Out of character, I know.
Just got back from two weeks with my roomate Djimby in Dagana.
Where is Dagana? Think way north central Senegal, a town small enough not to have internet cafes but big enough to have some paved roads. You can look it up on Wikipedia, but I think that even Holliston might have a longer entry. It is across the river from Mauritania, and about 130 km from St. Louis.
It was real Senegal there- real Senegalese hospitality (“taranga”), real Senegalese cuisine, tradition, religion, family… it is all there.
I spent a lot of time visiting friends and family, cooking (I received the nickname “Sara Soble” which means “Sara Onion,” because I cut onions all the time), watching tv (K2000 anybody?), drinking tea, going to the market and hanging out with my mother, brothers and sisters. I also made some progress in The Brothers Karamazov.
Djimby’s family took me in as one of their own. Yaay (that’s mother in Wolof) explained to me that their hospitality was natural, normal. She explained that they have a son who is studying in France and who they haven’t seen in a year and a half, and they have faith that he is being taken care of there, that he has found a family and friends that are to him as Djimby’s family is to me. It’s almost like a karma thing, this philosophy that if I my family is hospitible towards others, other families will be hospitible towards my children. And it’s very Senegalese.
So they fed me, overfed me. The food was great, and they were very good about my vegetarianism. They did poke fun, but cooked me eggs and always gave me extra veggies. I learned a lot about preparing Senegalese dishes. I know how to make couscous- grinding the corn or millet into flour, sifting, and then adding water and forming it into little tiny balls by stirring it with your hands (“muun”), sifting it again and then steaming it like rice.
They also taught me some dance moves, and made me dance. Which was fun, even it I’m still a bit scared of dancing. But I did it, to cheers and friendly laughter.
The big event of the trip was of course Tabaski. Tabaski is a big deal in Senegal, it is a Muslim holiday where every family sacrifices a sheep to remember that God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son and then spared him, substituting a sheep.
My family sacrificed two sheep. I was there for the sacrifice. They dug two holes to catch the blood, and sacrificed the sheep one at a time. They said a prayer as they did it, and I caught the word Abraham. Apparently the women aren’t supposed to look when the throat is actually being slit, so we stood behind the man doing the sacrifice and touched his back in order to participate symbolically. We could hear everything, and I definitely witnessed the aftermath (chickens aren’t the only animals that keep moving after their heads are cut off). Yaay dabbed each of our foreheads with a drop of blood, and we went back into the house while they sheep were being skinned.
During the next four of five hours the house was turned into a butcher shop, and I learned a lot about what the insides of sheep look like. I cut up onions and made the onion sauce, in the middle of everything. The meat was cooked in a pot and then grilled. People ate as we were cooking, and then for lunch there was a big platter of mutton and onion sauce and potatoes and some eggs for me. I did eat a symbolic morsel of mutton in order to participate in the holiday. My first meat ever… it actually tasted fine even if the texture was… meaty.
Afterwards I went with my little sister to bring a leg of mutton (which I carried down the street wrapped in a sheet, picture this) and a portion of cooked meat with sauce and potatoes to Adja Sall. Adja Sall is my aunt and homonym (she gave me her name, I am Adja Sall in Dagana now), there is a picture of us below.
During the evening we dressed up (check out my Senegalese outfit below) and went out visiting, greeting people with the following exchange:
Dewenati. Happy holiday/new year
Fekel dewen. Until the next holiday/year
Baal ma aq. Forgive my sins.
Baal naa la, baal ma. I forgive you, forgive me too.
Yalla nanu yalla bole baal. May God forgive us all.
These greetings continued through the week, and it was a very nice way to usher in the new year.
I have spoken with some people from home, and received cards and letters which I really appreciate. It is wonderful to know that you are there, and even though I am enjoying myself here, I miss you all and think of you often.
Wishing you a happy new year, meilleurs voeux, dewenati, from across the ocean.
Me and some of my siblings.
Adja Sall and Adja Sall.