Monday, 19 July 2010

Eid Al Adha or The Tobaski Festival

We wake up to Eid Al Adha…
The Tobaski Festival.
For those who have never experienced one, it is one of the Muslim celebratory days and is a public holiday apart from essential workers needed to keep the infrastructure going.
Ok… Tobaski…
Tobaski is a sacrificial feast day to commemorate God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ismail.
All married men and/or heads of households are expected to buy a sheep (or goat, cow, chicken, or whatever they can afford) and sacrifice it, cook it and give most of it away to those less fortunate than themselves, and then feed their family with the remainder.

It is literally a day for sharing whatever you have been able to afford and the whole country turns into one gi-normous barbecue.
All normal people can enjoy Tobaski...
Notice I said normal.
If there are a bunch of you holidaying in the country and some are vegetarian or vegan, then it's probably a good idea to have them locked in their hotel rooms so you don't hear their whineing...

Everybody, male and female alike dresses up in their finest clothes and that includes all the children who run around begging small coins from every adult they see to buy ice creams and sweets with so make sure you have lots of small denomination coins in your pockets because you are definitely going to need them.

Parents and extended family are visited and I’m quite surprised it can all be fitted into one day.
It really is one countrywide party.

All the hotel workers seem to know about us now, as the word seems to have got round that we got married yesterday, so we are literally inundated with congratulations and kind words by the few staff that have had to come in.
The gardeners, the maids, the cleaners, the kitchen girls and the chef, the desk guys… Even the lad in the hotel shop closes for three minutes to come round and offer us his congratulations…
Know what ?
When something like that occurs, it completely chokes you up.
It choked me up, anyway.
Even Ousman, our head of security, who is having to work all through the day offers his dalasi worth, and I’m going to repeat his, because I think it is worth repeating…
Actually he says I didn’t do too badly if I had to pick a Jola to marry…
But he’s smiling when he says it behind those ubiquitous shades, which is probably just as well because Haddy will never let him get away with saying anything like that, but then he says, addressing me…
‘If you find a woman… A good woman… One with love in her heart… Then you hold onto her as they are worth more than riches or money…’
I know the quote is accurate because I asked him to repeat it and I had my ‘phone on record…
Aaaahhh Ousman… You big softie, you…
But you know what ?
He’s right.
Sage advice from my Serer friend, and I intend to do just that…
In fact he’s so right that I gave him a big hug after he’d said it.
Ok, we’re both big softies…

Looking around at that moment, it strikes me that most of the staff are out of uniform…
Ousman for instance is in a dark yellow outfit with gold piping.
Even in his uniform he has a certain élan with his shades on, but in this outfit, shades included, he’s something else.
The waitresses, the maids, they all look absolutely stunning, and the whole hotel is an absolute riot of colour.
There will be absolutely nothing open today so we lounge around the hotel totally relaxed until the evening.
Pat decides to go out to give us some time together.
He’s taken his cameras but he’s a big boy now and hopefully he doesn’t need his big brother to hold his hand ?
Apparently, the sheep has been bought on my behalf for the compound and is being cooked while we wait.
I don’t know how many of the hotel staff cannot get back to their families on this day so between us we work out that we can feed at least four including Ousman, who is having to work all day, and the old man who looks after the gardens, so we make a couple of ‘phone calls…
‘Tufa will be doing the delivery run, later.
Ousman has a wife and son, and the old man is on his own, so that’s four portions going to good homes.
I have no idea how it’s going to be served up, but Haddy tells me that tin foil is fine and it will include rice and vegetables too.
When it comes to it, Ousman is amazed that we’d done it, but as Haddy said…
‘Even beggars and Serer’s have to eat…’ at which he laughs because he knows she’s just got him back for his ‘Jola’ jibe earlier.
Honestly… The pair of them never stop winding each other up.
The old gardener is a lovely man and he definitely knows his way around a garden, so when Haddy tells him that since he is working, we know he will not have been able to get anything for himself, so please accept this small offering from us for Tobaski, he is quite overcome and has to sit down.

He definitely wasn’t expecting that…
Small offering ? It was in a cardboard box the size of a shoebox !
But he’s worth it.
He really is a lovely old guy, and when I first met him and asked about some of the plants that I didn’t know, he took me literally all around the hotel showing me loads of things I’d never come across before.
His English is very basic, and my Wolof was non-existent at that time and is not that much better now, but somehow we conversed about the plants and he was surprised when at the end of my first trip out I told him he had taught me so much that I would have to put it into practice when I got back to the U.K.

Pat gets back in the early afternoon after nearly walking to the other end of Bakau.
Apparently he was stopped and greeted all the way by those who recognised him from the hotel and loads more besides, who are amazed that he kept asking questions about the country, about Tobaski, about everything he thought he might get an answer to, actually…
They all wanted to know about the wedding so it seemed like an information swap to him, but he also got invited back to a couple of compounds for Tobaski.
He turned them down with regret (thankfully) but thanked everybody for their kindness in such a way that it totally disarmed any questions about his American(Mid Atlantic) accent.
(Please remember that Muslims and Americans are not actually getting on too well around the world at this point… They keep killing each other…)

He’s a newspaper editor in real life and so with that journalistic background it comes easily to him but they didn’t know that, and he says he got some great pictures…

Late afternoon and we’re ready to go, so we say our goodbyes to the staff still there, and ‘Tufa collects us to take us home.
This is so strange because officially I’m now head of the household…
But the kids are the kids and so we’re not really aware of any difference, as there really isn’t any.

In the Gambia in the vast majority of things I will always defer to Haddy.

Mariama has got friends round already,

and we start to receive our first guests officially…

I also have to take a picture of my first (cooked) sheep’s head to commemorate it…
Yeeeeuuuk !

Sainabou and the twins have all been invited out,

so they are seriously dressed up, and when we finally get back to the hotel it is past midnight.
I could definitely do this again.

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