The holidays

My hope was to update this weekly but I have very limited access to computers and the internet. The most frustrating part of going to an internet café is the French keyboard which slows my typing down and hides punctuation and symbols so that I don’t know where they are. The ideal way for me to write this out is to type this on a computer I borrow from an American. In order to avoid this I may create posts consisting of only pictures and videos. We’ll see how this turns out, apologies for the long wait.

My host niece Sophie-Josephine, this was taken in my room.

Christmas: I felt a little bit guilty about spending two weeks in Dakar and missing Tobaski in my village (Senegalese for the most part celebrate all holiday whether Muslim or Christian) as my Catholic family killed and cooked two sheep and all the people in my section of the village asked why I hadn’t stayed for the event. In order to relieve the burden I decided I’d spend Christmas in the village. For one, my family’s Catholic and it would make for a Christmas like no other. Leading up to the day there were fire crackers going off all over the village and I thought this was related to this upcoming holiday, little did I know they were actually for the Muslim new year the very next day. On the 24th I noticed that the bar was only playing Christmas music and the real main event for the day was mass that night at the village’s priest-less church. All the family members living in Dakar came home including a host brother I’d only heard about once, Raphael. I asked Jean-Marie what the plan was for the day itself, he said after we come back from midnight mass we’ll drink and dance all night long. An hour or so before it started Jean-Marie I asked if I had a suit and tie to wear for the service, so I put on the nicest clothes I had available and we walked across town to church. The service had Western elements, the infamous diorama of baby Jesus (this one had stuffed animals in it as props), a play enacting the events leading up to Jesus’ birth, and we took communion. Some of the more unique aspects were the music, the ever-present microphone feedback ranging from a light ring to a deafening blast, and a toothless old man. Once the music got going this older gentleman could not help but break out in dance, to which many around me tried to disguise their laughter as coughs and choking; this only seemed to motivate more dance and sometimes he would look back and speak to people he caught laughing. Even with people discouraging him from moving about he found that dancing in his seat would not be enough, he had move up and down the main aisle, taking the hand of the priest and dancing with him. He decided to change seats after this display and pushed people out the way for a seat in the row in front of me next to some one who became tense and rigid as the old man chatted him up. At one point he said something that resulted in my entire section simultaneously doubling over in laughter. In short, a good time was had by all. One of our weekly pigs being prepared by Jerome, the bartender.

M’bam is unique to Senegal in many ways, its Christian presence, the tendencies it has toward environmental responsibility, and the amount of foreigner living in and visiting this random village. The University of Minnesota has a “developing world” study abroad program, if they choose Senegal (I remember Ecuador and India as some of the other choices) the student spends six weeks in Dakar and six weeks interning in a town or village around Senegal. Each semester M’bam receives one of these students. Another study abroad program sends American students here for a week. Some environmental NGOs bring foreigners into M’bam for introductions to an “eco-village”. Walking towards the river one day for a swim a white woman on a horse and cart passed, I inquired as to who that was and found out that a French woman was having a house built in the Toucouleur (essentially Pulaar – the second largest ethnicity in Senegal) section of the village. Since then I have befriended Katia Mignon and was fortunate enough to get my second dinner invite for after midnight mass. Her parent and parent’s friends were visiting as well as one of Katia’s French friends in a neighboring village. After returning from mass I went to her house for an incredible feast accompanied by wine and champagne. I came back home at 2AM and stopped by the bar where I had a drink with some very festive family members and known associates. The next day everyone lethargically made their way towards the family horse and cart for a ride to morning mass in Foundiougne. Coming home we had a delicious lunch and spent the rest of the day relaxing. Jean-Marie wanted to borrow my camera and I received some calls from home (Thanks Mom, Dani, and Pat!). I went to sit with everyone just outside the compound wall and enjoyed relaxing with everyone. A very tall/large drunk guy challenged a short/small less drunken friend of the family to wrestle. Though they were discouraged from this, the tall guy would not let up and soon enough they were going at it. There are two types of wrestling here, with punching and without. On this Christmas day bout punches were thrown. In the end the short guy pinned the tall one and walked over to sit with us, he got thrown into some branches during the match and had a nice welt on his back. The tall guy came back over and threw more punches at our friend until he was grabbed and escorted down the road. Not too long after the previous volunteer called the family and I got a chance to speak with him for while. It was an eventful and memorable Christmas, my first away from both home and loved ones, I’m certain I will always remember it. Tam Xaarit: The Muslim New Year is held a month and two days after Tobaski which happened to be the day after Christmas. I explained Halloween to the family here and was told this holiday was comparable and that it would occur sometime in January. Sitting around the dinner bowl, I asked why we were having another “fancy” meal (ground rice mixed with ground millet served with lots of duck meat), I heard the name referenced but wasn’t sure if that’s what was said and some one explained in French it was the Islamic New Year. The Senegalese spin on the holiday is that children get together in troupes; boy and girls wear each others clothes (essentially cross dress), and go from house to house for candy. For hours and hours groups of children divided by age groups walked past in funny outfits, some with millet powder on their face, rhythmically beating make shift drums and shouting funny chants. In Mali, the neighboring country to the west, children and people don’t celebrate the holiday this way, Margaret went to visit Dogon Country and was in the capital of Mali, Bambako during Tam Xaarit. After reminding her about Tam Xaarit when we spoke that day, she and other volunteers swapped clothing where they were staying in the spirit of their country of residence’s holiday. It was fun to see the children I know and others in village, out and about, having a good time. New Years: I went to Dakar to celebrate. Each time I go, I become more and more comfortable. This trip I road a roommate of Margaret’s bike all over that part of the city, which was a bit terrifying at times but character building in the end. Another third year volunteer has an apartment downtown, I’m told only male volunteers can live there since it would be more dangerous for a girl to live next to a brothel than a guy. We got there well before midnight and I caught up with several people I hadn’t seen since training ended but soon enough masses of volunteers arrived and it turned into quite a party. The mix of travel fatigue and alcohol made me want to head back not long after midnight. The streets were wild and crowded downtown, but no one bothered us and it didn’t take long to find a cab. On the ride back we noticed an insane amount of gridlocked traffic heading into downtown and were thankful not be sitting in that. As I stepped on to the second floor landing, Margaret discovered the door that no one ever locks was in fact locked by a roommate who lives on the first floor. After some phone calls and discussion it was decided we would head downtown for the key and come back. Our cab didn’t get very far before we hit traffic and after spending to much time in that chaotic mix we had the driver turn around to take us back home. Eventually some one was sent to us with a key, early it was decided we’d leave the champagne for another time since there would be too many people at the party to share it, upon getting back in we opened the champagne to unwind. Upon finally laying in bed, the morning call to prayer in the nearby mosque blasted from it sound system (that happens at 5AM). It truly was a happy New Year. There have been three day intensive language seminars held for our training group all over the country and when I was asked my preference for language and location I then arranged for it to be Seereer and held in my village. I was going to return from my village the day before the class started but after getting on the bus there was a problem with a tire, after waiting between three and four hours I decided I could stay in Dakar one more night. It just so happened that Margaret went to hang out at another volunteer’s house across the highway from where the bus was. Since the language teacher was coming from Thies to my village in a Peace Corps car that day I went to the training center where I hadn’t been since the end of October. Eventually we got in the car and headed to my village, along the way we picked up all the people in that class. Typical Peace Corps setup, one person hadn’t studied Seereer ever, another had learned a little, and Jack and I were at a much higher level, but some how the class worked well and my language teacher got a chance to see me in my village using Seereer. He liked Foundiougne so much he’s actually coming this Tuesday to visit me and other students of his. I’ve had a good many visitors since then as well and got to go on a couple of cool boat rides. I’ll write about these more soon. I had a video of my house to upload but in order to do so I have to pay a $60 fee each year. I’ll consider it. I’ll add another post soon.

We saw this up close from the boat on a cool excursion in a bird park.

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