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Seen from Mayotte, the moon looks like a smile.


This is the first moon of Ramadan this year. Ramadan, or a period of roughly one month when Muslims do not eat or drink between sunrise and sunset, but gorge themselves on fried food and sugary treats at nightfall, comes a fortnight earlier each year, so you can predict its arrival to within a day or three. However, as with all important Muslim calendar days, the actual beginning of Ramadan depends on whether the high Muslim authority, known as the Cadi, has seen the moon or not. This year, Ramadan was to start on either the 18th or the 19th: if the Cadi saw the moon on the 17th, Ramadan would start on the 18th; if he didn't see the moon until the 18th, it would begin on the 19th. This rather imprecise system has brought about quite a bit of frustration over the years, especially on a particular Muslim fete day called Miradji (the equivalent of Assumption day, but replacing Jesus with the prophet Muhammad) a couple of years ago when the Cadi thought he had seen the moon on one night, then decided that he must have had a little too much to drink and hadn't seen the moon after all. The result was that some companies and institutions worked both days, others had both days off. My school told the kids they would have the first day off, then changed its mind, tried to call them all back and said they would have the second day off instead, so we had half attendance on both days.

When I arrived in Mayotte, it was on August 15th 2011, during Ramadan. I'll be leaving on July 11th 2015, also during Ramadan. Ramadan is not the best time in the year to try to get anything done, as people are tired out during the day from fasting and from partying all night. During Ramadan, Mayotte sleeps by day and comes alive by night. Kids are tired, hungry and scratchy, and adults will refuse to do anything work-related after 5.30 p.m. Class councils, which often happen late in the evening, are boycotted by all the Muslim staff, who are at home with their families.

Ramadan is a period during which people don't only fast. They're also supposed to respect a few other tenets of Muslim law. They must be good to others, they must pray even more regularly and with more fervour than usual, and they must not anger other people. Which rather comes in handy at school: if you make your teacher angry during Ramadan, you're a bad Muslim. We can't have that, now, can we.


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