Sunday, December 30, 2007


The latest post showed up under the old one by accident, so scroll down!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A new threshold

I think one of the best things Africa can do for a person is increase their tolerance.

At first, when the power goes out, you get really angry. Your North American productivity pressurer kicks into gear, reminding you of all the things you have to do and all the things you won't be able to do now that there's no electricity. When I first arrived, in the dead of summer, when there is high demand for electricity because of the heat, and never enough supply, this frustrated me alot. But gradually, you begin to accept your new realities of life, and it has gotten to the point where a power outage is almost a relief because it means time to just relax or read quietly by candlelight.

Another example - appointments. I just stopped by a restaurant to try to book some space for a goodbye party with some friends. The owner wasn't there. They told me to call him. So I went back home, called him and he said, "stop by the restaurant and we can talk." WELL I WAS JUST THERE! WHAT A WASTE OF TIME. That would normally be my reaction. But here, you're forced to accept and return with a smile. It's a lesson in not being so obsessed with time and productivity. The pace of life is, as you would expect, slower. But the beauty is coming to accept the good in that.

It's been a gradual process for me, but I think I can see a marked difference. Having no water to shower with in the morning, sitting in the midst of flies, dealing with the men who are constantly hitting on you, accepting when the internet is down - it is all a question of your tolerance threshold, and luckily, I think mine has risen. It has to, otherwise you go crazy.

ps. i posted an album of pics on facebook if you want to have a look.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Mouton Business

The biggest Senegalese holiday of the year comes down to an animal: the sheep.

It is tradition in Islam to sacrifice a sheep for Eid Al-Adha, known locally as Tabaski. Still, I had never seen anything like this. For the first Eid, Korite, most families bought and killed a sheep. But it's a small affair. For Tabaski, it is no small affair.

About two weeks before Tabaski, sheep markets turn up at every corner. Herders bring sheep from around the country to sell in the capital, where they can apparently make up to 2 million CFA francs ($4,400) for ONE SHEEP! Imagine paying $4,000 for something you will eat in one day. But just as we have status symbols in Canada (clothes, cars, etc), the quality of sheep you bring home for Tabaski is a status symbol in Senegal.

You can also make money by buying and reselling sheep. Little boys are paid to wash and clean them. At the sheep markets, people sleep outside all night beside the sheep, and they even have guard dogs! When a customer comes looking, they whip the sheep to stad up tall and straight and they show them off like at a dog show.

One day Atoumane and I took a stroll around the sheep market that formed three metres in front of his door. He told me if you bring home a sheep that only costs 30,000 francs ($60), the neighbours will talk condescendingly. (Even though the smaller, younger sheep apparently have more tender and thus tastier meat). And they don't only buy one sheep. Both Atoumane's family and the family I live with bought three sheep each - far more than they would eat that day - but seemingly for the status and the fun of killing them. Also, once you reach a certain age, you are expected to kill your own sheep (or have someone kill it in your name) - I suppose as a way of personally marking the sacrifice Abraham made so many years ago.

For Tabaski, girls spend weeks preparing - getting their hair done and getting new boubous made, finding matching purses, shoes and jewellery - but all that is for the visiting of friends and family in the evening. (The fabric market was apparently open all night the day before Tabaski. I was there around 11pm and there were girls getting their nails done, people buying shoes, everything! It was packed!) But for many people, the climax of Tabaski is the prayer in the morning, and then the process of killing, skinning and cooking the sheep.

For both Korite and Tabaski, I missed the actual slaying, but Drew showed me a video and it was slow cutting of the neck, as if you were cutting thick bread that you really had to force your way through. Then they make a slit from the neck to the bottom and start skinning the sheep. They hang it on a hook and pull out its insides, letting the intestines flop onto the floor. Then they rip bones apart in order to break the meat up into smaller peices. As they skin and hack, blood spills everywhere. At our house, they killed at least 6 (for various families), and the whole driveway was covered in blood and various sheep parts: skin/head/feet/etc. I stuck to non-meat related preparatory activities - such as grounding the pepper.

What's neat is that if you walk around the morning of Tabaski, you won't find anyone on the streets. They're all inside preparing the sheep. But at every corner, someone is squeezing the poo out of intestines or dealing in some way with buckets of meat.

We ate lamb for the next 4 days - twice a day. On Tabaski, we even had lamb for breakfast. I told you last time about the intestines. This time, I learned that some people also eat the feet!

At Atoumane's, they had no hook to hang the sheep from as they cleaned it out. They used rope and a tree instead. He used the sidewalk to sharpen the knife, and I even saw his sister using the front tiles of the house as a cutting board for raw meat - yummy!

After the big day, I found sheep skins drying all over the road. That's another business - the reselling of the skin. 500 francs (just over $1) per sheep's skin.

All this to say that is really is an affair. It's funny. People look forward to Tabaski so much, but really most of the day is just preparing food. When they ask me whether we kill sheep in Canada, I laugh and say "no, we pray and then go out to a restaurant" - a concept they cannot understand!

After all the blood, people get clean and dressed up. Here's me with my big brother, Kalz.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Dancing with the Demons

One of Erin's blog postings on voodoo in Benin reminded me that I should inform you guys of a certain event I attended last week.

It's called the Ndop. And it is meant to heal people who have gone crazy. It's a four-day thing, kind of like Indian weddings. And it consits of several steps - mostly though, it's about getting the bad spirits out of you.

The whole neighbourhood gathers, and the person in question, and her entourage, dance around in a circle while the men beat the drums. Every once in a while, the demons take over someone's spirit and they start acting crazy. Pouring water on themselves, rolling around in the mud, falling over unexpectedly, demanding random objects - milk, cigarettes (these are 60-year-old women we're talking about), and even ripping off their shirts. (Almost as if the demon in the crazy person is spreading to the others at the ceremony). Sometimes, they get onto their knees and just beat their chests to the sound of the drums - as if trying to beat the spirit out. [In fact, if you see the "crazy person" after the ceremony, she seems quite normal. And I think they're definition of "crazy" is quite broad).

On day #2, they kill a cow and pour its blood on the crazy person. I saw these women pouring bottles of milk on themselves and then throwing the bottle away as if they were drunk. You'd think it would be a very serious affair, but all the kids laugh. Even the marabout (religious leader) who is there to guide the ceremony and heal the woman laughs and smiles from time to time.

It's a certain ethnicity that performs these ceremonies, which end in a big celebration with food, etc. But most Senegalese are scared of them.

When I told the women at work that I had gone to a Ndop, they said "oh"... and their eyes opened wide. I told them it seemed almost like theatre, because once the night was over, the women all went back to normal. And they laughed (as if to say you foolish little girl) and then got very serious. "It's not theatre."

When I told them I was a bit tired that day, they said it was because of the Ndop. You see, the spirits can affects some of the people in the crowd as well, and apparently they're attracted to "toubabs" - white people.

In fact, one of the other girls who had gone with me - Courtney - was also feeling sick the next day (although I think that was due to an unrelated hangover). And the mom at my house said we really shouldn't go back to the Ndop, for our own health.


It's amazing what people can believe in. But as Erin says so eloquently, "Voodoo, animism, paganism, whatever -- THESE are mankind's original religions, existing thousands and thousands of years before Judaism or Islam were even specks on the horizon. No matter how many times they cross themselves in church, kneel down to pray until their knees bleed, or fast until they die during Ramadan, the Beninese person accepts his voodoo ancestry as a matter-of-fact reality of life and will slash a scar on his every child's face to protect them from it."

There's no scar-slashing going on here, but there are certainly strong beliefs that continue to exist despite Senegal's rapid modernization. And if you ask me, that's a good thing. Everyone needs something to believe in.

Sorry, no pics! That was, understandly, forbidden.