Tabaski (aka Ta-BADASS-ki)

Oh, Tabaski. What an interesting holiday. It’s a cross between Thanksgiving, Halloween, and a Quentin Tarantino film. You’ll see why.

Tabaski and Korite are the big holidays in Senegal. Korite marks the end of Ramadan. Tabaski celebrates when Abraham DIDN’T sacrifice his son. For those of you who don’t know the story, God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham takes Isaac to the top of this mountain and is about to kill his son, when God comes and stops him. He goes, “Whoa whoa whoa. You were gonna actually kill him? Okay, so you don’t have to do it. Here, kill this ram instead.” Thus, on Tabaski, everyone slaughters a ram and eats it. I’m getting ahead of myself though…the bloodbath will come.

I woke up at 8 AM and had breakfast with my family. Ironically, on Tabaski, I had my worst breakfast since arriving in Sokone. I usually have a bean sandwich or, as of late, a PB&J or PB and banana (that’s right!). On Tabaski, I had a mayonnaise sandwich. They slathered half a baguette with mayonnaise before I could oppose. I nibbled it, and attempted to smear the mayonnaise off to no avail.

I then went to mosque to pray. I know, right? I got decked out in my Senegalese outfit (hat included) and walked with the other men in my family to the mosque. The heads of household went inside, and the others (non-married uncles, children, me, etc.) were stuck outside. I was there about an hour. It was actually really interesting. There was a lot of chanting, and we would stand up, then sit down, then stand up again. I just watched and sat quietly. I did what I usually do when people around me pray: I clasped my hands together in front of me, put my head down, kept my eyes open, and sang a song in my head. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite and do what they were doing because they know I’m not Muslim, so I managed to avoid doing much until the end. They proceeded to kneel down, facing Mecca, and put their foreheads on the ground for five minutes. I couldn’t stand there while they all knelt, so I did the same. I put my forehead to the ground.

WARNING: the following paragraphs are a little graphic, so skip them if you don’t want to read about the painful death of two rams (Allyson).

After we prayed at the mosque, we then went home and killed two animals. My family had bought two rams earlier in the week. The boys in my family washed them, much like the family dog. Except, unlike the family dog, after the rams’ bath, my host dad slit their throats. I missed the sacrifice of the first ram because my family forced me to run inside to get my camera. I came back, and they were draining the blood into a hole they dug in the sand. I took an EPIC photo of the entire family, babies included, smiling in front of the ram, which was dead and bleeding profusely from the neck. It was terrifying because, after the ram died, it still kept moving for a few minutes. Freaked me out.

I then watched my dad kill the second one. I didn’t want to, but I felt like I needed to. I don’t know why, and I could have waited until next year’s Tabaski (yep, I get two Tabaskis in Senegal…I’m here THAT LONG), but I wanted to watch. It was sick, and there were noises I wasn’t expecting, and like the first ram, the second ram moved a lot after death. After I watched the rams get slaughtered, I watched the men in my family skin and cut up the carcasses. This was another don’t-want-to-but-feel-like-I-should kind of thing. Truly disgusting, but I watched with morbid fascination, unblinking, for about an hour. The memories are ingrained in my mind forever.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of me eating my weight in food. We had ram liver (chewy) for brunch, and then lunch, which consisted of meat, meat, potatoes, meat, onions, and meat. After, I was DYING I was so full. My family then dropped this bomb: we had to go to other houses and eat lunch at each of them. I’m pretty sure I said in English, “SERIOUSLY?” Yep, I went to two other houses and was force-fed by a scary Senegalese woman living at each one. I felt like Rory and Lorelei going to four Thanksgivings. Unknowingly, I had been training my entire life for this one day of immense overeating. I’m shocked I didn’t vomit all over the bones lying around that second compound. I felt like I was in a damn lion’s den.

At about 7 PM, two of my sisters (Fatou, 15 and Mamy, 16) told me to put on my Senegalese outfit because we were going on a walk “to the garage”. I begrudgingly said yes but wasn’t looking forward to it because, at night, the area around the garage becomes, for teens, a Senegalese mall-on-a-Friday-night-circa-2001.

Luckily, we never made it to the mall, I mean, garage. We walked across town to Fatou’s friends’ house. Her “friend” ended up being her secret boyfriend. Scandalous, I know. Fatou and her S.O. chatted for about an hour while me and Mamy sit in the corner and thought/chatted awkwardly. We left, and on the walk back, Fatou tells me to lie and say we went to the garage because Baba (my host dad) doesn’t know about her boyfriend. This is all in Wolof, of course. I agree to be involved in the scandal. It’s funny how petty drama must be completely unavoidable in life because I am finding here in Senegal.

Yep, so that was Tabaski. Technically, it was a three-day event. The second and third days were pretty much normal days, except we continued to eat the ram, which sat out unrefrigerated for days. My stomach, luckily, weathered the storm.

I am now at the Kaolack house. I am headed to Dakar soon for Thanksgiving. It’s gonna be good.

    • Lee Anne
    • November 24th, 2010

    First of all, wow. Second, it made me think of that book you read and told us about, having to do with the manner for killing various farm animals that are sold at our supermarkets. A book which confirmed your desire not to eat most meats. That was then, this is now…You are a good guest.

    Your post has also prompted me to read more about the holiday there. Interesting that it includes Abraham & Issac.

    Have a great week, J. Eli continues to ask about you and you are missed daily. Love, L A

  1. Entertaining, as always. I believe the two sisters asked you to accompany them to the garage because they are unable to travel alone at night without a male escort.

    • Gale (aka mama)
    • November 24th, 2010

    Oh my…heard this on the phone, but it wasn’t as graphic (thanks for the warning). Tabaski makes carving a Thanksgiving turkey child’s play. So glad your stomach has been in training for a few months! We’ll miss you at our table, are thankful for your every minute of every day, but realize that Fatou and Mamy need you. xoxo

    • Sca-rah
    • November 24th, 2010

    This was really gross and yet full of information. Sounds like you did a good job doing all this. Well done.

    • Lindsey
    • November 24th, 2010

    I was totally thinking of Rory, Lorelai, and the four Thanksgivings while reading your post – even before you referenced it. Going to the mosque sounds like the coolest part. I’d love to go to a service at a mosque. Did the women sit in another part of the mosque, or did they not go at all? Did you have to take off your shoes and wash your feet? Did people stare at you (more than usual)?

      • jamiew1288
      • November 26th, 2010

      The service was probably 1% women. I only saw a handful. It was all men and their male children.

      I didn’t have to wash my feet. We were outside in the sand. Would have taken forever.

    • Emma
    • November 24th, 2010

    So proud of you for making yourself experience something you would ordinarily have run the eff away from! Happy Thanksgiving! I’m glad you get to go to Dakar for a while and recover from the slaughter. Also, in my (now) traditional inclusion of useless (but awesome) gossip from home, I should let you know that Drew Pattison now lives in Chicago and apparently goes to DePaul, which is in Lincoln Park. What’s up? hahaha LOVE YOU!

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