Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Eid ul-Fitr

Given the hype that the NYTimes and the US Consulate warnings have been updating me about, you should all know that Ramadan just ended. Rwanda is a high enough percent Muslim that this was declared a national holiday. Note, not in the way that a national holiday would be declared in the US: technically, Ramadan ends the night of the full moon. For whatever reason, it’s difficult to predict the night of the actual full moon? (We looked it up, and no European website could even definitively tell us when Ramadan ended. The Americans on the staff were very confused because such decisions must be made and printed in our calendars years in advance.) This resulted in a bit of cat-and-mouse guessing-game of knowing that Ramadan would end sometime during the week of September 6, but not being sure when. All we Americans knew was that we would be texted about it the second it was announced.

The natural resolution was, of course, to just assume every day would be a holiday: no point scheduling a meeting for Thursday if it ended up being a holiday, and same for Wednesday and Friday. In all these conversations, there was never a chance that the holiday would fall on a non work-day. And in my lack of blog updates, I never mentioned that Monday was a holiday for Kagame’s swearing in. It was a good work week.

The holiday ended up being Friday. Per usual, I just expected “holiday” to mean “muzungu work day.”

Not for Eid ul-Fitr.

For Eid ul-Fitr seems to be as much a holiday for non-Muslims as it is for Muslims. (I feel the need to acknowledge my naivety here and quote from Alex Schindler’s facebook wall that “people travel to faraway places to watch, in fascination, the kind of people they ignore at home.”) Naivety acknowledge: Edi ul-Fitr is a holiday for non-Muslims just as much as it is for Muslims because it is their “religious duty” (something was lost in that translation) to host a celebration…leaving only non-Muslims to attend. So even we muzungus managed to secure an invite to some parties. The parties started at noon, drastically cutting short our muzungu work day.

For those of you that understand this reference, I can only describe Edi ul-Fitr as doing a circuit of Muslim food parties. Lauren and I likened it to the pressures of having too many tails invites on one night, and feeling the need to make an appearance at every one. (I’ll call these Christmas party invites for the older crowd to understand.) “Making an appearance” is of course a euphemism for “taking shots”, in the same way that accepting an Edi ul-Fitr invite (which you must accept) is associated with piling one's plate with food.

“Remember to pace yourself,” Natalie warned me as I served myself rice, and other kinds of rice, and meat, and beignets, and peanut stuff, and plantains, and maybe even vegetables. She reminded me that we had three of these parties to attend.

“I sprint the marathon,” in informed her, and grabbed another beignet. (Miss you/NOLA, Jargote.)

For fear of being the fat American, I did eat lunch ahead of time. But after observing how much the Rwandans served themselves, I felt no need to hold back. I only slowed when I asked three times what the girl across from me was eating, in hopes that I had heard “stomach” incorrectly each time.

The party soon ended in an incredibly non-pompous fashion (at no point was I informed what I was celebrating, or was an English reference made to Ramadan)… and we were on our way to the next!

The streets were filled with people making similar rounds. More Christian party-goers were coming into the first Muslim family’s house as we left, and we saw others from the first house walking with direction later on.

While at our second house (where we were given plates and forks, even though everybody else ate off a communal plate with their hands – not sure if this was being generous or rude, but I accepted it), it started to pour in the classic way that it does during the rainy season. This confined us for long enough for me to hit a food coma (I guess I don’t sprint food marathons), and Natalie decided that she could forego her final invitation to cut our celebration short. I was silently thankful. Just smiling and not understanding the language, food, customs, religion, or reason for celebration can be an incredibly tiring activity. So the cutest children in the world (blog on that to come) walked us out to the main road and we were on our way home.

On the way, it started to rain again. Lauren and I took shelter in a bar and split a beer…perhaps not the most appropriate ending to a Muslim holiday, but definitely the best way to avoid the rain.

1 comment:

Jamie said...

"I sprint the marathon" - I wish this were a facebook status so that I could like it. Also, if you ever do manage to acquire the translation of our diploma, feel free to post it for those of us (me) whwo haven't unpacked it yet.