Hustle and Bustle in the City: Celebrating Ramadan

As the circle of time completes another loop, I have again found myself amidst the hustle and bustle that comes with the end of Ramadan celebrations. Last year, I tried integrating into my community by joining in the month-long fasting of daylight hours. I suffered through about two weeks then but this year I did not even attempt.  
Whether it be the one year of experience under my belt or simply my outside looking in view, this year I noticed the otherwise indiscernible changes of Ramadans' progression.
The empty street outside my house

Street food options vary by region of the country and seasonally available produce. In my neck of the woods, this usually includes watché (essentially a black-eyed pea and rice mix), salads, fried tofu or fried dough. You can never guarantee the sanitation of the any street food purchases though, so I have to take it to-go (in a plastic bag). Then re-cook or bleach the ingredients.

During the fast, there are fewer options, and they are only available after sunset each day (around 6pm). In of my predominately Muslim community, I just happen to be part of the five percent minority not fasting, and do not like to waiting that long to eat. 

During the three days following Ramadans’ end, the hustle and bustle continues. With their holiday makeovers, families feast throughout the day. Many often make the splurge to buy rice over the cheaper corn/ yam pâte commonly made for meals. They also go door-to-door exchanging meals with neighbors. In a fashion similar to trick-or-treating, when kids visit each house to deliver the food, they ask for money (rather than candy as in trick-or-treating).


As Ramadan ends, the city livens back up. About a week before, tailors can be seen working day and night to fill the orders for new clothes. For some, especially children, this could be the one time they are guaranteed to get a new outfit until the next year.
It all started with the dwindling “street food” options. Similar to a U.S. lemonade stand, women or children sit along roadsides or walk the streets selling prepared food. 
Normally I can find several places to get street food within a one block radius of my house. However, as Ramadan draws near, street food begins to vanish. 
The streets also become more deserted during the fast because people tend to work less and sleep more. That means it is harder to find shop owners—even to purchase their goods—if it is during the day. In the market, the normal fruits and vegetables are still available, but often with increased prices. For example, both oranges and bananas became three for 100 Fcfa rather than four just days before the fast (a penny pinch, but significant difference for a PCV budget). 
The last market day before the end Ramadan
On the contrary, the normally unavailable salt bread arrives during Ramadan. The fasters in my community tend to eat more bread during Ramadan, so the bread makers are able to sell the quick-to-spoil salt bread faster.
If none of the more subtle changes signal Ramadan has arrived, the lengthier calls to prayer do. Most noticeably, the 4 a.m. call to prayer feels like it is extended an hour.
Then, as the last day approaches, hair dressers can be seen braiding, weaving or dying hair all day. Even the non-professional mother/sister/friend is easily spotted outside their house braiding away.  The same goes for men, though for it is usually as simple as a beard trimming for them.
Finally, when the last pre-celebration market day arrives, it is clear to see what’s next. Our normal market day is Saturday, but the Friday before was almost as full. On Saturday, the area remained jam-packed even as rain clouds hovered for a majority of the day.
Just like pre-holiday shopping in the States, buying ordinary foodstuffs becomes difficult. Many places are sold out, and there are crowds to fight along the way. Fortunately, in the last market day before the celebrations, life begins to reverse again. Daylight street food reappeared, boutiques were open, and fruit prices dropped. My beloved salt bread was nowhere to be found. 
Though I did not take part in the fast, I still took part in the celebrating. I had a pizza making party at my house with a few kids in one of the clubs I work with. I was worried they would not like this bizarre change to their cuisine, but instead they loved it! Everyone present also took home seconds to share with their families.
It is sad to realize I probably will not be here to celebrate Ramadan with my community, but I am glad got to experience it one more time. I was much more aware of and prepared for all the activities this time around.