Pictures from Senegal

Tuesday, April 26

Easter Weekend

While Senegal is known for being a Muslim country, about 20% of the population of Mboro is actually Catholic. We have a beautiful church complex (school, chapel, dance hall, clinic, and living area), a handful of booze selling outlets, and even a few nuns on mission in our fair hamlet. The two religious groups get along swimmingly side-by-side: the elected mayor of Mboro is Catholic but most of his cabinet is Muslim, and the Catholic school is home to most of the practicing children (who can afford to go) but quite a few Muslim children attend as well.  I’ve yet to hear of one conflict between the two parties; which is to be expected, but just in case you were wondering…

Catholic Church of Mboro
The events leading up to Easter are worth mentioning. The local Catholic population had a party for Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) and then proceed onto Lent activities. Lent in Senegal is an exercise in solidarity with their Muslim friends who participate in the month long fast of Ramadan. They will spend six days a week- skipping Sunday- fasting during the day until an evening mass conducted at about 6:30p after which they are free to go home and eat. Some Catholics are said to forgo eating meat on Fridays during Lent (my choice), some don’t, and then there are those who don’t meat on any Friday of the year. I’ve yet to find indication or proof that any bad habits or guilty pleasures are given up for the forty day stint.

On Good Friday, most people are still working but those that aren’t take the day to prepare a meal called ngallah (pronounced: en-GAH-lah). It’s made from millet balls, peanut butter, and chocolate sauce in my neck of the woods. Upscale families add vanilla and orange extracts as well as coconut shavings and raisins. I’m told that elsewhere there is no chocolate mixed in and that’s a shame. This soup-like dish is made in enormous quantity, think of an oil drum, and then passed out to all friends, relatives, and neighbors of the household. My family received so many bowls of ngallah we were able to feed our ten person family twice over!

Saturday is marked by ngallah eating and preparations for Sunday’s meal. I spend the afternoon with some trainees posted in Mboro trading stories and a few beers. Mass takes place at 6:30p and again at midnight. After midnight mass a “revival” party is thrown. Family and friends get together for music, dancing, drinks, and dessert snacks. Unfortunately, I got really sick at this point in the weekend extravaganza. I passed the evening with a migraine and my toilet- as I couldn’t keep anything down. I briefly woke up just before midnight, but knew straight away it wouldn’t be a good idea to try mass or the revival party.

Church Choir
Sunday isn’t exactly the main event, but is as close as one would come to it. Christine came to Mboro for the day as she lives in a town without a significant Catholic population, so we kicked off the day with 10a mass. We deemed this a ‘must-see’ for the phenomenal choir if not for the fashion show of Senegalese clothing like you couldn’t see anywhere else. Groups of women typically search out patterns made from religious depictions. Every combination of Mary and/or Jesus you can think of is represented and worn by each group of friends. As a bonus, half a dozen infants also got baptized during fifteen minutes of screaming.

Training Host Family
As I did my first two months of Peace Corps language training in Mboro as well, I am fortunate enough to have an entire second family in a different neighborhood of town- and they just happen to be Catholic. After mass we stopped by the boutique to buy some fancy juices that we brought as a gift to our hosts. Like most religious holidays, a hosting household will be filled with members of the other religious affiliation helping out for the day. Muslim neighbors from up and down the street were nearly finished with lunch preparations by the time we arrived.

Lunch is Served
A few finished touches were completed, and an enthusiastic few minutes of dancing were had, before we sat down to a delicious meal of chicken vermicelli. The vermicelli was mixed with veggies, sausage, and olives. The chicken was served in the middle with ladles of onion sauce. It was so unbelievably good I ate until I was full. Then I sat back for 5 minutes before eating yet again; I ate so much I irritated my already upset stomach. Afterwards we were awarded with a buffet of drinks: beer, wine, local and tropical juices, sodas, and filtered water. Take your pick; have seconds and thirds.

Dance Party!
To keep ourselves from falling into a food coma, the music was turned up and a dance party was kicked off. The children were most enthusiastic, but everyone joined in for the the latest popular dances. Other neighbors came to visit and share their well wishes for the holiday. My former host sister set about making traditional tea, attaya, in no less than three rounds. We nibbled on watermelon and- had we stuck around long enough- cookies and mini cakes. But alas, it was getting to be late afternoon, and we had others to visit. Stopping at along my street to greet friends and share drinks, we arrived back at the house so that Christine could visit with my family a bit.

As dusk drew near, a friend on short term contract with the local mine picked us up for an American dinner celebration of Easter. He was kind enough to drive Christine all the way back to her town, where we found a new restaurant to try, before I finally headed to bed. About this point two thoughts crossed my mind: 1) my family had yet to call so it was time to turn on Skype and 2) I was going to be sick again.

Easter Monday is a national holiday in Senegal, so we all had the day off. Well, actually I had made plans with Muslim coworkers… but they got derailed by my incurred bacterial infection. The PG version is that I was stuck in my room all day because a) it was close to the toilet and b) I didn’t have enough energy to do anything but lie in bed all day anyway. My family spent the day making way too much noise to offer me a decent nap, but it was all in good fun. Traditionally, Catholics use this day to sleep and clean house after their massive amounts of partying. In the later hours of the evening you could hear music floating over the houses coming from the church grounds as though yet another good time was under way…

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