The Fete du Tabaski was on Sunday, and is the celebration following Ramadan. From what I understand, the day is for asking for forgiveness from one’s family and friends, and sending good wishes for the future.
The day started early for me; I woke up at 6 am and donned my new bazin, which basically means fancy clothes. On Friday evening several aunts arrived with their children in tow to stay over until Monday, so our household was already full of children’s excited play at the early hour. All of the women had formed a great circle on the terrace and after exchanging the typical morning salutations to all, I was given a chair, a knife, and a basket full of yams. For the next few hours I listened their ebullient chatter and gossip whilst chopping yams and peeling garlic.
Once the sun was hot in the sky a few hours later, the excitement began when Salif, the father of the household, ascended from his chamber and announced that the sacrifice would commence. All of the children, around twenty in number, scrambled out to the street to watch the event. I looked on, a bit queasy, as Salif slit the throat of the goat and blood quickly turned the orange earth into a deep shade of red. This same scene was unfolding outside the houses of each neighbor simultaneously, and everyone was giddy, calling out good wishes across the street to one another. The young men of the house next strung up the goat to the garage door, cutting it apart and separating the meat. I looked on the entire time, something I must say I take pride in. The whole goat-cutting affair took around an hour, and afterwards, the preparation of food took on a rapid speed. Many of the women brought with them small grills to place over the charcoal clavicles, and smoke and the smell of crispy peppered meat quickly filled the morning air. All the children, myself included, waited impatiently for the meat to be doled out, for it was now ten o’ clock and our tummies were growling. After everyone had been well fed (and everyone had been, for the meat was plentiful), I set out with the younger girls to make sambe sambe around the neighborhood. Sambe sambe is an exchange of wishes for good health and prosperity, and after a child finishes, the expectation is that the adult will give them a small bit of money. It goes like this:
Child: E sambe sambe
Adult: Amiina (something of an acceptance, I gather)
Child: Sii tigi yala (may you live long)
Child: Ba tigi yala (may your mother live long)
Child: Fa tigi yala (may your father live long)
Child: Koro tigi yala (may your brothers live long)
Child: A la ka saw chaya (may we meet later in life)
Adult: Amiina may
This exchange can go on for a long time, but that’s all I was able to do. Everyone was really excited when I made sambe sambe to them, and after a while the girls began to exploit me by pushing me to the front of the group to say it, so as they would collect more money. The whole thing, though, struck me as very sweet. More often than not we would all just set inside some stranger’s house for a while, eating their goat hot off the fire and watching the older women prepare food, until we felt ready to go onto the next home. This openness that everyone offered up so easily is something I’m not accustomed to.
After perhaps two hours of meandering about the neighborhood, we returned home and ate cous cous, fried plantains, and of course, goat. I learned the phrase, N cono kera n bas a go ye, which means something like, “I’m so full that I have a child in my stomach.” I think that sums up how much I ate on Sunday. Food baby extreme. The concept of saving food to eat later is not one in practice here, and I have yet to enter a house with a refrigerator in it. As a result, what is cooked must all be eaten, and everyone readily tells me.
At midday all the men donned their traditional robes and, with prayer mats in tow, walked to the local mosque. I looked on from the roof of my house at the river of men that formed in the streets, all heading in solidarity towards the mosque. Soon after, the steady call to prayer rang out, and then all was silent again in the streets except for perhaps the faint mutterings of prayer.
The rest of the day was spent hanging around with the family, talking, resting, playing cards, making tea, and eating, always eating. In the nighttime, there was a party in my schoolyard that I attended with some friends. It was pretty crazy, and I didn’t get home until three in the morning! Two or three boys would go to the center of the field, and everyone would form a giant circle around them. They would dance fanatically until the crowd declared a winner by means of yelling and clapping. It was all very amusing, until my friends insisted that I go to the center! I eventually gave in and delighted many, I suppose, by showing off some American moves. I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole situation.
It was fascinating for me to observe this holiday, and I’m very thankful that I got to be here to participate in it. The only thing I’m not pleased with is the frequent severed goat tail that can be found in the streets, a dusty memory of Sunday’s festivities.