I haven’t been able to write lately because the internet has been so bad in Basse. Qcell, the internet provider decided to switch their 3G network off in Basse. Hopefully they’ll realise this is a bad idea soon otherwise Duncan, Sam and I will be storming their headquarters in protest.
So while I’m visiting the coast I thought I’d update the blog while I can. This weekend it has been Tabaski, the Gambian’s Eid celebrations. Preparations have been underway for the last two weeks. Three goat rams appeared in the compound one morning and there has been much talk about new outfits. Fatou took me to on a special trip to Basse to buy material for a new outfit to take to the tailors. It’s been like the build up to Christmas.
I spent the whole Tabaski day with my compound family. We woke early and had breakfast, then, dressed in my new fancy Gambian attire, Tako took me to prayers. The men, the older women and the children all gathered just outside the village by the cemetery. It was quite a sight with everyone dressed in their finery. Prayers didn’t last too long thankfully as it was out
in the full sun and I didn’t really have a clue what I was supposed to be doing.
Afterwards we returned to the compound ready to slaughter those poor goats. I’d been dreading this bit. Stupid I know because I eat meat all the time but I’m just not used to sharing a garden with them for 2 weeks before they become my dinner. I thought there would be a big ceremony about this bit and I would be forced to watch and try not to look too squeamish but fortunately the men just got on with it in the corner of the compound and I didn’t have to see too much. The goats where sensitively quiet about it too which was considerate of them. I hope it was a quick and relatively painless death. Adama reassured me by saying ‘Don’t worry; soon they will be in heaven. Soon they will be in heaven in my stomach’ with a glint in her eye! I’ve never seen anyone so excited about the prospect of meat!
Tako then took me around the village to call in to see all the relatives in their compounds. They all seemed suitably impressed with
my Gambian outfit. Then it was second breakfast – goat’s liver and bread. I seem to have developed a taste for liver since I got here so I actually quite enjoyed it. I began to realise that the day was going to be a lot like Christmas day in that there would be constant food followed by lots of lying around trying to digest it. Watermelon and groundnuts followed and lunch of goat stew wasn’t long behind.
The evening was unexpected. The girls on the compound spent all day doing their hair and talking about their new outfits getting all excited. They had told me that later we would be going out into the village. I imagined everyone gathering for a party proudly wearing their outfits. When it came to it though it was just me and Fatou that set out and it turned out to be just walking around the compounds again saying hello to everyone and wishing everyone ‘happy prayers for the next year’. An hour later we were back, just before dark. The girls had got all ready but there was no electricity so in the dark nobody could see each other in their new frocks.
After a while everyone just got changed back into something more comfortable. However, this just seemed to be the way things went. There was no talk of disappointment. So just like Christmas it had that anti-climax feel about it.
The following evening though was more interesting. We were invited to another compound for attaya (the sweet tea which I’m can’t seem to get enough of). It was just the ladies that gathered. All the older women were dressed in outfits made from the same material, all in slightly different styles so they looked quite a sight. There was dancing which got more and more vigorous as they clapped harder and banged on homemade drums, and we ate sardines and bread and drank fizzy pop. I had one of my moments where I think how on earth did I get here, on a compound made of thatched round huts, under the stars and a full moon, with people who are talking in a language I don’t understand and who know me only as Fatou as they try to make me dance African style.
The whole experience has been brilliant. I’ve felt as hardcore as a Peace Corp, fully submerged
in the culture. I feel really lucky that I have such a lovely compound family that will share their celebrations with me and make me feel like part of the family.
Happy Tabaski everyone!
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