Leah Bjornson spent six weeks in Senegal as a participant in Uniterra’s 2012 International Seminar. She, along with 10 other Canadian students, participated in a cultural exchange with twelve Senegalese students. The students collaborated on and conducted field research on the topics of youth employability, food security, and the social and solidarity economy.
When the sun stretches its final shadows down the barren, sand-filled lanes of Ramadan’s humid summer evenings, the Call to Prayer echoes across the rooftops and the people of Dakar wake. After a day of abstention from food and water in the sweltering heat, the believers “coupe le jeûne” with friends and family and are revived. By the time the sun has completely set, the stillness of the streets is broken with the hum of activity and chatter. For the next thirty days, this holy month will turn day into night and night into day.
There is a mystical beauty present during the nights of Ramadan that evokes a sense of wonder in the visiter. After a day spent trekking from district to district under the glare of the hot noonday sun, cracked lips licked with dry tongues and wrists heavy from constantly checking the time in hopes that the hour hand might suddenly leap ahead, the Call to Prayer ignites a feeling of fraternity and faith that radiates as brightly as the sun and spreads just as quickly as dawn across the city. At this point, I’d spent four weeks in Senegal as a participant in Uniterra’s research seminar, but I’d never felt as much a part of their world as I did during Ramadan. It seemed that strangers and friends alike looked at me anew; Not only was there a new sense of respect between us, but a new sense of appreciation.
While it takes time to adapt to the honeycomb of taxi routes, the goat directed garbage system, or the fanatically welcoming inhabitants of the city, the nights of Ramadan are what turn the world upside down. The dimly lit streets that fade into midnight-black alleys buzz with activity. Youth, who had slept the day away, flitter from stall to stall, quenching their thirst with packets of water, while older men gather to chuckle amongst friends and recline on plastic crates or concrete store fronts. On those nights, we can be found on the rooftop of the Auberge, laughing while searching the hazy night below for early morning wanderers until the moon has chased the day across the sky.
Soon enough, the clock jumps ahead and it’s already 5am. Just as dusk’s prayer ends the fast, so too does the morning chant begin it for another day. But while dawn may reclaim the shadowy enclaves from the night, it cannot take back the people’s continued faith which renews each night with the setting of the sun.