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Sunday, September 27, 2015

A picture's worth 1,000 words...

...but unfortunately the Senegalese electronics assassin team of Heat, Humidity, Power Surges, and Sandy Dust killed my camera and my smartphone in the last month, so words are the only tools I have left at my disposal. 

Oh well.

This quote is beautiful and relevant: 

For none of us can ever express the exact measure of his needs or his thoughts or his sorrows, and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap crude rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars.  ~Gustave Flaubert
I'm not aiming to melt any stars, I'm just trying to describe things here accurately...hopefully, this will do.  If I still had a camera, these are the ten pictures I would have taken to sum up Teyel Tabaski 2015:
1)  The severed heads of two rams, one black and one brown, eyes dark and unseeing, mouths slightly agape.  Proud curved horns curl around the heads; on the right ram, the black one, they nearly touch the ground, indicating that he was probably the primary sacrifice this morning.  The left ram, the brown one with shorter horns, is tilted to one side, balancing on a horn, a soft string of spongy pink brain stem protruding from the nape of his neck.  There's a ruddy smear of blood on his floppy brown ear.  The black ram's head, in contrast, is clean and sitting straight-up, as though he's merely resting, dignified, the rest of his body hiding under the sand.  A skinny rooster is eying the heads cautiously, weighing his options, trying to figure out whether they're edible.
2) My beautiful host sisters Fatou and Medo laughing at something the baby did.  They've got three and four packets of fake weave hair in, respectively, and each is wearing it in a high ponytail held in place with a thick black cable normally used to tie luggage down on a bike rack, a feat of engineering necessary because the bulk of the hair broke 3 of my ponytail holders as I was attempting to restrain it.  They're wearing matching light brown complets, in the style popular with teenagers here, fitted on top with a huge peplum just above their hips, and its shocking how mature they look.  Last Tabaski, at 12, they were girls, and somehow this year at 13 they suddenly look like women.
3) A troop of young girls (toddler - 8ish), led by a confident, muscular, immaculately braided troublemaker who's toddling on white jeweled high heels.  The leader's pitching to the side because the heels are ludicrously impractical here and keep getting caught in the sand.  All the girls are wearing matching skirt and shirt outfits, walking from compound to compound to demand salibo.  Salibo is like Senegalese trick or treating; most families set aside a small stash of coins or candy for visiting neighbor kids, who then return home from their afternoon of scavenging with full pockets and sugar headaches.  In Teyel, salibo is the day after Tabaski, and the girls know that perfectly well, but if they ask enough people who are in happy food comas after the feast, maybe they'll get something.
4) Baby Mariama, formaly braided with fake hair for the first time.  The job is sloppy and obviously rushed, testament to the fact that Mariama vehemently disagreed to the braiding process and had required two girls to hold her in place while another plaited her as quickly as she could.  At almost two, Mariama is barely recognizable as the infant she was last Tabaski.
5) An enthusiastic selfie with my 16ish year old host sister, Hawa.  I would most likely look insane in the picture, she bewildered and amused, but unshakably calm.  Hawa lives in Kounkane, a town about 15k away, doing housework for a relative, but she came home for Tabaski.  Hawa is sweet, sassy, and funny, far cooler than me, and I adore her, though I very rarely get to see her.  Unfortunately, since she has zero years of formal education, her current "cook, sweep, and wash for the men" routine will probably be continued for the rest of her life.
6)  My gorgeous baby tokara, 16 months old now, face scrunched up in tears.  She's reached the unfortunate age babies pass through where they realize I don't look like a normal human, but they don't yet realize I'm OK.  Hopefully she'll pass through it soon; it's a blow to the self-esteem to have a baby bust out crying when she looks at your face, particularly one who I have visited several times a week for a year and a half.  Even crying, baby Kadiatou is beautiful, all chubby cheeks and tiny rosebud lips.  She has a fancy pink scrunchie precariously balanced around a tuft of poofy hair too short to properly hold it.
7)  A circle of neighbor kids dancing the hokey-pokey.  I translated the lyrics to Pulaar on a whim one day and it really took off.  If I make no other difference in this village, at least I taught Teyelans a fun new game that will confuse the hell out of future anthropological researchers.  A few of the girls have torn strips of black plastic bags tied around their fingers; they're waiting for their henna to set.
Wad junngo ñaamo to ndeer
Wad junngo ñaamo to yaas
Wad junngo ñaamo to ndeer
Dimmbu dimmbu dum comme ça
A waadat hokey pokey
A werloto hoore ma
A amat haa abadan
Put your ‘eating hand’ inside
Put your ‘eating hand’ out
Put your ‘eating hand’ inside
Shake it shake it “like this” (comme ça is French but most people get it).
You will do the hokey pokey
You will turn yourself
You will dance forever.
8) My host sister and namesake, Kadiatou, closing her eyes and smiling while working through a chewy piece of ram intestine.  Every part of the sacrificed Tabaski ram is eaten - liver, intestines, windpipe, even the testicles.  Though I deeply respect the lack of waste, my taste buds are not so rational and very little of the meat here is delicious to me.  I suppose my host family would probably be equally unimpressed with sauerkraut or lutefisk. 
9)  My crazy little trash kitten, Mallory, when I gave her a ram knee to gnaw on.  She was trying to eat it as quickly as possible while also spinning around in a lookout to make sure no bullying chickens were coming to wrestle it away from her, and making a primitive purr-yelp-moan that I'm pretty sure meant "this is the best day of my life."
10) I would also take (but probably not share) a picture of myself as I looked when I formally stepped out to greet the village.  My vil loves it when I wear makeup (probably because I do it so infrequently), and they love it even more when I forgo the subtle enhancements I find pretty and instead paint my face with the brightest, most garish colors I can find.  I therefore had enough eye shadow to shame Mimi from the Drew Carey show, my lips were clown red, and I had an unnatural pink shade of blush in a thick stripe down each cheek.  According to the ladies of Teyel, it was ravishing.  If you could divert your attention from my mess of a face, you'd have noticed that my hair was equally ridiculous, braided thick with fake hair in a bold blend of browns, reds, and purples.  It was a running joke with my Peace Corps friends that I should dress up formal-Senegal style for my sister's wedding in April, but I think if I'd have actually done so, she would have strangled me.

So, there you have it.  Seeing a picture is not the same as being here; reading words is not the same as seeing a picture.  Still, it's the best I could do right now.  Happy Tabaski!