Some years ago I spent the best part of a year in northern Nigeria, in Hausaland. Land of mud palaces, bitter poverty, fleeting moments of political power and the ever-ready muezzin with his call to prayer.
My stay spanned Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer, roughly equivalent to the Christian Lent. Ramadan was an experience. The year I was there it coincided with the hottest part of the year just before the rainy season began, and with certain political moves by the IMF that had ordinary Nigerians queueing for days (I kid not) for petrol.
It was brutal.
We woke before daybreak to eat a meal that had been prepared the night before and drink as much water as we could before our bodies screamed enough. Then, feeling like tanked-up camels, we would go back to bed for another few hours as the first call to prayer of the day sounded and the shutters went down on food, drink, smoking and all other bodily pleasures.
As the Koran commands, we were all sitting in our places in the evening when the muezzin called his last round of the day and as soon as prayer was finished, we broke our fast first with dates and then with a slow, full meal of unbearably hot meat stew and pounded yam. I came quickly to adore dates.
As non-Muslims, we were not required to fast, but any bending of the fasting laws we were asked to keep to ourselves. I opted to drink water during the day and would creep to the kitchen for a sly glass every so often - most often at prayer times, when everyone else was otherwise occupied. I didn't eat, but I smoked throughout.
My then-husband, though, had a worse time. I don't think he'd mind my saying that he was fairly addicted to alcohol. He found Muslim Nigeria hard enough, having to slope around in dark corners in search of a discrete beer, but at Ramadan, even the ultra-dangerous backstreet bars were closed and he went almost insane. His art, for artist he was and is, went into a manic multicolour phase to prove it.
Why am I telling you all this? Partly because it's good to reminisce. Nigeria was tough, but a very important life-experience. Partly because today is the start of Lent (if you live in Ambrosian Carmine), and I've decided I can't live without chocolate - my usual Lenten fast - and I'm going to quit alcohol instead.
I've chosen alcohol because it should be possible for me to go the whole 40 days. Easier than chocolate anyway. And a million times easier than tea, to which I am totally and unashamedly addicted.
I'm not a big drinker. In fact, anything beyond a couple of glasses of Burgundy or Barbera in any 24-hour period makes me so physically sick I've come to believe I may be allergic to alcohol. I quit drinking spirits the day I found I was pregnant with AJ and I never went back, not even when tempted with a peaty Island Malt proferred by one of London's most celebrated whisky connosseurs. I was married for seven years to someone who preferred the bottle to his wife. Happily, he went on the wagon the day I left him and has never gone back. But the experience has left me with an extreme abhorrence of drunkenness - even the 'happy drunk' variety - which means I haven't stepped into a pub in what seems like decades.
But I do enjoy a quality wine that ages nicely and doesn't give me a headache, and I'm prepared to drive all the way to Burgundy and back a couple of times a year in search of a predictably good drinking experience. Or Sizzano, or Asti. And, more to the point if you live in Carmine, I'm prepared to heft a couple of cases onto my back for the long walk up. So perhaps I will miss my mealtime tipple and my weekend aperitif after all.
If my Lent resolution is anything like my New Year's Resolution - yes, it's now March 1st and I still haven't finished January's Nobel book, let alone February's - I won't get much further than Tuesday. But we'll see how we go. And I'm going to bore you every day with a bulletin to let you know how I'm doing - perhaps shame at failing will keep me on track.
So what have you given up for Lent?
I don't give up things for Lent. I hardly ever drink these days - although a good single Malt has been known to slip down in tiny quantities.
I eat two squares of dark chocolate about 4 times a week.
Oh I know - I'll give up shouting at the kids for Lent! Let's see how long that lasts... ;-)
I've never followed Lent. Fortnightly, in the Vaisnava tradition I follow, we fast for a 24 hour period, on the waning moon and the waxing moon. The fast is from grains and legumes, ostensibly, but it extends into so many other levels depending on your ability, and can be a complete fast (no water, nothing), or varying levels down. It is a day for deeper contemplation and meditation, while the body is in a low physical state...
I shall now be giving up anything. In fact, I think atheists like me should perhaps start something new, something which adds to our life experience, rather than indulging in self-mortification in the mistaken belief it does us some good.
Buying new shoes. That's my addiction. I promise not to buy a single pair of new shoes until Easter. Good for my soul, good for the flexible friend...
Last year I gave up chocolate, this year I will drink less coffee (only two "tazzine" of moka-coffee a day istead of 5). Happy March! Cheers!
Interesting read! Thanks for sharing your experience in Nigeria. During Lent I want to remind myself of the sacrifice Christ made. I've asked Him to live His life through me - because I simply cannot live it in my own strength. I don't feel right about giving something up for Lent only to resume it when Lent is finished. If we are responsible and do everything with moderation, let's enjoy the wine and the chocolate without a twinge of guilt!
For me it would be so interesting to sit down with a few people and discuss about this face to face! Good things to think on here!
I had never given anything up for Lent until this year and chocolate it is. But drinking chocolate, chocolate biscuits, Cocopops and chocolate chip cookies don't count!
I completely agree - tea would be impossible to give up!
On the subject of giving things up (although not really for lent) I'm trying to avoid foods with that have 'hidden' battery eggs as part of their ingredients. Weirdly, it's proving good fun, it's actually making me MAKE cakes, rather than BUY them...
Being a non-Muslim during Ramadan is hard. Even something simple like having a bottle of water on you during hot days becomes something to feel guilty about. *sigh*
I've given up drinking for Lent before. I found my friends had more problems with it than i did. LOL
Louise... what a fascinating post! As my heritage is Nigerian (albeit Igbo) I was interested to know that you’d spent some time in Hausaland. Were you working out there or your said husband at the time? I’m not really familiar with northern Nigeria except for what I’ve read in books or been told by my parents. However, having lived in the Middle East – I have always been intrigued by the Muslim world and culture. Even here in the UK it’s always interesting having conversations with Muslims about Ramadan and their approach to fasting. Although a Christian (Anglican), I have never really done the Lent thing... Let us know how you get on without a tipple for 40 days...!
My Lent is likely to involve taking break from abstinence. So I'll probably smoke plenty of Matterhorn's cool menthol, something I haven't touched since I experimented with it as a teen. And maybe some island rum, although something by the name of Burgundy does sound awesome! Okay, doan mind my silliness, I'll pop in and check up on how well you're doing with your fasting.
I participated in Lent for the first time last year. Although I greow up in a Christian church our church did not really acknowledge or encourage participation in Lent. This year I'm giving up red meat. My idea is when I see a steak or hamburger on a menu at a restaurant or when I'm preparing meals for our family, it will take me think of the sacrifice Jesus made for me. Which I realize is so much more than any food/drink/passion that I could give up for 40 days. I don't abstain from anything out of guilt, but just to make myself "think on these things" more often.
As I don't consider myself Christian I don't practice Lent. But the idea is great, if used with rime and reason. It is good to be reminded about one's own weaknessess and other's much more limited options.
I have a friend who give up smoking and chocolate during Lent.
I am not giving anything up, but I admire people who do, I think its a good discipline.
I found your story on Ramadan fascinating, I have never lived near Muslims who practiced it, but it must have been interesting to live in the midst of it all.
I was a houseguest in a Muslim home during Ramadan once. It challenged my thinking in so many ways.
Lent was always a non-item in our protestant church, but I love the concept of remembering Christ's sacrifice for me. I understand my church's stand that we should be thankful year-round, but those weeks of wanting something and remembering what Christ gave up for me are meaningful. For the last few years Lent has found me giving up something tangible. This year I decided to give up fretting and to focus on related scriptures. Giving up pop and ice cream was much easier!
@ Caution Flag : What do you mean by fretting? Being anxious? Do you have some e.g.s for the scripture you are looking at? Should I come to your blog?
Yes, I was fascinated by this post. I lived in Nigeria up until the age of 6, from 1957-1963.I would like to learn more about when you were there and what you did in Northern Nigeria? We lived in Lagos and Port Harcourt on weekends, in a beach house. Why do you think you get ill from wine, except really good Burgundy? The chemicals?
@Joy : I agree that I, too, am not abstaining out of guilt or some strange idea that drinking isn't good for me or my soul. As I wrote, I'm the first person to 'just say no'. For me it's more about thinking about what we consume, and understanding self-discipline. In this modern world 40 days can be a long time to sustain any effort. I like to see that I can. Just as, on Good Friday I practice three hours of silence from twelve to three. It's extraordinary how difficult that is when I'm used to talking without thinking. And extraordinary how clear one's mind feels at three o'clock, and how, strangely, one wants to continue the silence, even after the three hours is finished.
@Gutsy Writer : I haven't really thought about why I get sick, except that I am not much over five feet tall and so the alcohol component affects me more than it would larger people. However, now you make me think of it, the majority of the wine in the cellar is made by winemakers who do NOT add chemicals, so maybe you're right. Come to think of it, any wine that has an additive that makes it smell and taste like it was aged in oak barrels makes me feel almost instantly bad. New world reds, mostly.
To all who asked : Nigeria is a long, long story. I'll write it one day!
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