The Ring

I have been anticipating the past 24 hours because of the beginning of Ramadan. I decided that I would fast, at least in the beginning, for several reasons: first of all, it is such an important, national event, that the first thing people ask me when they see me – "are you fasting? Are you going to fast?"…a lot of pressure. Second, it is an experience that is really special to share with the community – stay up late, get up early (as in 4:30 in the morning early) to eat before the sunrise, and to anticipate the wonderful breaking of the fast at sundown of fresh dates, askif (a wonderful, creamy white soup), aghrom ihrran (literally "hot bread," kind of like berber pizza with chives and spices), and wonderful coffee with herbs and milk. Third, it presents an opportunity to discuss our respective beliefs; ironically, I have a bit more leverage to discuss my faith because I am respecting theirs. Last night I was talking to my tutor's sisters, who asked me how many religions there were in the world – only three, right? (referring to "the people of the book," or Islam, Christianity, and Judaism). Then, talking to my tutor, I made a comment about how I had met several Moroccans who were atheist – Abdullah quickly corrected me and assured me that all Moroccans were Muslim, even if they didn't pray regularly or if, God forbid, they drank. I asked him if he honestly believed that in a country of 29 million people, in which the government essentially mandated the religion, every single person believed in Islam, or even God. Well, of course, he said.

Okay, but back to the original story, which in order to understand, one must first understand my bathroom: my shower head is mounted on the wall about two feet from my turkish toilet, which also doubles as my drain (the set-up sounds rather unsanitary, but it's actually quite clean). Often times I shower and wash/rinse my clothes all at the same time, and when I finished my shower/laundry last night, I looked down at my left hand to see that my father's wedding band, which I had resized after his death and wore on my left pinky, was gone. Praying, I got on my hands and knees, scoured the entire bathroom floor, and, dreading the inevitable, stuck my bare hand in the toilet/drain…no ring. I scoured the floor again, under the laundry buckets, in the soap dish, the box of Tide, windowsill, and, gagging, tried the drain once more. No ring. At this point I realized the magnitude of what had happened. His wedding band, the ring he wore for 25 years… I lost Daddy's ring. I shiver and cry in my bath towel for a while before I gain my composure to go next store to Fatima's and see if there is anything to be done. As soon as she asks me what's wrong I begin to cry again, and try to explain in this still so unfamiliar language the significance of what I have just lost. She puts her arm around me and leads me, in the dark, to my bathroom window, points to the ground, and explains to me that in the morning we will uncover the sewer and try to find it. I thank her profusely, or rather bless her parents a few times, and head to French tutoring where, despite my best efforts, I am unable to concentrate on anything but the ring.

After my tutoring and a heaping mound of couscous, Abdullah takes me back to my part of the village, where I tell him to make a last-minute detour to the tizziboutique (the meter-by-meter block in the village where I have one bar of cell phone reception) so I can call Mom and ask her if there is anything left of Dad's ring, to avoid uncovering the sewer and, for the third time, having to touch raw sewage. I stand perfectly still for five minutes (as not to lose my one, fragile bar of reception) until she calls me back: there is nothing left of the ring. Then she prays with me, prays for a miracle, even thanks God for answering our prayer ahead of time; He knows how special that ring is to me. Then we hang up and I head home. Walking into the bathroom, I half expect to see the ring sitting on the floor or next to the drain. I check the drain again (this time I fashioned a sort of waterproof glove with duct tape), the floor, the buckets, and my heart jumps when I hear the clang of metal after picking up the box of Tide – just a nail. Nothing. Walking upstairs, defeated, I put my pajamas on and stared at Dad's photo for a while…how could I lose something so important? My eye then caught the laundry that was hanging on the line in my living room. Twelve socks, all in a row, I felt each one and found each one to be empty…until, the last sock. The ring. THE RING!!! Perhaps it was there all along, but I wouldn't doubt for a moment that a divine hand rescued it from the pits of my sewage tank – not for a moment.

I cried for a while longer, this time out of joy and relief and thanksgiving, took a few Benadryl (have been a bit ill), and went to bed at around 1:30, not forgetting to leave my bedroom windows open in order to hear my neighbors knock for the 4AM meal. They did, in fact, knock five times, and even threw rocks at my window, but the Benadryl rendered me dead to the world. Waking at eleven, I walked downstairs to tell Fatima that I had found the ring, opened my front door to see her and a few of my other neighbors staring into the open sewer, which Fatima had dug out and uncovered by herself at 8 o'clock this morning – no small feat, especially alone and on an empty stomach. I, of course, felt terrible when I showed her the ring on my pinky, but she just laughed and said that all that mattered was that I found it. Incredible, the kindness...then again, a wonderful reminder that I, that we, are always being taken care of.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.