The One with the Goat

This post is not about goats, it is about Ramadan in Senegal. However, I promise you, if you read to the end, I will in fact tell you a story about a goat. One really angry goat. Here is a picture of the goat, too.
The mean goat. I couldn't even get close for the picture. Can you feel the anger?

The mean goat. I couldn’t even get close for the picture. Can you feel the anger?

While this project is not centered around Ramadan*, the holy month where Muslims fast from sunrise to sun-down, it makes for a good benchmark between the different communities. Please, read the footnotes for more of the logistics about Ramadan.

My first iftar meal was this delicious fish at the most western point/beach of Africa.

My first iftar meal was this delicious La Thoif fish at the most western point/beach of Africa. Just trust me. It was fresh and delicious. I had this iftar solo given that half of the country was still not fasting.

I arrived to Senegal on Wednesday, and was told by Aminata that, “yes, my Ramadan is on Thursday. My family starts fasting on Thursday.”
Given astronomy and that Senegal was a majority Muslim country, I was surprised to learn that not all of Senegal started fasting on Thursday. I was more surprised to learn that Senegal does not have a single authority responsible for announcing when Ramadan starts. In fact, I learned that there is not a single governmental religious authority that cares for matters such as announcing Ramadan or, for that matter, building, staffing, and caring for mosques. Mosques are built by a neighborhood coming together, sponsored by followers of a specific imam, or sponsored by one of the major Sufi tariqas. Therefore, the decision of when Ramadan begins comes down to each mosque, group, imam, etc.
A long line in the grocery store in preperation for Ramadan. The girl is not impressed.

A long line in the grocery store in preparation for Ramadan. This girl is not impressed. I wanted to see if Ramadan is similar to Jordan. So I went to a grocery store on Wednesday night. to find it packed. Hungry people are the same regardless of color and continent.

On Friday, Aminata invited me over to iftar (the meal we break the fast with at sunset) with her friends and fellow students of the same mukhadima, a spiritual mentor. The mukhadima, a kind grandmother cherished by her students, sat on the floor with us. The guys made a circle, and the girls made another circle next to them.

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The light meal at the sunset

Aminata kept warning me before getting there, “just text me when you are tired. You don’t have to stay for the entire thing.” I assured her thatI would be fine. Or so I thought.

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Hungry hands reaching out for food.

The plan was to do dhikr before iftar. I was really tired. But I realized iftar in Senegal is a light meal. At sunset, we drank tea, water, and juice. French baguettes were broken and sandwiches were made using a type of mortadella as well as a salty sardine mix/salad/spread. Then, we did more dhikr for approximately 2-3 hours. I could see the spirit of everyone was so high that it energized them to keep going. That was true for me as well, but, I was hungry. Really hungry. I am used to eating a gigantic meal as soon as the sun goes down so this was difficult.

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Actual dinner was rice with meat and veggies. It was delicious. Though, at that point I could’ve eaten anything.

Finally, we finished dhikr. It was good timing because I was ready to throw in the towel. And then, finally, we feasted. And no, I didn’t hold back. The custom of eating a light meal at sunset and a larger dinner later is actually a common one. It is the norm in many other countries, I believe, of which Saudi Arabia is one.

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It may be just Ramadan, but going to the mosque for the morning prayer (before sunrise) was a great experience. Streets were alive with people coming from everywhere going to the same place.

Though, I was not in Senegal long enough before Ramadan to compare, I could feel a special spirit in the air. Mosques were buzzing with dhikr and Quran throughout the day. And fajr, the early morning prayer, was busy too.
I estimated approximately 100 people at Fajr plus 20-30 women.

I estimated approximately 100 men at the fajr prayer, with an additional 20-30 women

Wait … yes, I promised you a goat story.
On Thursday evening, on my way home, I saw a gathering sitting outside in what seemed a large open mosque. “Open air-mosque, this must be a Senegalese thing,” I thought to myself.

They seemed to be listening to a talk by a sheikh and had already finished their prayers. I soon learned this was not actually a mosque. It was just a large front-yard of a big house/building shared by multiple families. It is used during Ramadan because it is able accommodate the large number of people. Nonetheless, I walked in and shortly thereafter tapped someone on the shoulder asking where the bathroom was. He stood up and asked me to follow him. And so I followed him. We walked into a building. He walked me through a living room, bedroom, a kitchen (not in that particular order), and then he opened a door. Voila! We were in some house’s backyard and he pointed to the bathroom in the back.

The bathroom in the backyard. The green door in the center of the picture.

The bathroom in the backyard. The green door in the center of the picture.

Once I left the bathroom, there was a problem. All doors at the back of the house were closed. “Aaaah, which door did I come from,” I wondered. I opened the first door, it looked like a kitchen and an unfamiliar one at that. I opened the second one, and, oops, it was a bedroom. Hmm. I looked to the other side of the back-yard, and a goat was there – looking at me with unmistakable anger. I felt the goat judging me for using this house’s bathroom, as if I had invaded his space. It had big horns and distinctly crazy eyes. Had it not been tied to a tree, the goat definitely would’ve attacked me. As it was, it settled for blocking my path to an exit instead.
My options were to risk going through a wrong door and walking in on random people, or going head-to-head with the goat. You may be wondering whether the goat was really blocking the way. YES. Look at it. It’s one judgmental scary goat.
I decided to wait it out.
A few minutes later, evolution came to my rescue. The goat’s short attention span diverted its focus. It started eating and forgot about its beef with me. So, I walked around the house to safer grounds where all goats were peaceful.
The mean goat. I couldn't even get close for the picture. Can you feel the anger?

The goat again.

I walked home continuing to look over my shoulder. Don’t judge me. But, maybe Senegalese goats are known for resentment? I don’t know. But, I made it home safely and lived another day to visit Touba in Senegal and meet even more Muslims and get their point of view.

After the gathering unraveled, everyone was shaking everyone's hands. Moreover, I noticed people would raise the other person's hand to their forehead as a way of respect.

After the gathering unraveled, everyone was shaking hands. I noticed people would raise the other person’s hand to their forehead as a way of showing respect.

* The month is equivalent to a yearly spiritual recharging period. One is supposed to do more of praying, reflecting, disciplining one’s self, and reconnecting with God. Simply put, Muslims are not supposed to eat or drink or, hmm, do the deed with their partners, if you know what I mean, during the day.

Since Ramadan follows the lunar month, it is a tradition for the world’s Muslim countries to decide the first day of Ramadan by observing the new moon. This year Ramadan, astronomically speaking, fell on a Wednesday or Thursday.

Ammar is on a journey to explore Islam in different countries around the world. He wants to show that Islam is a faith not exclusive to a single ethnicity. He hopes that these stories become part of the conversation about tolerance and acceptance in America.

For more information, visit our page about this journey.