Holidays in Senegal

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Africa » Senegal » Fatick Region
January 3rd 2009
Published: January 5th 2009
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Since I have last written many of the most important Senegalese holidays have come and gone. The first was the Muslim holiday of Tabaski. My basic understanding of the religious premise behind the holiday is the prophet Muhammad was asked by god to sacrifice is first born. He obliged but just before the knife came down god switched out his son for a sheep. I’m missing a lot of the details of course but the idea was to test the prophet. Weather he passed or not is up to interpretation.
Theological discussion aside the market that revolves around the holiday is incredibly fascinating to the unaccustomed foreigner. Imagine your local pumpkin seller on Halloween. Now put him on every street corner in the city. Then change the pumpkins out for sheep and you will start to understand what Dakar looks like this time of year. Sheep are absolutely everywhere, tied to little posts staked into the ground up to a hundred in each group. And a sheep isn’t the maintenance free item a pumpkin is. Once you buy your sheep you have to keep it some where, feed it and make sure no one steals it. So not only are there groups of sheep to be sold but those to be guarded day and night until Tabaski finally arrives. I have been meaning to explain the transportation of Senegal but just haven’t gotten around to it, to say the least its third world. That also makes getting your sheep home from the market and interesting endeavor. I have seen untold numbers riding in the trunks of taxis or the on the tops of bus rapids.
I don’t know if there is ever a good time to be a sheep in Senegal, for that reason Tabaski can be seen as either just a worsening of an already pretty miserable existence or sweet release from an unjust world. I like to think the latter as it helps me sleep at night. The sheep I helped slaughter on Tabiski was one of four animals so far I have helped to dispatch. I mainly play an auxiliary role. Hold a leg here or put some weight there but gives you an incredible connection to the meat you eat. If the experience doesn’t rattle you at least a little, you’ve been living in the third world too long.
Also on the topic of killing sheep, I gave our adolescent sheep an orange peel to eat, the next day it was sick and a couple of days later it was dead. Does anyone know if orange peel is toxic to sheep? I figured they can eat garbage all day and be fine but the timing is suspicious.
After Tabaski which was on the 9th of December came Noel. Senegal is predominately a Muslim county but I have lived only Catholic dominated villages. For this reason the festivities I experienced for Tabaski paled in comparison to Noel. I decided to spend Christmas in Thiafaithe with the family I lived with during training. My brother there had been building up the all the parties in the village this time of year so I’d been looking forward to it for a while. Unfortunately, I was to miss the majority of the festivities. My brother hangs out regularly with a group of about five other boys his age. On Christmas day we visited the house of each one and ate and ate and ate. I was a guest at six separate meals within a three hour span. But not just any guest. An honored guest and by the code of Senegalese hospitality I must be reminded that Christmas is a holiday and I am to eat well beyond any rational limits human consumption. It wasn’t the quantity that but rather the quality that ended doing me in. Somewhere along the line I picked up a bug that completely rocked my system and put my GI tract in to super cleans mode. I was laid up for the next two days and a week after I still get a little squeamish around meal times.
All in all this is a great time to be in Senegal. The consolation to missing the holidays back home is there is so much going on here. Included in the new flood of tourists to Palmarin are many Peace Corps volunteers and there families moving through on their own vacations. So there is plenty of Americans to spend time with. Also, with family returning home from school or work in the cities, the village is in a constant party mode. Since New year’s eve alone we’ve had three nights of festivities. As far as parties go tonight’s definitely takes the cake. The drums attracted me to a party just behind my house. Some type of women’s gathering, but I asked and it wasn’t a problem that I was the only male there. I decided: however, it wasn’t a good idea to be there after the dance circle (which I’m familiar with) turned into the no pants dance (this was my first time, and its my understanding that its not normal). I’m not sure if it was because of my presence or despite it but I took off pretty quickly to try and figure why other men aren’t showing up to a party if there is a chance of cheeks. I don’t really understand completely but it has something to do with the women asking for money. It’s funny how international that correlation is. All is well here. I’ll write again soon.


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