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Happy Tabaski

November 18, 2010

For weeks the number of sheep had gradually been increasing – at first just the odd one or two tied to a tree or fence, then a a few on top of a car or sept place. Then, driving towards eastern Senegal, Mauritanian and Malian traders herding sheep  by the road side.

Finally, driving back to Thies last weekend, I was forced to give up playing  ‘count the sheep on top of the car’ after only a few minutes after I’d lost track, and wondered if it was acceptable to ask our driver to stop by the road so I could take a picture of what seemed like a field of sheep.

This could only mean one thing: Tabaski was getting closer. Tabaski, arguably the biggest celebration of the Senegalese year, is the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or ‘Festival of Killing’ (of sheep), celebrated in rememberence of the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmal  as an act of obedience to God,  before God intervened to provide him with a ram to sacrifice instead. (Thank you wikipedia).

For weeks my perceptions of Tabaski had been shaped by office chatter of where to get the cheapest charcoal and rice, and what new material people had bough for their new outfits for the big day. Yesterday though I was lucky enough to spend Tabaski at a colleague’s house, and discover a little bit more of what the day is actually like.

Waking up early to the sound of bleating sheep (you may be noticing a theme here), Wednesday had a slight feel of Christmas. No decorations, trees, or old christmas pop songs on repeat, but instead that sense that something everyone had been waiting for for weeks had finally arrived. Putting on my best Senegalese outfit I headed out to find a deserted neighbourhood, with only a single figure scurrying inside with some fresh bread, inviting me to spend the day at his family home on the way.

Opening the door at Fatou Sarr’s house, the real hustle and bustle emerged. I was proudly given the prime seat next to the sheep dismembering, and happily chatted away about the high price of sheep this year (70,000 CFA, or about £110), watching the coming and going in the yard for hours.

Suddenly, as bits of sheep were rapidly starting to vanish, a starter of grilled mutton and mustard  appeared at my side. Several hours of intense discussions on the subject of ‘le lute’ (wrestling) later, huge platters of mutton and chips arrived and conversation abruptly stopped, replaced by eager munching and calls of ‘Il faut manger’ (you must eat).

After I’d eaten and eaten, and eaten a bit more, I decided it was finally time to brave calls of ‘Helene, tu mange pas?’, and give up. Though, proudly, I was not the first one to do so…

The afternoon passed with much sitting and digesting, interrupted by the odd ‘asalamalakum’ as a neighbour dropped by to say hello. As the evening started to draw in, I decided it was time to say my thank you’s and head home, though not before generously being handed some fresh mutton to take home with me. Then, stepping out of the front door and seeing  a stream of colour as people had dressed up in their best outfits and were headed out into the street, I realised that the party had only just begun…

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