Monday, November 21, 2011

was that a cool breeze?

At night, it is cool enough to use a sheet now.  I can't believe it.  And to think, the heat is on now for most of you in the U.S.  I still want to write some updates even though I have just been working on my project for the past two weeks.  Here are some fun facts about Senegal that I have failed to mention in the blog thus far.

- My Senegalese name is Sokhna (pronounced Sorna).  Everyone calls me Sokhna.  I am named after my host mother's mother.  A week into my time here, I realized Merrill is just too hard.  It doesn't roll off the tongue nicely with a French accent.

- The Senegalese LOVE sugar.  The average cup of coffee has 5 sugar cubes in it.  Onion sauce has sugar in it.  Ataya (the popular tea) is one part tea, one part sugar, three parts water.  My family still asks me, "are you sure you want to drink that coffee without sugar".

- Bargaining is part of everyday life.  All taxis, all street vendors, and everything at the market is up for negotiation.  I have to say I've improved a lot.  The other day I bought some sunglasses.  The vendor's starting price was 4000 CFA, and I walked away with the shades for 1500 CFA.

- Senegalese men are incredible dancers.  It is comical, though, because all dance venues have mirrors and no one hesitates to dance for oneself in the mirror! Or, when a group of friends is sitting together, one friend will be dancing for the rest!

- My host mother returned from her pilgrimage in Mecca early yesterday morning.  She brought tons of gifts home for her family and friends, but more importantly, she returned with sacred water from the holy city.  As dozens and dozens of people filtered in and out of the house yesterday to welcome her home, she offered everyone a tiny glass of the water.   Tomorrow or the next day, there will be a huge party at our house to formally welcome her home.  I know it will be a big event because a similar occasion occurred at my neighbor's house last friday.  The house was PACKED with people, overflowing even.  It is also an all day event.  They served lunch and dinner to their guests.  On Friday, there were three semi-famous Malian singers belting songs through megaphones at the party.  At one point, I was sitting alone and the three women cornered me and sang me a song.  I was loving it, until they demanded I pay them.  Lucking I had some change to give each of them because it is rude not to pay them.  Everyone does, but everyone is also more skilled at ducking out of the situation I found myself it.   I learned this as several onlookers laughed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

...and what a day it was

I woke at the normal hour, 8am, and made my way up to our roof where my sisters, aunt, and maids were already preparing food.  Joining right in, I began cutting onions and potatoes.  My dad and brother were already at the mosque--all men go to the mosque for morning prayers on Tabaski.  As soon as they returned, everything happened very fast.  Two of our neighbors came over (two young men), they led the mouton over to wash basin (as you can see in my photo from the last post), and held it down with the help of my brother.  My dad had the small knife in his hand at that point, and took it to the mouton's throat. The 2nd mouton followed right away.  I won't go into too much detail here, but there was a lot of blood. I heard them take their last breaths.  As painful as it must have been for the sheep, their lives ended swiftly.  To be honest, I was not as affected by the killing as I thought.  Everything happened so fast, I didn't have time to sit there are really think about what was happening.  I had to remove myself at a few moments, but my host dad was very professional and matter of fact about the whole thing.  IT was not a celebration of brutality in any way--very peaceful. Before I could blink, two teenage boys began skinning the moutons, cleaning them and butchering the meat (this took about 2 hours).  I received a complete lesson in sheep anatomy.  We grilled all the meat, and I do have to say it was absolutely delicious.  I ate grilled, salted, sheep liver, and I enjoyed it (it was way better than Henry's chopped chicken livers...sorry dad).
Apparently mouton has triptophan (spelling?) in it just like turkey does, because everyone napped after the meal.  When I woke up around 6, we all started getting ready for the night's festivities.  Here I am in my outfit, specially made by my host mom (who is a tailor), with my little sister Naimarie and Nogaye, one of the maids.

The night's activities consisted of countless visits.  Family and friends filtered in and out of our house, and we did the same, hopping from house to house in the neighborhood.  I saw all of my friends who live in my neighborhood, Mermoz.  Here is a pic to my friends Lauren (middle) and Rachel.  It was so fun being all dressed up and parading around--everyone wants to show off their outfits.  

My night ended at a Youssou N'Dour concert! For those who don't know, he is the most famous Senegalese musician: a world renowned artist! He usually plays on the night of Tabaski to a sold out audience.  Imagine Aerosmith playing a sold out show in Boston in their hayday...but Youssou Ndour is at a national level.  In typical Senegalese fashion, it was hot, loud, and packed, but I loved seeing everyone still dressed in their finest Tabaski attire.  Everyone in the crowd knew every word to every song.  The last song of the night was "Birima", the one song I really know! 

What struck me most on Monday was my conversation with my host dad before I left for the concert.  He had been MIA for most of the evening, and when I asked him where he had been, he said he went back to the mosque.  He needed to pray for the moutons because it is so hard to kill him.  He told me he wasn't going to be able to sleep that night.  Not once before Tabaski did he mention any reservations about killing the moutons because it is a responsibility he naturally assumes as the oldest man in the family.  I was touched by the humanity behind this difficult aspect of Tabaski.  It changed my perspective of what it means to be a good Muslim.  

Tuesday marked the start of a month long research project I will be doing. Classes are over, I'm on my own time now.  I will be studying the Car Rapide--a funky mode of public transportation in Dakar.  I'll be taking them around the city, interviewing lots of people, and learning about the origin and significance of the art adorning the cars.  I chose the cars as my focus because I believe they are the most symbolic image of urban Senegal.

Friday, November 4, 2011

moutons, moutons, moutons

This coming Monday is the Muslim holiday Tabaski, the most important day of the year in Senegal.   Many things are going to happen on Monday.  Everyone will be dressed in their absolute nicest attire (outfit's made especially for Tabaski this year) families and friends will visit each other's homes throughout the day and night, and every family will kill a sheep as a sacrifice to the prophet Mohammed.  Yes, a sheep is going to be killed at my house, wait not one, but TWO goats. Here they are.....hanging out on the roof

I have been asking my family questions about Tabaski since I learned about it in September.  They know I am nervous since it will be my first time seeing a live animal die, let alone be killed.  However, part of me is also excited because this is going to be a profound cultural experience. Maybe the most cross cultural experience I will have in Senegal.  I will have so much more to tell after Monday!

This week has been insane with everyone getting everything ready for the holiday.  My friend Rachel's host sister is a tailor, and she has basically been working around the clock this week to finish the boubous (traditional outfits) for her clients.  EVERYONE has an outfit made for Tabaski.  Including me.  The market's are a mob scene.  I went with our maid, Nogaye, on Tuesday, and there were so many people it was almost impossible to walk.  Music was blaring over the speakers, vendors were yelling out prices through a loud speaker, I just had to laugh it was so overwhelming.  Nogaye was leading me through the market by the arm.  I felt like a lost little kid.  It was like Black Friday on steroids. 

Also, most of the streets look like this:
Mouton's have crowded the streets for the past two weeks.  Farmers bring their herds to Dakar to make their biggest profit of the year.  It is a strategic act--buying a mouton (which is French for sheep).  You don't want to wait too long because they get too expensive, and you run the risk of not getting one at all. But at the same time, you don't want to buy it too early because it is hard to keep a mouton in your home for a long time.  My family bought our moutons last Saturday.

Monday will be an amazing day.  I look forward to writing about what I see, hear, eat (after killing the mouton we will prepare a delicious feast!), and do.