Les fêtes religieuses et la nourriture

Some awesome feminist graffiti spotted on my way to frisbee practice!
Some awesome feminist graffiti spotted on my way to frisbee practice!

Greetings from sweltering Dakar! I have been told that the weather is eventually going to cool down, but it has reached around 30° to 33° C (86° F to 91° F) almost every day thus so far. I really like the above photo, because it accurately represents the contrasting views of street life in a city where modern sedans share the roads with livestock of all shapes and sizes. All is well with me, although last week and weekend were unusual due to two major events.

My normally crowded street nearly empty due to the Magal!
My normally crowded street nearly empty due to the Magal!

The first was le Magal, an important pilgrimage and celebration for the Mourides, one of the Muslim brotherhoods of Senegal. Brotherhoods are a form of Sufi Islam practiced by many, but not all, Senegalese Muslims. Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba founded mourdisime and the spiritual city of Touba in the late 1800s before his exile to Gabon by the French colonial powers. The date of his return to Senegal after this exile has become an important holiday for the Mourides, who observe it by undergoing a pilgrimage to Touba to visit his grave and celebrate their brotherhood. This past Saturday was this year’s Magal, which means that the vast majority of people, cars, buses, horse carts, and other forms of transportation cleared out of Dakar for the weekend and headed on their pilgrimage to Touba. My host family does not belong to this brotherhood, so we did not join them. After weeks of hearing the Mourides’ loud religious chants of preparation, it was relaxing to walk down the nearly deserted streets of my neighborhood and to take the bus with much fewer passengers than a normal weekend.

The second unusual event was the passing of Aby’s great-grandmother, who was 93 years old and lived on the ground floor of our house. She passed away on Friday evening and the funeral ceremonies began immediately on Saturday morning. For Senegalese funerals, everyone who can comes to spend time with the family and express their condolences. These attendees include vast numbers of extended family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Everyone (including me, pictures to come!) dressed in beautiful and brightly colored traditional Senegalese clothing and copious amounts of food were served throughout the day. The men attended a service at the mosque and then everyone came back to the house for a second service, which was performed outside of the house. Normally, the funeral is a one day event, but because of the Magal, many people were out of town on Saturday or during the whole weekend, so the event continued through Sunday and into the beginning of this week.

At home with our dinner of akara (fried dough made from niébé or black-eyed pea flour)
At home with our dinner of akara (fried dough made from niébé or black-eyed pea flour)

As someone who has grown up in a secular family with a Catholic background, it is a new experience for me to live in a practicing Muslim household in a predominantly Muslim country. Different members of the family express their faith differently, which means there’s a lot of variation in terms of veiling, number of prayers per day, mosque attendance, etc. There’s also two Christian neighbors who live in our building and it makes me happy to see the lack of conflict caused by this situation. As I am less educated about many belief systems than I probably should be (including the religion of my extended family in the US), I try to learn more by observing the actions of others and asking questions respectfully when the moment presents itself. In turn, I try to share explanations of non-religious things that might seem equally as new and confusing to my host family (including vegetarianism, what it’s like to live somewhere with snowy winters, American politics, etc.)

Brenna and Shane with our first course!
Brenna and Shane with our first course!

This past weekend, I also spent some time with my American and Canadian friends! Shane is house-sitting for an American colleague, so we got to take advantage of her beautiful kitchen and cooked some North American style food. I’ve missed cooking for myself and spent more money than necessary on several different types of cheese at the grocery store.

A scene from the crowded holiday bazaar!!
A scene from the crowded holiday bazaar!!

On Saturday, I attended a holiday bazaar hosted at the International School of Dakar. It was so interesting to see numerous stands of crafts and food created by local and international artisans and although I didn’t end up buying much, it gave me some great ideas for future purchases (: I’ve also continued to attend frisbee practices. Although my low fitness levels are exacerbated by the high heat levels, I am getting excited for a beach tournament we’re organizing in a few weeks!

Sending love and good vibes to everyone, have a great holiday weekend (I’ll update my next post with Thanksgiving news)!

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