Here in Gambia I seem to be experiencing my share of intercultural holidays. In the last month in particular, I’ve had the opportunity to celebrate Tobaski (a Muslim holiday I had never heard of previously). The holiday is preceded by Ramadan by a month or two, and is a celebration as big as Thanksgiving and Christmas in the States. Both Ramadan and Tobaski are key times for families to come together.
My original plan had been to have holidays and be at the coast for the day, but the prospect of not getting to see how my village celebrates Tobaski was too disappointing so I went back to Sibanor and postponed my holidays, and I am so glad I did (though I am sorry for misleading many of you that I would be available to chat then).
Tobaski is a day on which each compound kills a ram to atone for the sins of the family for the year. The tradition stems from the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac. Weeks before the actual holiday, when I was going to visit my friends in Chamen, I got to cross the ferry from Banjul to Barra on the north bank. Since there are no bridges spanning the entire river, this is the only method to get from one side to the other. That was an experience in itself, but as a result of upcoming Tobaski, the thing that you noticed the most on the crossing was the amazing amount of rams being transported back and forth on the ferry. Rams being herded between cars, rams on top of gellies, rams in flatbed trucks… rams everywhere. During my two ferry crossings, I am positive I saw at least 1000 rams total. A little amusing to see the creativity needed to transport these animals.
The actual day was not super exciting. I was invited to a friend’s house to eat the afternoon meal with her family, but everything else was just on the fly. On the way to lunch (all the way by the market), I stopped at my language helper’s compound, had juice, and chatted with them for a while. It is really exciting that I can start to communicate with people in Mandinka. I can carry on a reasonable conversation (quite limited in what I can say, but understanding is going way up). Lunch was benechi (rice with a little tomato paste cooked in, plus meat and vegetables on top) with plenty of goat meat. I ate a whole bowl, only to find out 20 minutes later that another friend had a bowl of food for me to eat! I was too stuffed though. Then I went to the compound of one of my American friends who had visitors and hung out with them for a while (and also ate MORE food!). Later in the evening, I went walking around town with a big group of friends and got plenty of pictures of people dressed in their new Tobaski outfits. Pretty much everyone gets a new outfit made for Tobaski. Many of them get matching ones for several people (didn’t get pics of this… sorry). It is so cool.
Because of the heat, I almost forgot about Thanksgiving. Luckily, I remembered the day before and had already bought “Thanksgiving food” to make. On Thanksgiving Day, I had the day off from work so I started cooking at 10am and had dinner ready for seven people at 1pm. I made baked herb chicken (a recipe I had to improvise on because I didn’t have all the ingredients), mashed potatoes, stuffing (from a mix… don’t get too impressed), corn, green beans, and cake for dessert. Although it wasn’t exactly traditional, it turned out very nice and everyone enjoyed it, and there weren’t even leftovers (except the cake) :).
This year Thanksgiving was a little different for me because I was celebrating it with my “family” here who hail from Australia, Holland, and Switzerland. None of them had never celebrated this holiday before. I had to explain the history behind the holiday and some of the traditions that we have with it. I felt a little funny having to explain something that is totally culturally normal at home. We read a scripture before eating and then each said 5 things we are thankful for afterwards. We had a good time and I am thankful that they were so willing to try my cooking and participate in this cultural activity.
For those who were highly disappointed about not seeing the monkeys and lizards, here they are…