As we drove back to Ouelessebougou this past weekend, we were looking forward to celebrating the end of Ramadan, a month of fasting for Muslims. The traffic and the high number of cattle being sold were a tell tale sign of the upcoming celebration as Malians busied themselves preparing for this important event.
he first thing that greeted us at our house in Ouelessebougou was a collapsed ceiling. The high amount of rain in the past month, while a welcome break for drought stricken Mali, had caused one room’s ceiling to fall in. That was not even the worst part. As the carpenter took the roof apart, the room filled with a swarm of bees. There had been a hive in that part of the roof. Within minutes, the buzzing of bees could be heard through an open window in the house. Being the eve of the celebration and the 100s of bees, the carpenter was unsure of whether he could fix the roof in time before nightfall. It looked like we would be returning to Bamako. However, a little insecticide took care of the bee problem and the carpenter Sunkalo was kind enough to come back and fix the roof even though it took him till 10 pm to do it. My driver Zhu and the boys that help me Dra and Nouman made a feast of the hives and honey. I guess one man’s cast offs is another man’s treasure.
The next morning proved to be a beautiful one as millions of Malians woke up to celebrate the ending of Ramadan. The greeting of “I Sambe Sambe” and blessings accompanied by jovial teasing between family members could be heard ringing through the streets of Ouelessebougou. We celebrated the day with my brother-in-law Bei and his family. I had not seen them for a few months so it was nice to catch up with Momuso (Yeah’s second mom) and Tenemuso (Yeah’s aunt). I can always tell how much the kids and I are missed and loved by the look in Momuso’s face when she sees us at the compound gate. Regardless of the fact that she does not understand the kids, they have taken to her and her to them. The day was spent with greetings and visits to other family member’s compounds. The idea of family and its importance in Malian culture is so evident during feast times. Any money you give to one family member goes to the whole family. Also family member’s children are usually given money while all other children usually get just candy. Families celebrate by eating together and the day is one for visiting and paying your respects to different members, young and old. It is beautiful to be drenched in family and blessings and I have realized how much I have come to love and accept this new tradition.
When we got home, there was a steady procession of young kids that came to pay their greetings and spurt out blessings in return for money and candy (almost like Halloween). Keanen and Carmen had a blast handing out the candy. The experience highlighted for me how much they have grown in just one year. Last year, they would not have heard about handing out candy. This year they were volunteering! Even fiery little Carmen! At Bei’s compound, they ran around like the other kids chasing chickens, eating brochette (meat on a stick) and exploring for treasures. The experience in Mali has taught them much. However, I think, because of how much they are blessed with, in their own childlike way they acknowledge the stark difference in the fortunes and are happy to share. May their kind hearts rub off on me so that I may learn to be as generous. Mali is teaching my children to remember how blessed they are and how they should try and share those blessings.
To my Malian brothers and sisters, I wish you: “Aw Sambe Sambe. ‘Ala ka san wɛrɛ yira na’ May next year be better than last; ‘Ala ka hɛrɛ caya’ May God increase your peace; ‘Ala ka batow mine’ May God answer your prayers’; ‘Ala ka kɛnɛya soro’ May you be healthy. Ala ka san caman yira an kene la (May God give us many years of health); Ala ka yaf’u ma (May they forgive us); Ala ka yafa an bema (May we be forgiven)