The blessed month of Ramadhan is here with us again. It is a month of ecstatic feelings where worshippers can almost touch their internal happiness, where self-control increases, devotion tastes sweeter, serious introspection, and reflection on the Holy Quran is practiced by many. Ramadhan has a feeling that cannot be described by mere words. As you get away from the earthly desires, the priorities of life are laid bare and one begins counting the dwindling blessed days and nights wishing for more. The non-fasting population will usually be surprised when you tell them how much you are enjoying the hunger and thirst as a result of fasting all day. They will wonder how one will enjoy hunger and thirst, oblivious that those are actually secondary feelings superseded by the feeding of the soul and the starving of the body that subtly goes on in one! Ever seen a neglected car that goes to the wash once in a year? That could be something similar to the internal status of a fasting person who forages for 11 months and fasts for 4 weeks. The improved quality of life and the increased blessings in the hours is indescribable! The further one gets away from the earthly greed we wallowed in the preceding 11 months, the clearer you get to know that life is much more about simplicity and less about consumption, the pursuit of, and accumulation of worldly wants.
The Ramadhans of yore
It was not long ago that I observed my May 2019 Fast in Nairobi doing iftar with my brother, sister, nephews, nieces, and friends before rushing to the beautiful and purposely built Salama Mosque to partake in Tarawih prayers. My elder sister, the best host in the world, made it all the better as we enjoyed our fasting only occasionally interrupted by Nairobi’s traffic jam that sometimes made me miss her first super samosas and the excellent smoothies she always prepared. May Allah bless her as she stands to replace my super mum who left us a year before that Ramadhan, a month she always eagerly awaited.
In 2020 and in the advent of Corona Virus 2019 (COVID19), mosques all over the world are closed and Tarawih prayers, a ritual that always takes place during Ramadhan nights after the compulsory Isha prayer are now sadly not going to happen. A huge loss for the Muslim devouts as it was a time of more reflection, listening to the Quran recitation from the best, meeting and catching up with old friends, and reverting home to start preparing for the day ahead devoid of time-wasting breakfast, lunch and mundane everyday chores.
This was, however, a modern type of Ramadhan. I want to reminisce about my childhood Ramadhans, a nostalgic era of yore that had a completely different feel and taste occasioned maybe by the different times or environments. Ramadhan in my village began when the Imam of our local mosques the late Sheikh Ahmed Ibrahim or the late Sheikh Mohamed Diriye announced the sighting of the moon. May Allah rest their souls in eternal peace. Sheikh Mohamed Diriye had daily Quran Tafseer (translation) classes after asr (early evening) prayers. We sat outside the mosque in a circle on a mat behind the old men, more in mischief than in devotion and after the Tafseer lesson, Sheikh Mohamed Diriye will announce that Tarawih ”will begin tonight” to signify the beginning of the month before we all rush back home to inform our mothers. Our mums were already aware of the beginning of the blessed month by the songs and drum beating from one indefatigable Bula Kauka.
As kids, Bula Kauka was our favorite during Ramadhan. In an era where there were no alarm clocks let alone smartphones to set the Suxuur time (the last meal of the night), Bula Kauka’s services were very essential. Kauka will wake up around 2 am to beat a drum waking up people to start preparing the Suxuur meal. This was mainly Qamadi (wheat) with milk, Shamuurey (Sorghum), Bariisdalac (rice cooked in mixed vegetables and meat), or just Bariis and milk. My older brother Abdirashid will sometimes add milk to Bariis dalac just to make us stop eating. What an evil genius! Some Shamuurey grew in late Maalim Hassan’s or late Chief Sirat’s dam, may Allah have mercy on all of them. Since the Shamuurey grown at these dams were only for subsistence farming, other families sourced it from other places like SabeenaI think.
Suxuur was a meal we kids missed only to find the leftovers when we woke up for school the next morning. On the weekends, we did not sleep at night. After Tarawih prayers, where we spent most of the night disrupting Sheikh Mohamed Diriye’s recitation, slapping each other’s backs when people went for prostration in the Salah, we will gather at an open space next to the late Mama Qulay’s house, may Allah shower his mercy on her, waiting for Bula Kauka to emerge in the wee hours of the night. We used to crack jokes and play Loollol waiting for Kauka to emerge with his drum and soothing songs made by none other than himself. Loollol was a game akin to present-day rugby devoid of the silly exploits and the ball.
Kauka was a creative genius of his time that the Habaswein community only subtly acknowledged during the Eids. Once he emerges with his drum, I and my childhood friends including but not limited to Baacle, Mohamed Ali, Abdi Sheikh, Gashaan and Weli Hussein will follow singing behind him. One of his songs (all had religious connotations to suit the status of the month) read like Soonka iyo Salaada sabir baa la sheege muslimiin saxuurtay (During fasting and daily prayers, patience has been prescribed, so Muslims wake up and eat your Suxuur)…… with a melodious voice Kauka ensured everyone woke up to prepare their Suxuur meal. We will start at Bula Central also known as Bula Qartaas, go all the way behind the polytechnic before we take the Wajir-Habaswein road back again to go to the old town of Bula Kibilay, my friend and brother Mohamed Paul, used to call XaafadFiidmeer. Mzee Kauka was as funny as he was creative making as laugh behind him all the journey. In the town, people knew each other to a point where even nuanced and idiosyncratic characteristics were no secret, and Kauka was the more informed. For people he suspected were heavy sleepers and took more than a drumbeat to wake up, he will spend a few more minutes standing next to their huts and houses and say something like ‘‘Kala Kaca” assuming that some couples were in the middle of lovemaking when the hour of Suxuur came. This made us laugh hysterically and Bula Kauka rebuked us, not seriously I thought, but mischievously which made us laugh all the more. The night and drum beating will end for mzee Kauka few minutes to morning prayer where he has to rush to get some bites of food and we rushed back home tiptoeing slowly to avoid catching the eye of our dads who will only get the pleasure of smacking us, if ever, in the mornings when preparing for school. On Monday mornings when we went to school, we will hear other children reporting that their mothers were complaining about kids following Kauka and shouting in the wee hours of the night that young children were wont to be woken up. We gave ourselves mischievous glances and nods in the knowledge that we were the kids they were talking about. We spent all our Ramadhan weekend nights like this. They were as entertaining as they were enriching.
Iftar (the breaking of fast) was the most enjoyable time of the day. It was the happiest hour for everyone as we timed the Samosas, chapati and Katamboos. At the Mosque, we will get to eat the few dates available and rush back home to join our parents, other relatives, and guests breaking their fast. In those days there were few dates to go around. We will sometimes pretend to have been fasting, hiding our water-drinking sessions, and eat in the kitchen but this was much later when we were a little older a story for another day. Iftars were as simple as they were enjoyable. Many people will pass-by our home on their way to the mosque in Bula central for Isha and Tarawih to exchange greetings and the day’s news in a more elaborate fashion. My friends and I never missed gathering immediately after iftar to decide which mosque to go to that particular night. We usually alternated between the Mosques in Kibilay and the one in Bula Central.
On the last day of Ramadhan as our dads prepared the Dagar Soon ( food that is usually given to the less fortunate to end the fasting and celebrate Eid) and our mothers started thinking about where to buy us new clothes, all our eyes were on the Arab shop in Bula Kibilay who will distribute sweets from his small window. His favourite giveaway was a round white sweet, the size of 6 present-day panadol made from concentrated sugar that in hindsight not a lot of imagination was put into making it. The Arab, unfortunately, closed shop and moved from Habaswein. We will, later on, move to Omar Billow’s shop.
All information gathering on where and when Omar Billow will start distributing the sweets he usually threw into the air before a scramble ensued, will begin in earnest. Omar Billow was at that time the only shop owner in town and because queuing was alien to our growing character and children were many in number, the best way was to throw the sweets into the air. There were champions who got as many as 3 sweets they caught before falling to the ground. Some caught nothing but left with sweets. Many years later I came to realize that Mzee Omar will make sure that every child left with at least a sweet or two. He had a small shop near Nasir Barissa’s home, my late brother and friend, may Allah rest his soul in eternal peace as I mourn his death until the day of mine, who will form a very important friendship with Mr. Billow’s children and relatives and help us gather the crucial information on what time the shop will open on Eid days. Mzee Billow was a very generous man who made our Eid day all the more memorable. Incidentally, we did not think much about new clothes and enjoyed the day much more than our contemporaries. Perhaps a pointer to today’s growing and seemingly destructive consumerism antics.
Mzee Kauka’s Payday
The night before Eid was Bula Kauka’s payday and we will help him go round the homes with his drum to see any willing donor donate to his particularly important month-long service to the community. This was when tables were turned. While during the weekend nights we were the ones asking him to allow us to follow him to the Bulas, on the last day of Ramadhan he was the one asking us to go with him. Maybe, on such important nights, we were busy gathering information on the Arab, and later, Omar Billow’s shops and how and when they will begin the peremende (sweets) distribution and had no time to go with him. Surprisingly, he never pressured for people to give, another humbling pointer that the out of kilter consumerism has not yet matured at the time. The people of Habaswein like many of their contemporaries in the frontier districts were very generous albeit limited in material possessions. But give, they gave boy! Bula Kauka will mostly have a field day and return home with money. In this day and age, I am not sure children will find such pleasure as smartphones and alarm clocks may have confined his exceptional services to the dustbin of history, though a golden dustbin. The alarms set on smartphones have reportedly reduced the number of people taking Suxuur together and increased individualism. Contrarily, we yearn for those days of yore where society inculcated in us the important values of community, of sharing, the dislike for consumerism, and the nostalgic memory of all the fallen and still faring predecessors.
This was our Ramadhan in a nutshell. Most of the then ecosystem has been hugely affected by rural-urban migration, climate change and generally changing times. The young of that era have moved to urban centres and married in cities. Our children will grow in crowded cities not to experience our past pristine ways of living. The days of yore will be missed until the day of our deaths but the people of Habaswein, in particular, have a huge responsibility to acknowledge and honour Bula Kauka’s services in life and in death.