It has been almost a year and a half since I returned from Senegal. I can't believe so much time has passed! Sometimes it feels like only yesterday that I was surrounded by sandy roads, scorching sun, and Senegalese friends. Other days I have a hard time remembering the names of places and people that were a part of my life those four months. Surprisingly, I still remember a lot of Wolof vocabulary and sometimes certain Wolof words sneak their way into my dreams. Since I've been back Stateside I have sought out any opportunity I could find to continue learning about and enjoying the Senegalese culture. I have dined at Senegalese restaurants in Chicago, D.C., NYC, and plan on eating all the "ceb" [rice] I can find at a Senegalese restaurant in Boston with my mom next weekend. I pulled out my Wolof on a cashier at Walmart, with my "mango friend" in Colorado, and recently with the Senegalese community here in Boston.
This past weekend I was invited to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Tabaski with some Senegalese families here in Boston. In Arabic this holiday is called Eid al-Adha, or the feast of sacrifice, and I liken it to Senegalese Thanksgiving. It is a holiday to remember when God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son (Muslims say the son was Ishmael, Christians say it was Issac). In remembrance of God's provision, Muslims in Senegal sacrifice a goat and then divide the meat into three parts, sharing a third with the poor, a third with family and friends, and a third they keep for themselves. Like Easter when Senegalese Christians share ngalax with their Muslim neighbors, during Tabaski, Senegalese Muslims share the goat meat with their Christian neighbors. These two holidays, Easter and Tabaski, are a great example of the respect Senegalese have for their neighbors of another faith.
I am told that in Senegal, around Tabaski time, Dakar is overtaken by goats. You buy your live goat in a lot similar to the Christmas tree lots we have in the States, tie it up in your courtyard to annoy your neighbors for a couple of days, and then sacrifice it after noon prayer. I'm not sure where our goat came from or if my Senegalese hosts here in Boston performed their own sacrificial ceremony because I arrived after the goat had been nicely cooked and served over a bed of my beloved Senegalese ceb.
The feast started out with a warm bowl of laax [porridge and yogurt] followed by cebuyapp [rice and meat] and thiakry for dessert [millet and yogurt]. I found myself sitting as the guest of honor at the men's table throughout the meal -- I have yet to figure out how to interact with Senegalese women. As I sat and listened to the men engage in a lively debate about Senegalese politics in French, Wolof, and English, the women were working away in the kitchen making sure everybody got enough food, and the kids were running around the house. I was once again reminded of how much the Senegalese love to debate, how informed they are about Senegalese affairs, and how they all think they know how to solve Senegal's problems. As I sat at the head of the table and tried to track a conversation that flowed from one language to another, I was quickly absorbed into a Senegalese aura complete with the smells of my host family's home. If it weren't for the leggings and long sleeve shirt that I was wearing underneath my Senegalese dress, I could have truly believed that I was back in Senegal.