Saalam Malaekum and Merry Christmas! Well, school is done for the first term and we are on break now for Tobaski and Christmas. Tobaski is a Muslim holiday… it was celebrated on the 20th of December this year… sometimes the dates change, depending on how they see the moon. I still haven’t quite figured out what it is they are looking for at the moon when they determine the date. It was the same thing for Ramadan. Some people said the holiday began on Thursday, and others said Friday. Then, it seemed as if everyone was going to celebrate it on Friday… then it changed again to Thursday. But really, the celebrations continued from Thursday to about Saturday or Sunday… so who knows? It’s like many things here. You just have to shrug your shoulders and go along with it. As much as I like to question things and constantly ask “why is it this way?” (I am a teacher, after all), I’ve learned since I’ve been in Africa that some things just are as they are…
For Tobaski, just about every family slaughters a Ram, and we eat almost nothing but lamb meat for at least three days. I have a picture of my family slaughtering the ram, but I’m not sure if it would be appropriate to post it online… They used my knife to slaughter it, and then laughed at the posture I assumed to observe the initial process. I was laying on the bantaba (which is a raised platform in the middle of the compound), my arms were stretched out beyond my face, and I was peering over them like a small child watching something she’s not supposed to see… they said “Maimuna na susi!”, which means “Maimuna is scared!” I told them I just didn’t like to watch the actual death of the animal… but I still watched, and then I even helped them to skin it and remove the meat. After the ram had been dead for a while, I had no problem with the rest of the process… in fact, I was able to conduct a short anatomy lesson with my brother and his son… We took out the lungs and the heart and I explained the structures, cut the heart open to show the different chambers, etc… they were interested. And then we all proceeded to eat as much meat in as many different ways as we could for the next two days. My brother cooked a delicious stew with some of the vegetables that I had bought in Basse… carrots, potatoes, cabbage, onion… it was delicious. I made spaghetti with meat sauce. I cooked the whole meal over an open fire, and used whatever seasonings I could find, along with a tomato sauce seasoning packet that my family sent me (thanks mom and dad!). We also ate plain meat grilled over hot coals, as well as several different African dishes with meat… let me tell you, it was a lot of meat. But it was a nice break from fish, which is about all they eat, usually.
The next day, I took out all of the Christmas decorations that my family sent me (which arrived just in time, by the way). My parents sent a small Christmas tree with little ornaments, a Christmas penguin (of course, anyone who knows my mother knows that the penguin is a necessary Christmas figure… even in Africa!), and a small nativity scene. I taught the children in my compound how to decorate the Christmas tree and let them go to town with it. My uncle mailed me some candy canes (among many other wonderful gifts too… thanks Uncle Dave and Sally!!!). I shared most of these with my family. Then I had fun taking pictures of my family and neighbors with the various Christmas items. It was fun, and a great opportunity to teach them about Christmas. We talked about the nativity scene. They know all about Jesus and Mary… they learn about them in the Koran, but it’s a very different version of the story than what is told in the bible. And the names are slightly different. Jesus is Essa, and Mary is Mariama.
Then I packed up all of my Christmas items, along with my mandolin and another bag of clothes and school things, and tied everything to the back of my bike on Saturday morning for the 42 km ride to Basse for Christmas and New Years. Liza took a picture of my when I arrived. I had to laugh at myself… even in Africa, I somehow manage to travel with too much stuff for Christmas! I’m hoping to try to post the picture with this blog. We’ll see if the computers in Basse will allow me to do this or not.
Christmas is tomorrow, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. The temperature has increased in the past few days, and I’m pretty sure it’s been at least 100 F during the afternoon since at least Friday. The temperature in my hut the other morning was 95… I really hope this doesn’t mean that the wonderful “cold season” is already coming to an end. It only lasted a few weeks! So here I am, in tank tops and sandals, preparing for our Christmas celebration tomorrow. Something about it just doesn’t fell right (well, many things about it, really…)
One of the URD Peace Corps volunteers, Dan, has got it in his head that we need to cook a Terdukin for Christmas this year… I’m not sure that I spelled that correctly, but it’s when you put a chicken inside of a duck, inside of a turkey… he came up with this idea a while back, which we all said, “sure, let’s try it!”, but there’s several potential problems. First of all, Turkeys in the Gambia??? Second of all, no on in Basse has a true oven. We are going to “borrow” the oven of one of the local restaurants, but it’s the same kind of oven they use to cook bread in. It’s a huge brick oven that you heat for several hours by lighting a wood fire inside. Then, when you are ready, you spread the coals and put the items you want to bake inside of it. There’s no way to tell what temperature the oven is, or how long it will stay that way… nonetheless Dan has made almost all of the arrangements. He somehow found a turkey (raised by Peace Corps Volunteers), which he brought to Basse yesterday on the back of his bike. Unfortunately, he’s grown attached to the turkey now, and has named it “beast.” I hope he’ll be ok when we have to slaughter it… Alex, another PCV in the URD (that’s Upper River Division), has brought a duck to Basse (ducks, once again, have been introduced to The Gambia by Peace Corps Volunteers), and now we just need to find a chicken… but that shouldn’t be difficult. Chickens are all over the place here. Tonight, we will probably begin the process by killing the birds and plucking the feathers… then, we’ll begin cooking tomorrow. There should be about 20 of us here for the festivities. This includes 3 VSO volunteers (the UK’s version of the Peace Corps), and one catholic nun. We’ve just been gathering all the Toubabs we can find!
I have much more to report later, but for now, I should probably get to the market to buy some items for the things I’ll be contributing… It seems I’ve been put on pumpkin duty again. But this time, I won’t be making pumpkin pie. I’m going to do something different… I’ll just have to see what kind of ingredients I can find. So I’ll be writing again very soon… but for now… Merry Christmas!!!