Working in the hot fields during Ramadan

Each year, thousands of seasonal workers come to Lleida's fields to work picking fruit; most of them are Muslim and thus have to work during Ramadan. They claim that, despite the Ramadan being tough, this year it has been made a little easier thanks to the weather, there is "less heat than last summer" they say.

CNA / Roger Segura

August 17, 2011 11:30 PM

Lleida (ACN) .- "Ramadan is very hard because you cannot follow what you want" reflected Djibril (44 years old), a Senegalese fruit picker who has been working to supply the seasonal fruit demand, just two weeks after the start of the Muslim holy month.  "It's difficult but this year is less hot than last summer," he said. At the moment, along with five fellow Africans, he is starting to pick pears from Vinatesa, in the Lleida fruit fields. All of them follow the tradition of fasting from sunrise to sunset, apart from Michael, from Ghana. Michael (34) is Catholic and praises the efforts of the Muslim community. "I say do it, because it is a way of life and truthfully they are continuing to work very well" he said.

At nine o’clock the group has already been picking pears for an hour. All six Africans have once again joined the summer fruit campaign to collect as much as possible. Also like last year, the Muslim holy month has coincided with high temperatures in August

Ramadan, which forbids the consumption of any food or liquid from sunrise until sunset is a tremendous challenge given the long hours spent working outdoors in hot temperatures. The holy month started two weeks ago but there is still half a month of sacrifice to go. However, the group has claimed they say that this summer is kinder than last year’s.

One of the Muslims who is strictly following his religious code is Djibril (44), a Senegalese man who has been coming to work in Lleida for the last seven years. He told the ACN that he always keeps his head covered by a cap for protection against the sun and he wears a shirt and long pants to keep mosquitoes away. Yet he maintained that he has not felt tired during his work, "The worst time is the heat of around five in the afternoon. It is very hard because you have to endure a lot," he said.

Djibril insisted that fasting during Ramadan should be undergone "cautiously" and that if you cannot withstand it, it is better to leave it altogether. "For me it would be very difficult to stop doing it because I'm used to the tradition that was taught to me by my father. However, if I were doing what I want, I would not fast because it’s very hard, but I do what Muslim law says”, he explained.

The only temporary worker to eat and drink water on the farm these days is Michael, originally from Ghana. He is Catholic and came to work in Lleida four years ago. He considers himself a traveller, as he also travels to Andalusia for the olive and strawberry harvest. In his view, Muslims who practice Ramadan still manage to work as well as other employees. "They can not drink anything but they are enduring it and working. The owner is very quiet and lets them do as they please," he explained. "I believe in God but even I see it as a very difficult thing to do. God gives strength," he insisted.

The owner of the farm, Agustí, explained that he has never had any problems. However, even if he knows they will not drink it, he leaves a fresh water nearby. In this sense, the president of AEALL-ASAJA, Pere Roqué, commented that "they are given water and everything they might need, but it's a religious matter and we respect it." However, he also acknowledged that not eating or drinking during the day, especially late in the afternoon, would leave anyone just "exhausted" after a day of work. Most of the seasonal workers start at eight in the morning and take on a second shift from five to nine o'clock at night. For the Muslim workers participating in the Ramadan, the importance of an evening meal, complete with family and friends is essential in keeping them fulfilled and be able to go out and work when the sun rises again.