At 7 pm on the twenty-eighth day of Ramadan, the people of Tamale, the hub of the Northern Region of Ghana, didn't see a crescent moon in the night sky. More significantly, that meant that the fast would continue for another day, making Tuesday the end of the fast; the day of Sallah.
Normally, on a Tuesday, the other volunteers and I would be at an outreach with a couple staff from the eye clinic and a couple members of the Ghana Red Cross. We would be testing patients' visual acuity, screening for eye problems, and providing glasses and medication. But today, on this Tuesday, even if we were to drive an hour away for an outreach, we wouldn't have any patients. Unlike the rest of Ghana, which is predominantly Christian, the Northern Region is primarily Muslim. Hence, today, basically everyone in the Northern Region would be celebrating Sallah -- including us volunteers.
Since we were told that the prayers would take place at the Grand Mosque at 7 am, we woke up at 6 am and dressed in our nicest conservative clothing. For me, that meant the only dress I brought, a royal blue maxi dress, with a black cardigan and black sandals. For everyone else, that meant hijabs for the ladies and thobes (long robes, like long-sleeved shirts that extend below the knee) for the gentlemen.
For the first time since I arrived in Ghana, the streets to town were quiet. All the shops and stands that lined the sides of the roads were padlocked or empty; there were no women walking up and down the streets, impressively balancing giant bowls of miscellaneous merchandise on their head. Instead, everyone was making their way toward the center of town, to what is by far the biggest mosque in the city, just as we were.
By the time we arrived around 8 am, the Grand Mosque had long since reached maximum capacity. Now, rows and rows of people filled a side street as far as we could see -- there were easily thousands and thousands of people. Then, just a minute after we arrived, a voice sounded through the speakers and the prayers commenced. Still in awe of the sheer number of people in attendance, we three foreigners awkwardly stood to the side as the mass of people kneeled down and stood up in unison, in between prayers. I had expected the prayers to last at least an hour, but only a few minutes later, everyone picked up their mat and headed back toward the main road.
It is custom for people to visit their family after the prayers, and so, in keeping with custom, we volunteers tagged along as one of our Ghanaian friends stopped by the house where he grew up. Only his mother was home at the time, as everyone else was stuck in traffic, but she invited us to sit on the couches in their living room. We stayed very briefly, but on our way out, she gave us a small pot of joloff rice with chicken, also in keeping with custom.
Given that all the restaurants were sure to be closed, we headed home for lunch. In addition to the rice we had just received, we also ate the leftover 'red red' that we made the day before with another one of our Ghanaian friends. As foreigners, we unanimously consider 'red red' to be our favorite Ghanaian dish. It consists of beans cooked in a stew that includes ginger, pepper, tomato paste, joloff, and nutmeg, served with fried plantains on the side. It took us more than two hours to prepare the meal from scratch, but we humbly considered it the best 'red red' we'd eaten in Ghana.
In the late afternoon, we returned to town for the festivities by the chief's palace. Once again, the place was packed, but this time, the people had changed out of their traditional Muslim attire and into their typical colorful prints. Over the next two hours, various groups, mainly dancers and singers, performed on the small outdoor stage. Toward the end, the MC pulled onto the stage four young salamingas – what they call foreigners -- for some free-styling. The crowd perked up to watch the white people dance, recording the entire thing on their phone, and then cheered the loudest for their favorite, compelling that girl to dance one last time.
There would be additional festivities in the evening, but with that, my celebration of the end of Ramadan with the Muslims in Tamale, Ghana came to a close. Back at home, I am by no means religious -- admittedly, I know very little about Christianity and Judaism, and even less about Islam. But being able to participate in a holiday that’s so important to basically everyone who was around me was an honor, and remains one of my favorite memories from my two-month stay throughout Ghana.
~ Angela Liang '17
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