God and asked him to reduce it, as people had to work. This went on for several days until finally God agreed on 5 daily prayers.
Before a Muslim can pray, he or she must be clean to show respect to God. Asking God to answer your prayers when you’re too lazy to wash isn’t very respectful now is it! The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said that “cleanliness is half the faith”. Muslims perform Ablutions prior to prayer, washing both hands, arms up to the elbow, feet and ankles, ears, nose, face and mouth and hair three times. It is said, if the person praying is not clean, Allah will not answer their prayers.
The water being back didn’t last long. Less than 24 hours later it is gone again. Must be wherever the electricity is hiding. After the change of regime here, everyone expected change. We all hoped for better power and water with the millions of dollars, euros and pounds that were donated. Nope. And the new Government ministers are providing their nearest and dearest with Government vehicles. We may be free to wrote about this now. But the tragic fact remains. Nothing practical has changed.
Sol is managing week 2 relatively well, having stocked up on Chureh which he gorges on at night. Although the headaches through dehydration are now appearing. Wonder what week 3 will bring……..