Thursday, November 10, 2011

Merry Tabaski!

Just like in the states, there is never a dull moment during the week prior to the Malian Christmas of Tabaski.

Some sheep are wrapped around people on scooters, others are led by a rope down the boulevards of highways. The rest are amass along dirt ditches into the thousands. I didn't want to eat them. In my silent protest to the mass slaughtering, we offered to throw the Tabaski party at our house for a bunch of traditional, young Tabaski-celebrating friends so I wouldn't offend the chef. On top of it, they'd get to partake in some delicious, vegetable-filled side dishes :)

Backing up though...

It all began on a warm Friday afternoon at 2:30pm.

I arrived in 100 degree dry heat after the SUV meandered through congested highways and then onto dirt roads before entering into the enclosed estate. Upon walking through the front door I was greeted by my friends Mariam and Rahma. I wandered after them through the dimly lit, cavernous hallways of their home. Supposedly, we were heading to an area dedicated to only women. The walls are purposely left stark - apart from the portrait or two of women in their family dressed in traditional Tuareg attire.

Upon entering, I noticed the following:
1) a lengthy wall-lined sofa that sits 6 inches off of the floor
2) the TV playing "The Biggest Loser" in English with Arabic subtitles
3) the fan pumping fresh 100 degree air through the large screened-in window.
4) a small orange cat named Bush-bush that they say so quickly it comes out "bshbsh" in one syllable.
5) Mariam's mother and the other elderly woman talking in what seemed to be a constant, beautiful flow of Arabic and Tamasheq.

A woman was getting her henna done when I arrived, so I snapped a couple pics. I hadn't met her, but she smiled at me and laughed a lot. We all did actually, this was the tone set for the entire day. Between their storytelling and reactions, and my hand gesturing to say I didn't need more rice, more stew, more bread, more water, or more juice - I couldn't help but smile thinking of Liana's warning me of the custom to fill up the guest even when she eats to be polite and respectful.

The woman in the swirls who did the henna for us is from Mauritania. She seemed like a sassy diva, making sly, doubtful faces at the girls talking. Sometimes she'd click her tongue and shake her henna covered fingers at them, or say "tsk tsk tsk" while shaking her head back and forth. It was as if she didn't agree with anything they said. Then again, she seemed do that sometimes when she nodded too. I think she saw it as co-miseration if they were maybe talking about how frustrating it is to drive around - then she shake her head in agreement.

Supposedly, she is quite the hot commodity for doing henna. Before coming to their home, she was doing henna for the female Prime Minister!

Tuaregs are different than anyone I've met. They're special. Proud, super friendly, extremely polite, respectful, observant, and disciplined. They don't get along that well with many Bambera people for some reason. I haven't figured that out completely. Other than knowing there has been tension in the past, when slavery took place, it seems they just kind of avoid each other without being rude. Nomadic by nature (they often discuss their "need to roam") the Tuareg people spread themselves through much of West Africa - in Mali, Niger, Algeria, Libya, and Burkina Faso - as well as other areas of the middle East.

After getting the henna done over the course of an hour, plastic bags covered my tissue paper-wrapped hands for two more hours as I waited in their large living room. We had tea and  ate watermelon while listening to the stories of when their father worked abroad in Nigeria and the middle east.

Rahma said my henna would not be complete for Tabaski without wearing one of her special dresses.

She placed the long, flowing chute of a dress over my head. My arms found the two arm holes well, but from there, I was lost. Rahma leaped up and managed to flip the long, 10-12ft sideways piece of linen-like fabric up and over, forming the elbow-length sleeves and head piece before whooshing it across my chest and neck like a glamorous scarf. All of this took her approximately 8 seconds. Deep indigo, this dress was beautiful - with silver and sky blue details.

For the big meal on Sunday, I chopped up a ton of vegetables for Liana's recipe of a spicy peanut soup. I spread out two crusts for spinach tortes and baked them individually in an oven I later found out only broils. Resourcefulness to the rescue... I carefully slid them onto skillets and got the crust hard from the bottom up this way, but it took for-eh-ver.

By this time it was 6:30pm. Our guests were to arrive. I dressed into my indigo robe with henna intact and noticed the dye rubs off onto your skin by merely touching the fabric.

Ten minutes later, the full, cooked lamb arrived in a huge tub... and I lost my appetite. But the night got better!

After food, where the vegetarian dishes were a screaming hit, we headed to the Tumast Center in Bamako where a couple of famous Tuareg bands played. Rahma and Mariam took me onto the dance floor after a few songs. I had watched for long enough beforehand to know what was the acceptable dance - lots of swirling wrists, gentle swaying, heads held high. I looked around. During this dance, only women were up there. Other dances, only men went up. And later, everyone danced together. I stood out as the blond-haired, blue-eyed one of the bunch, but I was definitely not the tallest. Tuareg women are, for the most part, tall. Like 5'9" to 6' tall, if not more.

Upon the completion of the night, my entire body was a deep shade of indigo blue. From head to toe. anywhere that I had touched my face? Yes, also streaking blue. I showered for 15 minutes, trying to scrub the dye off. I think I got the last of it off today (Thursday). 

Since that Sunday night, I've spent most of the week working inside, avoiding the pollution in the air. Sometimes I spend an hour with a book on the rooftop to get some vitamin D, but the city itself doesn't appeal to me sometimes. It's exhausting being in the traffic, watching scooters and cars nearly get killed everywhere you turn, and having to shake your head "no" at every stop when the kids and beggars press their faces up to the windows. Even with the exhausting traffic however, Bamako is a thrilling place to call home for the next couple of months. I'll be starting to volunteer at the school in a few days, and will move into my homestay also. I look forward to updating more frequently, hopefully, with shorter posts then.

For now, my friends, cheers to the weekend!

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