We’re about a week into Ramadan and I’m still struggling to decide what to do. It was pretty easy for me as a non-Muslim to choose not to fast from sun-up to sun-down, but I do want to be respectful of those who are. Ask anyone on the street – it’s not easy to to go without food or WATER during 30 daytimes of hot season.

Ramadan special at the grocery store: spend 5,000cfa ($10), get a free package of dates and a free bottle of water for breaking your fast

Everywhere we look, we see ads for Ramadan Specials. I don’t just mean special offers on bulk bags of milk powder, glass bottles of Coca-Cola or packages of dates. Restaurants, hotels and even the dance clubs have Ramadan events planned. (Not quite sure how that works since you’re supposed to abstain from alcohol, but hey…)

At first it seemed that the obvious choice was to avoid eating or drinking in public during these 30 days. But that’s easier said that done! Those of you who know Dakar know that there just aren’t quiet little corners where you discreetly gulp water from a Kirène bottle or cram a Biskrem cookie in your mouth. (Why do you think so many people do their business on the side of the road? No discreet corners.)

But it’s more than that.

  • I went to buy bread the other day and realized on my way home that I was walking past people who hadn’t eaten in 11 hours with an armload of baguettes.
  • When the veggie lady and her husband came, out of habit I took a bottle of water and two cups down to their car to give them a drink. Ooops.
  • My college roommate is here visiting right now. She’s not used to the heat, so needs to drink even more water than we do. Do I ask her not to when we’re out in public? She doesn’t live here. These aren’t her neighbors. How far should she go to respect their religion? (For the record – she’s very culturally sensitive and would give it up happily if I asked.)
  • Yesterday I got dressed and was headed out the door. I had a thought… so I asked my Senegalese friend if what I was wearing was okay during Ramadan. She kind of hem-hawed and finally said that for some Senegalese, I shouldn’t wear spaghetti straps during Ramadan.

Any thoughts or suggestions? How far (or not) would you go to respect Ramadan if you lived in a Muslim country?