Monday, December 24, 2007

Joyeux fetes!

Oh holy night! The stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Saviour's birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appear'd and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope
the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees!
Oh, hear the angels' voices!
Oh night divine!
Oh night when Christ was born.

Merry Christmas!
These words have meant so much to me this past year. Im pretty much removed from the comercialization of American Christmas, and living with a Muslim family and having mostly Muslim friends has made me really reflect on the true meaning of Christmas. Christianity is so important to me, and Dec 25 is the day that we celebrate how it all began. In the markets in Dakar, you can buy blow-up Santa Clauses and fake Christmas trees. I havent killed myself trying to buy Christmas presents for everyone. I have spent a lot of time reflecting and reading about what led up to Christ's birth and life. Even the Muslims here agree that Jesus was someone special and that his life should be considered with reverence. Muslims and Christians share all holidays, as was evidenced by Tabaski celebrations on the 21.

Oh Tabaski. The concept of Tabaski is taken from Sura 37 in the Koran. It is the story of when God called Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Ishmael, to show his faithfulness to God. God called Abraham to give up what was most important to him, to prove that God was central in his life. At the last moment, God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead, and was satisfied with his faithfulness. If you look in Genesis 22 of the Bible (or Torah), you will find almost the same story, except the son is Isaac, the father of the Hebrew nation. The morning of Tabaski, I spent quite a while reading both stories and comparing notes. SO interesting, and so convicting of my own lack of faith.

To commemorate Abrahams sacrifice, every muslim family is to slaughter a sheep. If you dont have enough money for a sheep (and they are expensive! Mactars family bought 2 at $200 each!), then you buy a goat, if not, then a chicken, and so on... Men will go to great lengths to provide a big sheep for their family and it is said that before agreeing to marry a man, a Senegalese woman wants to make sure that he is able to provide a good sheep for Tabaski. That is the comercialization of Tabaski. It is definetly the biggest holiday of the year. After special morning prayers at the mosque, the men come home and slaughter the sheep. Our family bought 3 sheep. Because Kel's husband is in Italy right now and Papa is on the hadj to Mecca, we had to hire some guys to do the initial slitting of the throat, because only married men are allowed to do it. After that, Kel's brother Amidou came and did most of the skinning and cutting up, with the little boys trying to help. I helped Kel cook all morning and grill the sheep, then we all ate a big lunch with relatives. After that, we sat around and digested a bit, then changed into our fancy Tabaski clothes to ¨go visiting¨. Man, the women here especially buy the most blingin' outfits youve ever seen, and they can cost hundreds of dollars (millions of CFA). I had found a gorgeous piece of embroidered fabric in the discard bin at the fabric store for about $2, and I improvised it into a dress.

My friend Omar's family had invited me to spend Tabaski at their house in Geduwaye, so I went over there and spent the evening with them. Omar is one of my best friends in St Louis, and we had such a good time walking from house to house in the neighborhood, of course eating at each one, and chatting and dancing and laughing. Parties in Senegal are so...wholesome. I met Omars whole family, including his father's second wife's family, and I stayed until 2 am. Photos soon.

Depending on which Islamic brotherhood you are in, you celebrate Tabaski on different days, so the party has technically lasted for about 3 days now, with kids lighting firecrackers in the street and people walking around in fabulous outfits, visiting friends and loved ones. Good times.

Today is Christmas eve. I wanted to try to go to a Christmas mass at a monastery outside of town, but the cab fare would be so expensive. I think Ill go to midnight mass with Clare's family because her little brother is in a Christmas pageant and I want to see what the Senegalese version of that is like. After I wake up, Ill read the Christmas story like my dad does every year, as we sit on the comfy couch. After that, I might try to make myself a big Christmas breakfast like my family does in WI. Then Ill give my family their presents (thanks to Shelly!). Then I will take a walk to the beach in Mermoz and sing some carols, just to say that I have put my feet in the ocean on Christmas day...and because it is the closest point to my family and loved ones back home in the US. Then I'll open my gift: an organic chocolate bar my mom sent me. I think Jill's family might be having a little Christmas dinner, so I might go over there. In any case, I want to share the day with family. I'll try to call you, family, but I cant make any promises. All in all, it should be wonderful. We'll see how it all turns out.

This has been the most relaxing christmas break i can ever remember. Im not working or planning or trying to get a million things done, heck, yesterday, December freaking 23rd, I went surfing! Crazy.. However, yesterday I bought my ticket for the boat down to Casamance on the 28th. Im going with Claire and Jill and Ryan and Katharina, and Im staying at my friend Fatou Sy's house in Ziguinchor. I will be doing interviews down there, and Im going to try to spend a night in a village. That is the extent of my work.

Ok, Im going to miss you all during this season, because this holiday reminds me how important you are and how much we are loved. You have my thoughts and prayers. Happy holidays, all of them.

And most of all, a gigantic HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! to my sweet love, Autumn Steiner. You know that I was partying my pants off for you here. You are sososososososoososo loved.
Omar and I in our Sassy Tabaski outfits.
The men killing the sheep as Mousafa looks on. That will be his job someday.
Omars beautiful sister and I.
The women of the family, all together.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful red dress!! You look stunning :)
We miss you so much but are so happy you have the opportunities that you have. We love you more than I can say!! Have a wonderful, blessed Christmas. Love,

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas my Love!

Molly Rae

Michelle Peterson said...

You are loved so much and I hope that your Christmas was wonderful. You are prayed for continuously. Glad that the presents worked for you to give to your Senegal Family. May your love of Christ shine like the brightest star to all around you.
Love, Shelly

Anonymous said...

Very Merry Christmas, indeed! Sounds like this may be one of the best of your life yet!

You'll have a big birthday and Christmas package waiting at school when you go back, if you haven't gotten it by now!


Anonymous said...

MERRRRRRRY CHRISTMAS!!!!...late. i suck.. what can i say. thanks for the shout out my love! i am quite certain that you did party your pants off for me... but i really hope that that isn't meant to be literal... no stripping on top of tables cath! that is ONLY allowed on girls' nights! tisk tisk! i love you you crazy lady and you are so so missed! MWAH! :*)