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.


  1. Salut Lydia,

    A fascinating account of day-to-day life during Ramadan, and observed with such detail. Keep those posts coming!

    Doug Crouse
    Sparta Middle School

  2. Bonjour à tous et à toutes!

    Our 50 8th-grade French scholars here in Sparta, NJ will begin corresponding with Mademoiselle Grate this year and learning about her life in Togo. Last week, students read through portions of Mlle Grate's blog, in particular her Q&A section. Here are some of their first impressions:


    It’s interesting how in Togo they travel by bikes, walking, and motorcycles.

    'Normal short-distance travel in Togo is usually done either by walking, bicycle, or motorcycle. ' i thought that was interesting. are there cars in Togo?

    I'm surprised that instead of going to a larger country she decided to go to Togo.

    I think that Togo is very unlike the U.S.of A. We are extremely pampered and spoiled in the United States, as these people are not.

    I found it interesting how she goes to bed between 8:00 and 9:30

    i think its interesting that she runs so many different camps

    I really like how she is helping children to have fun who are handicapped

    I found the cost of things in Togo was very interesting

    I find it interesting that your prices are almost always negotiable.


    She takes malaria suppressant antibiotics on a daily basis and has more vivid dreams. What exactly do they mean?

    I liked hearing about the camps she visited
    I found the camps that the PCVs do are interesting and diffrent

    Its interesting that they only have 2 nurses and a first aid kit, instead of a hospital.


    i think that it was cool that you could find food at a boutique.

    I thought the fact that she ate an omelette sandwich was interesting. how common are omelette sandwiches, right?

    I like how she tried different foods there and said that some of the foods there taste the same in America.

    I find it interesting that she could go to a local cafeteria if she didn't want to prepare her own meal.

    "More commonly, the Togolese use small clay molds which are heated with wood charcoal. This is good for sustained cooking, but requires an opening area, because a lot of fanning is needed for the fire. There are also small petrol stoves as well." I think this is interesting because here we don't use clay molds heated with charcoal. Everyone here mostly has their own stove and oven to heat things up.


    Around here we don't have to worry about the safety of water, because people clean it for us.

    I think it is interesting that she had to boil any water before she drinks it.

    I thought it was interesting that no matter the water source rain, tap, well, river/stream it must be either boiled then filtered or filtered then bleached before it is safe to drink.

    It’s interesting that their water source isn’t like ours. they actually have to work to get their water, and it is very limited. they have to get it from rain and tap, and then boil it. where as, we buy ours.

    'City/tap water is normally treated heavily to kill bacteria, but the piping system is generally the cause of problems, which is why it is not safe to drink directly either.' It’s interesting to me because for us it’s so easy to get water, its kinda sad to me that they have to do so much for just water.


    In Togo, the people who are heavier in weight are considered more beautiful because it's a sign of wealth and prosperity.

    Its really cool how how they do permanent make up.