It is the Suumaye - the time where we fast from the break of dawn to the setting of the sun for 29-30 days, depending on the moon’s wishes. The village alarm clock – a group of men banging drums – weaves through the village, waking us up at 3:30 AM to make something to eat. The first call from the Mosque reminds us to eat, drink, and brush our teeth before the second call, at 4:45 AM, tells us to stop and get ready to pray.
It is Ramadan. We do not eat, drink, hug or kiss (not that many Northern Cameroonian couples do this anyway). We give more, expect less and show gratitude for what we have. We let the sun chap our lips if it wishes and avoid medication no matter how much we need it. We keep our regular work schedule, but as the month goes on, we might start favoring a small, afternoon nap.
As the sunset approaches, we gather at the market to buy beignets, porridge, fruit, cucumbers or other small treats to break our fasts. The prayers get longer and although the days feel longer too, no one shows if their struggling. They go to their farms and work under either sun or rain and return to say that the fast is easy.
The last 10 days, the men “move into” the mosques, and the village adds 2:00AM prayers to the five obligatory ones they already do. For it is at 2:00AM that God is closest. At the end of the month, we feast for three days, gaining back any weight that may have been lost (and then some). We may kill a sheep or a goat, get knew clothes made and make lots of cake to share. Children wander from house to house in their nice, new clothes collecting candies as American kids do on Halloween. Adults send gifts to those less fortunate, visit friends and family to wish them a happy celebration and to sample the all-so-similar cakes.
Life does not slow down as much you might think – my village is fasting and building a library at the same time.