Archive for November, 2009

Tabaski-La fête du mouton


Eid-al-Adha (Arabic)

Tabaski, or in Arabic, Eid al-Adha means «Festival of Sacrifice .» Colloquially, it is known here as “La fête du mouton” or the Sheep’s Holiday. And I completely understand why…as I’ll go on to explain. A little background: For Muslims, this holiday commemorates the sacrifice that Abraham was willing to make when God asked him to sacrifice his first born. As it was explained to me, every working Muslim, over the age of 18, who has the means to buy a sheep to sacrifice, should. If one can’t afford a sheep, a goat is also acceptable, or a chicken. But the most important thing is the act of sacrifice and the spilling of blood.

**warning – I’m discussing a holiday where the objective is to sacrifice sheep, so I just want to warn anyone who might be squeamish, or not appreciate reading/seeing what that entails.**

Fête du mouton is not an understatement!

Today was crazy. I woke up and went downstairs in time to greet the men who had come back from the mosque. The women were finishing breakfast, and as soon as the men arrived, they changed out of their boubous and we just got to it..

The sheep were lead out one by one outside to the side of the house. There were holes dug out in the ground where the blood was drained as the sacrifice took place. I could only witness the first two, and then I had to go inside. I tried to be as objective as I could be, but despite myself I just couldn’t watch. Of course for everyone brought up on this tradition, this is just something that happens. Also I’ve notice here that no one is squeamish about blood or animal’s being slaughtered as all the meat is brought home very fresh, so this is something that is just part of life. And even when it’s not Tabaski, people have their own sheep that they use for food. But for me, I’m still new to this whole thing, so I decided to go help inside instead! Afterward they brought all of the carcasses in to the main entry way and started removing the skin, cutting of appendages, etc. The men did this while the women started cooking. They were on separate parts of the house, and the meat would be brought over to the women after it had been properly removed from the rest of the carcass (I have no idea what terminology to use here, so bear with me, if it’s not technically correct!). The women started by cooking the liver, and the kidneys. This reminded me a lot of Korite, which was in September. Soon the kitchen area began to fill up with body parts and meat. I have never seen so much meat in my life!!! By the way, because the commandment (if I can say that) is that each working Muslim, over the age of 18, who has the means to buy a sheep to sacrifice should, that means that in my family we sacrificed 7 sheep. SEVEN SHEEP!! That is soo much meat!! My family has a freezer (this is a big luxury here) so they will freeze as much meat as they can keep here. My oldest host brother and his wife and their baby are here, so they will take some home back to Dakar when they go. And the rest is given out to family and friends who couldn’t afford a sheep.

So all of today has literally just been cooking. Everyone is working quickly to cook to the meat or prepare it so it can be given out. It has been really interesting to see each step of the process. I think we will be eating mutton for a long long time!

This holiday is a lot bigger than Korite, from what I can tell. For weeks all of the major companies have been advertising promotions or lotteries to win a sheep for Tabaski. For instance, there was an Orange (which is a cell phone provider) advertisement where if you texted “Tabaski” to #2341 (or something like that) you would be entered in a drawing to win a sheep! And the markets are all closed today and the fishermen don’t fish. So that means my host mom did all of her weekend shopping at the fish market yesterday. She brought home this big bucket of fish!

Also, the tailors have been working 24 hours a day. I think I mentioned in my Korite post how most people have a certain percentage of their clothes tailored, as it isn’t very expensive. All traditional clothing is tailored. And all holidays call for traditional clothing (I think all holidays might be religious, except for Independence Day…I’ll have to look into that). So here that means that most people want a new boubou for Tabaski. My sister, Coumba explained to me that even though Tabaski is today, Saturday, everyone is going to dress up tomorrow. Because there is so much work to do today, there won’t be any time.

A little note not related to Tabaski exactly…but my oldest host brother, Moctar and his wife, Khady (ha-dee) are here with their newborn (2 months old), Macoumba (he is named after Moctar’s father and my host father, Macoumba). This baby is sooo cute!


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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Happy Tabaski! (on Saturday)

So today is Thanksgiving in the States and it feels a little bizarre not to be eating turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes and gravy (oh my gosh, I’m making myself really hungry!) with my American family and friends! The American volunteers at Projects Abroad have organized a Senegalese-style ‘Thanksgiving’ to be held this evening at one of our favorite Senegalese restaurants, La Linguere. Of course this dinner is open to everyone of every nationality, and I’ve heard we are going to be decorating the restaurant with Thanksgiving type decorations! Ha : ) As Americans, it will be cool to share a little bit of our culture while abroad with the Senegalese and other nationalities attending.

This Saturday is also Tabaski! And EVERYONE in Saint-Louis, and throughout Senegal is preparing! This holiday is a Muslim holiday (so it is celebrated world-wide). In Senegal school has been officially canceled since yesterday (Wednesday) and it will be out until next Wednesday. This allows families to travel to each other in order to be together for the holiday. So it has been officially cancelled since Wednesday, but unofficially canceled since Monday. And there’s a story behind this:

So I went to school Monday morning to have my French classes which are held at College Guillabert in the teacher’s lounge. We start at 8:00am and around 9:10, 9:15am some of the teachers walk in and my French teacher, Mr. Kande asks them what’s going on? “The students are on strike.” (literal translation from French). But how can the students be on strike I ask? Mr. Brown, the English teacher came over and joined our conversation. Mr. Kande (Kahn-day) and Mr. Brown discussed in Wolof what was going on, it seemed as if something my teacher had said had been confirmed. They explained to me that in Senegal, a couple years ago there was an educational reform set forth which has completely debilitated the system. From what I understand it restricted teachers from punishing students that act out in class. This piece of educational reform, in a country where rule enforcement in general is a difficult task, sort of just set the stage for student-run schools. I say this because Mr. Brown explained that literally what had happened to him that morning, was that one student came to his room and told him that he wasn’t having school. Mr. Brown responded that he, in fact was having class and that the student himself should get back to his class. This student responded that class was canceled because of Tabaski and then he told all of the students in Mr. Brown’s class to leave. The students complied. And this happened in every class! Some student coming to the door and instructing the teachers and the classes that class is canceled! I asked, but can’t they punish the student letting all of the kids out? But apparently there isn’t a system to deal with this type of behavior. Mr. Kande explained that when he was in school they would have days set up for misbehaved students to come and clean or do extra homework, but that doesn’t exist now. He also told me that these students that let the others out sometimes go to extremes to scare students who try to continue to stay in class. They will go outside and throw rocks at the windows. If the windows aren’t covered with a grill (not many are), then the glass will break, and if this has already happened then there is no glass left and the rocks come in the room. Otherwise with a grill on the window it makes a scary noise and the students get scared. I could NOT believe what I was hearing. This seemed crazy! But apparently here in Senegal there is always a ‘greve’ or strike. Either the students are striking (ie: cancelling class to get a longer vacation) or the teachers are striking (for real) because they are underpaid, overworked and they work in a system where the students make the decisions. But even with all of this mayhem, Mr. Kande, Mr. Brown and the other teachers still love what they do, even if it’s a crazy system. And of course we laugh about it, because even to these Senegalese teachers, who are familiar with the system, it is still a foreign concept and there is some humor in imagining students cancelling school to party.

I found the same situation at the next school that I went to, Lycee Ameth Fall. It’s an all girls’ school and we’re going to be doing a pen pal exchange with a Sister Cities program in St. Louis, MO. I was supposed to come and collect the letters on Monday, but when I arrived my teacher told me he had collected 7 letters as those were the only girls who came to school that morning since school had effectively been ‘canceled’ so the rest didn’t come. And as the break for Tabaski is a week long, it will be a week before I get the rest of the letters (and then that is if the students remember to bring them at that point!). This is a tiny glimpse of how things are never certain in Senegal and you have to always be prepared for change and be prepared to be flexible! Here in Senegal we say, “Insha’Allah,” which literally means “God willing.” I’m beginning to understand why we say this so much! Nothing can ever be totally certain to come to pass the way we imagine.

Coming up: What is Tabaski? & Meeting Rotary District 9100 District Governor

Also, some pictures from our dinner!

Juliette’s mom was here last week, visiting from the US, and she brought over gravy and cranberry sauce in cans. It was a nice little touch! Though I have to say, eating gravy from a can definitely does not compare to my Aunt Kathy’s!!

I am so thankful for so many things! Above all, my family and friends. Everyone who has been supporting me while I’ve been away. I appreciate all of the messages and emails : ) I am also so thankful for my country. I suppose it isn’t ironic that all three of these things/people happen to be what I miss the most.

I am also thankful for my Senegalese family. They have been so wonderful to me and completely taken care of me like a member of their family.

And I am thankful for the opportunity to experience Thanksgiving in Senegal.

Thanksgiving snapfish album:


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Centre la Liane

So much to write about!!

So as I mentioned before, I’ve been looking to get involved with some of the humanitarian/development work that is happening here in Saint-Louis. There are a lot of organizations here such as CMVS, Plan Senegal, Medicos del Mundo, US Aid, and other names that are alluding me at the moment. I’ve seen other co-ops with Japan, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and Portugal. But even though there are so many groups working here, it has been rough finding one that will take a volunteer! For the most part all of the organizations that I mentioned are well organized, so they don’t really work in the more grassroots style of “hop on board.” When I met with the director of the Saint-Louis, Medicos del Mundo organization and I asked him if he had any need for un-paid help, he looked sort of confused and explained that they usually don’t work with volunteers, especially without a CV (I don’t have one of those yet! …although I have a resume, it’s not quite a CV and it’s definitely in English). So after learning this, I spoke with Cheryl another Rotary scholar, who shared with me similar experiences at other organizations she had spoken with…so were preparing for the worst when we went in to speak with the director of Plan Senegal (Saint-Louis), Mr. Sow. Undaunted, Cheryl and I met with the director at Plan Senegal (they work with children and mothers: pre-natal health, childcare, immunizations, vaccinations and a lot of integrated approaches for health education with the children and the moms). He explained that it would be possible to work with us, though we would have to write up what we would like to do/learn and the number of months we have to work. Paperwork which he would be send to headquarters in Dakar. For Cheryl…who is here for a total of 4 more months, this seems like a pretty viable option, although for me, (at this point I had a month and a half left), it wasn’t really that great of an idea considering the length of time things take here.

For example:

Cheryl and I attempting to meet with the director was a funny process. We set up the meeting two weeks in advance. We went to the meeting at 10:00am. We found out Mr. Sow was ill, so the guard told us to come back the next day..which we did, same time. We waited, and waited. The guard told us Mr. Sow was on his way from Dakar, that he would be there soon. Around 12:00pm, Cheryl had to go to class, so I continued to wait. Then I asked if there would be a better time to come around. He told me maybe he would be in by 3:00pm Haha! What?! How far away was he? I’ve learned that here people don’t like to give bad news, so they try to give you some hope, even if it’s might seem slightly misleading. Like for me, I would rather hear, “he just left Dakar, you should come back at 4:00pm” or something like that. But I’ve noticed that in situations like these, most people will tell you “he’ll be here soon” and just have you wait for as long as you’re willing to wait and then you say when it’s been too long, and you decide that you’ll come back. Rather than them being the ones to tell you that you need to come back.

So I come back at 3:00 (with Cheryl at this point). Then he tells us that Mr. Sow is tired (understandably so, it’s at least a 4 hour drive), and if we can come back tomorrow. At this point, we are a little frustrated, but not visibly so and we decide to come back tomorrow, same time. Thankfully it works out the next day. But it was quite the process!!

So I have decided to try another route. I talked with Rotarian Yves L’amour, here in Saint-Louis, and I explained to him that I am looking for contacts with some of the non-profit organizations. I had been hoping to work with children, and in some way address the problems of the street children. He put me in contact with Claude (I can’t even begin to spell her last name…), a French woman who runs a center for children on the island. It’s called, Centre La Liane – Hébergement de Jeunes Vulnérables. La Liane is a center for children who have limited or no prospects. At the moment there are 18 boys who live in this center, from ages 5 to 17. Some of the boys go to school, others do not. Some of the boys have families which keep in contact with them, while others aren’t that lucky. Many of the boys are Talibé (tah-lee-bay). Here is a short synopsis of a problem afflicting Senegal and West Africa involving the talibe system:

Child beggars are one of the most recognizable images of poverty in Senegal. Most are young boys, called talibés, usually between the ages of 7 and 15, often barefoot, wearing ragged clothes, carrying red tomato cans and asking for food and money. Talibés in Senegal are sent by their families to Qur’anic schools (called daaras) to learn the tenets of Islam. Though occasional begging was always a part of a talibé’s education as a means to teach humility, in recent years, talibés in urban centers spend increasingly more time on the streets begging, instead of in the classroom learning.

Talibés in urban centers often face unacceptable living conditions. Not only do they spend long hours in the streets, but they frequently suffer from malnutrition, dehydration, and skin diseases. The daaras are often unsanitary places and children are left unattended for long periods of time. The daara system has devolved from one providing sound religious instruction to a socially accepted form of child exploitation

While religious study is simultaneously an honor and an expectation, many poor families send their young boys to daaras because they simply cannot afford to support them at home. Unlike other religious educational institutions, these Qur’anic schools neither charge tuition for their students, nor do the schools have a source of income other than begging. Today, over 100,000 talibés are studying in cities across Senegal, often hundreds of miles from their families.

When the daara system was first established, families would send young boys to a daara within the community or in a neighboring village. Talibés’ families would then financially support the marabout (the religious teacher who runs a daara) in exchange for religious education for their children. Communities provided necessary services for the daaras and so the schools were initially dependent on and responsible to the local people. The close proximity of daaras enabled families and talibés to remain in close contact as the talibés could return home for meals, to bathe, and to do laundry. T he young children thus received the affection and connection with family that every child needs. Talibés were only sent to beg with the purpose of learning humility, and not on a daily basis to provide money for the marabout.

Migration of Talibés to Urban Centers

Over time, the daara system changed as marabouts migrated to major cities. Once in cities, far away from talibés’ families, marabouts lost their means of support. Increasingly, marabouts sent talibés out to beg to collect funds to sustain the daaras.

Child begging has now become a primary source of income for some marabouts. While it would be inaccurate to say that all marabouts deliberately take advantage of talibés, it has become common practice for them to send talibés to beg for long periods of the day—with the hours spent begging far exceeding the hours spent studying. In some cases, the boys face corporal punishment if they fail to collect a certain amount of money per day.


I took this from the Tostan website. They have a project in Dakar which addresses these issues.

La Liane is non-religious and is solely interested in raising awareness of children’s rights. Also, it is worth noting that not all street children are talibe, and nor are all talibe abused (it is a system used throughout the world), but the Daara system in West Africa is particularly known for exploiting and abusing children.

La Centre la Liane Maison d'accueil et d'hebergement

At the center, there are 18 boys lodging, but the doors are also open during the day to any of the Saint-Louis street children. The idea is that they have a safe place to play and visit, and on certain days, eat breakfast (bread and milk is handed out on certain days of the week), wash their clothes, and participate in some of the activities that go on at the center.

I have only been there a short while, but it has been an amazing experience already! The boys are so silly and happy despite the obstacles they face. Also, the teachers that work there are really dedicated to the cause of children’s rights. I am going to bring my camera this week to take some pictures. There is this one little boy named Alph who is absolutely adorable! He is 5 years old and so calm. He’s like an old man in a little boy’s body. I’ll be sure to point him out in the photos : )

Mon ami, Alpha : )

If I thought I was busy before I started on this project, now I’m SUPER busy! I am literally meeting myself coming and going at certain parts of my day. Along with work and classes, I have been working on side projects that have come up in the last two weeks. I wrote up a short essay for Projects Abroad, along with trying to help out a friend who is seeking financial aid for his schooling (this is still in process). On Monday I am going to be giving a presentation at Lycee Ameth Fall, an all girls’ school, about life in the U.S., particularly Saint-Louis (the interest is Saint-Louis to St. Louis). This is part of “Sister Cities Saint-Louis” project, and I am sort of working as the liaison while I am here. This will be my first meeting with the girls. The amazing thing is that I found out my host mom is a director at this school and she knows the teacher of the class! I thought this was cool.

I’ve also been working with our Rotary Club here. They want to potentially fund a project called Bridge-Kids, and I’ve been helping out with the English as it is a project that a US Rotary Club invited our club to join in on.

Whew!!! So much!!

I’m trying to just take it all in. Time is going by really fast. This weekend I just decided to not do anything and spend some time with my family as well as hopefully get some administrative things done (for when I’m back home). It’s been a nice break, and I’m ready to head into another crazy week : )

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Djoudj National Park Bird Sanctuary

Pelicans au Parc

Last week we went to the National Parc Djoudj. It is world-renowned as a national park, more specifically as a bird sanctuary. We just took a day trip since the park isn’t far from Saint-Louis. Maybe like 2 hours. Though I didn’t see a great variety of birds (I hear it’s still to early. The real bird-watching season starts in December), I did see A LOT of birds. Namely pelicans!! It was amaaazing! Our guide called it the “International Pelican Airport.”


On our way back from the park, we stopped by a Puul village. They are one of the many ethnicities of Senegal. This group of people speaks Pulaar, which is different from Wolof. Wolof is not the national language, although it might as well be as it is spoken by an overwhelming majority of people. Most people who speak Pulaar can also speak Wolof, but it doesn’t always work the other way. So it was very interesting to learn about this group since they aren’t as predominant as the Wolof. We were given a brief history and shown around the village. Honestly, at first it felt weird to be just walking around these people’s homes and looking at their stuff. But after being there for a bit, we realized that they are used to having tourists come and see their way of life, and actually it is a means of revenue as our guide pays them (I don’t think we were aware that it was part of the package when we started off…but it ended up being a good experience as well).


Link to album in Snapfish: http://www5.snapfish.com/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=563633026/a=775175026_775175026/otsc=SHR/otsi=SALBlink/COBRAND_NAME=snapfish/

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