Ramadan celebrated in France
As I write, it is Ramadan and my neighbors are fasting. One of them gets up early and leaves for work around 5:30 a.m. to catch the first metro of the day. The other works late, usually returning home around 8 or 9 p.m., perfect timing during the month-long fast of Ramadan. Each evening, he can participate in the preparation of iftar, the meal marking the end of the daily fast stretching from sunrise to sundown. During that time, Muslims freely give their time to God, practicing the self-restraint encouraged by the Quran.
My neighbors are from Mali, a land-locked country of northwest Africa. They live and work in France so their families can live better in their native land. They do not take month-long vacations nor do they go out very often. They work, share meals, rest and send money home. Northern Mali has recently been taken over by Taliban affiliated with al-Qaida, sending thousands of refugees fleeing south. I wonder what it is like to be so far from home in time of war and strife.
My friend, Karima, is fasting. In less than a week, she is leaving for the United States, where she will begin work as a teaching assistant at the University of Wisconsin. This will be her first extended stay in an English-speaking country. She speaks our language well but has never practiced it on a daily basis. In other words, she has yet to be immersed in American life, where the real business of language learning takes place. Naturally, she is nervous and sometimes afraid, but mostly she is busy, wrapping up one life before she begins another in a new land.
After a gray, cool month of July, August in Paris has been hot and muggy. Karima, with dozens of things to do before stepping on her plane, has been hurrying through the hot streets and down into the steamy metro several times a day. I wonder what it is like to face the heat and crowds with stomach empty and throat dry.
In my neighborhood, all around me, people are fasting. At the local outdoor market, is it just my imagination or are veiled Muslim women, pushing baby carriages or pulling shopping carts, truly walking more sluggishly? What about the workmen renovating an apartment in my building? I've met the foreman. He is from Tunisia but has lived in France for the past 20 years. Some of his workers are French, others, Tunisian. All are Muslim, working long hours during Ramadan. (...)