August 30th marked the end of Ramadan. Though it doesn't feel like my village is intensely Muslim, and there are still traces of traditional animist beliefs, Ramadan played an important role in the spiritual lives of the villagers. For thirty days many villagers refrained from drinking, eating and smoking (among other things) during the daytime. The four small mosques in the village also experienced higher attendance and more extended visits. When the fasting ended on the 30th of August I was not sure why so much celebrating was going on, but when I saw my work partner (Homologue) drinking tea under the morning sun I realized the fasting was over and joined the village in the religious festivities.
My Freshmen year in College I lived in a dorm with many muslim neighbors. I remember that they stayed up late into the night in order to eat and maybe smoke some hookah. I also remember that Ramadan happened in October or November that year (2006). This confused me to think about at first, but it turns out that Ramadan really did occur much earlier this year than it did in 2006. Since Ramadan is the holy month of the Islamic Calendar (a calendar that has around 10 or 11 fewer days than the Gregorian Calendar we are used to [how can a calendar function if it does not have the correct number of days?]) it shifts a little earlier every year.
The result is that Ramadan can take place during every season. Had Ramadan not fallen during the rainy months of Mali, there would have been fewer people working in the fields all day long and more people participating in the fasting. The work in the fields is tough (I tried it for one day and I could hardly walk the next day), and few go the whole day without eating. I think that no drinking water for the whole day while doing fieldwork would be crazy and I doubt any of the villagers did this. When Ramadan falls in December the fasting is easier to do. There is no fieldwork, the sun is less brutal, and the hours of daylight are less so one does not fast as long. December Ramadans are even easier for Muslims living in the far north such as in Great Britain where nearly 3 million Muslims live and the sun rises late and sets early. A June or July Ramadan has the opposite affect however. A British Muslim on July 1st starts his fasting at 2:55am and cannot eat or drink until 9:40pm!! Muslims living in Fairbanks, Alaska or further north usually follow the practice of "Makkah," which allows them to began fast at 6am and finish at 6pm.
It was hard to tell who all followed the rules of fasting in my village and who didn't since most spent all day out in the fields. My work partner followed it well, and since I usually depend on him for meals sometimes lunch was tough to find. But other than that and the praying and festivities on the 30th of August, Ramadan hardly affected me. Next Ramadan, however, I will be more used to the routines of the village and it will be easier to pick out the changes that occur during Ramadan. Maybe it will have a greater affect on me then...