Tabaski

Sitting cross-legged on my cot outside, I breathe a sigh of relief as the stifling afternoon air begins to mingle with a cooler evening breeze. I’m exhausted, and although the day’s been fun, I’m looking forward to the sweet reprieve evening brings with the setting of the sun. Finally, a moment of stillness.

Then there’s a knock on my courtyard wall. “Asalaam alaikum,” my neighbor sings, announcing his presence. He has come to give me holiday greetings. “Ne y taabo!” he says. “Wend na wing d vẽere!” Happy holiday! My God show us next year!

“Wend na wing d sẽn pa vẽere!” I reply. May God show us the years after next.

He sits down across from me and leans back as he reaches deep into his pocket. He’s brought me something. “Hadi nemdo,” he says as he pulls out his gift for me – a black plastic bag ripped in places, raw sheep meet spilling out the holes.

“Puus y barka!” I thank him, smiling, as I put out my hands and hope he doesn’t notice my reluctance to fondle raw meat that’s been sitting under the African sun all day. I take the oozing meat from him and go set it inside, then shake his hand again in thanks.

He killed the sheep himself about six hours earlier, after morning prayers at the mosque. He and hundreds of other men in my village, and in villages all over the world, took their best knife and slowly (the knives aren’t too sharp here) sawed off a sheep’s head, a sacrifice to God. Today is Tabaski, also known as Eid al-Adha, the day to honor the Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his young first-born son. Today is the only day of the year that everyone in my village will get to eat meat, the day women cook giant pots of rice and noodles and more rice to share with all their neighbors. Today is Kibisi daare, as we call it in Mooré.

Well, not actually today. My village celebrated it last Friday, based on the lunar cycle and whether or not the Imam sees the moon the night before. It was a bitter-sweet day for me, celebrating with my community for the last time as I prepare to close out my two-year service. I ate rice with my kids, took pictures at the mosque, and greeted hundreds of neighbors. I cooked three giant pots full of spaghetti to share with my “family” (the approximately 250 people I live with), and brought Twizzlers (courtesy of a care package) to my neem cream ladies for a sweet evening treat. But through it all – the laughter, the prayers, the food – I would periodically just sit back and soak up the sounds, the smells, the scenes, thinking of the end that’s near.

The following day I said early morning goodbyes and headed out of town to help train the new Peace Corps health trainees who arrived earlier this month. It’s hard to believe that they were me two years ago! After working with them for a week in a city near the Ghana border, I’ll head back to the capitol and then home for eight final days before I leave my village for good. I’ll then have a week in the capitol, to finish reports and medical check-ups and have a final “close-of-service” ceremony, and that’ll be it. As of November 21, I’ll no longer be a Peace Corps Volunteer! Which is also hard to believe.

But I’m getting ahead of myself – back to Tabaski. Back to the rice, the sheep heads, the henna and the prayers. I’ll let my photos speak for themselves. Enjoy!

My friend Mahawa, putting henna on her feet the night before the “fête,” as many women do. She also put henna on my hand (but only the left – gotta eat all that rice with the right!)

All the girls get their hair done specially in the week leading up to the holiday, and all the boys get their heads shaved.

A few of the elders from my courtyard and me on our way to the mosque. The woman to the right of me is dressed the most elegantly because she has had the privilege of going to Mecca. As such, she is shown copious respect.

Women near the back of the mosque, praying as the chants from the loudspeakers envelop the village.

The village religious leaders gathered together near the end of the prayers.

The village elders (male only) made up the first few lines of prayer mats, all facing toward Mecca.

All the kids get new clothes for the special day, and they’ll wear them day after day after day until they’re quickly and entirely worn through!

One of my neighbors and his sacrificial sheep

The little girls in my courtyard got new jewelry to match their new outfit, thanks to Grandma Lou’s generous care package of gifts! From left to right: the butterfly clip, the purple ring, and the pink bracelets.

Here are a few more of the many happy little girls, with their hairclips from mam yaaba, Grandma!

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9 Responses to Tabaski

  1. Kathy Petron says:

    Hi Bridget!
    The pictures are great. That was so nice of Grandma Lou. I can’t image touching that meat-UGH!
    Good for you on how you handled it. It is amazing that your 2 years are coming to a close. Definitely a bittersweet thing for you. I will pray for your last days to go well. I have Dec 17 marked with big letters for your coming home party at 1868 Selby!
    Love,
    Kathy

  2. fmroby says:

    B, this was such a cool post. I loved hearing more about what the holy day was about, and seeing the pictures was just fabulous. Although I do have to say I am so glad that the gift of sheep meat was not given to you while we were visiting! I have already told Grandma how you gave the kids the jewelry she sent and how perfect it was for the occasion. She was so happy to hear it and we will share the pics with her soon. I could totally feel your mixed emotions as you absorbed this day. This has been an incredible experience for you in so many ways.

    Love to my almost-coming-home daughter!!!!! (Grandma says we are locking the doors when you get home, so you can’t go anywhere else for a while!) Mom

  3. Fran and Maura says:

    Hi Bridget! I absolutely love the photos! For sure, we will be printing them and putting them up to see more regularly! You are in our prayers always, but especially during your transition in the next couple weeks. Love, Dad

  4. galen says:

    Hey Bridget,
    This probably close to your last post . Wow nearing the end of the 2 years. I am sure you can’t believe how long it has been and how short it has been. As it seems that there is always something else to do and the work is never done.
    The pictures are great they capture such a warm feeling that you must get when you are there. When I think of how far you’ve come and they’ve come and how you met in the middle , well maybe more to there side,:).
    Take care of your self and enjoy your time and travels and continue to remember how far everyone has come. Keep it up , and safe travels.
    Galen

  5. Hannah McGraw-Dzik says:

    Dear Bridget,

    So many gifts in one girl! Storyteller, writer, photographer, girl-friend you have it all! How loved you must be by your village. May each moment that is left of your stay go deep within you to have with you for many years.

    Peace and every good thing,

    Hannah

  6. Joanne Smith says:

    I loved seeing your pictures and hearing how your village celebrated this holiday. I have a Muslim student in my class right now, and I struggled to learn about the holiday and provide some sort of celebration in the classroom, but I know I fell when short, especially when I see all the preparations that occurred in your courtyard for that day. Thanks for sharing, and we can’t wait to see you on your return.

    Joanne

  7. jackie mcconnon says:

    We loved your post. The pictures are amazing! Bridget we are so excited to see you and hear all of your stories… We are thinking of you and sending good thoughts as you prepare to come home.
    Love, Brian and Jackie

  8. Mary Jo Holmstrand says:

    This has been an experience of a lifetime for you Bridget and holds many rich memories. The best part of any travel abroad is gaining a new perspective on your own life back home and it deepens your understanding of how people in other cultures meet their daily needs. What an accomplishment to have completed two years of service in the Peace Corps…congratulations. The photos bring your story alive. Thanks for sharing so much with all of us. Blessings…Mary Jo

  9. Eileen Degnan says:

    Bridget, the faces of all the young girls are so great! They look so pleased with themselves and so proud. I have to think your presence in their lives for 2 years and the gifts from grandma Lou have something to do with that. Congratulations! We are so looking forward to you coming home! We love you and are so proud of you B. Eileen and Mike Degnan

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