Muslims all over Mali and all over the world in a symbol of solidarity celebrated Tabaski from Sunday to Tuesday. Tabaski or Eid-al-Adha is known as the Festival of Sacrifice. This is an important festival that commemorates the end of Hajj but more importantly the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. In Mali, this festival is celebrated with much happiness and is usually accompanied by the killing of a sheep or goat, depending on the wealth of the family. Those Muslims who can afford, i.e Malik-e-Nisaab; sacrifice their best domestic animals (usually a cow, but can also be a camel, goat, sheep or ram depending on the region) as a symbol of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his only son. The meat from the sacrificed animal is divided into three parts. The family retains one third of the share; another third is given to relatives, friends and neighbors; and the other third is given to the poor and needy. The regular charitable practices of the Muslim community are demonstrated during Eid al-Adha by concerted efforts to see that no impoverished person is left without an opportunity to partake in the sacrificial meal during these days
This time too, the children of Ouelessebougou came by ringing in greetings of “I sambe I sambe”. They waited patiently as each got a candy brought specially by Yeah on his US trip.
This time was a little different though. There were more relatives in town. From Bamako, my brother in law Drissa, his wife Eugene and 5 girls, my sister in law Mama and her four kids, and Yeah, me and my two devils joined the fun at my brother-in-law Bei’s house. He has 7 kids, so you can imagine the craziness and yes the lines to the outdoor bathrooms.
As soon as Morning Prayer ended at 9am, my two brothers in law killed the two sheep that my brother-in-law Moussa had purchased for the occasion. Moussa is currently stationed in Haiti. These sheep are expensive by Malian standards. Each runs about $150 and usually families will all pitch in and buy one together. We were blessed to have too. When I asked my brother in law Bei, what would be done with the extra meat, he told me that the meat would be distributed to the poorer families.
The most interesting part and also the most challenging part was being consigned to cook. I am not opposed to cooking at all. However cooking in foreign circumstances with charcoal and wood fires outside and understanding the language minimally was bound to be a challenge. Nevertheless, I decided to take the challenge head on. My sisters in law Eugene and Mama had kindly sewn for me a uniform that all wives that were cooking were to wear. Hating to disappoint and not wanting to further encourage an opinion that I was unwilling to fit in, I went in for the ride. We started off cutting the meat into smaller pieces and making a marinade. After soaking the meat in for a while, we started putting the meat on skewers and burning them on coal grill. These are called brochette and are very popular in Mali. This took about 4 hours to cook all the meat.
The first plates of meat were given to the men as is customary while the second plate was taken to the older women. Only when these parties were served, we could eat. The kids ate next and last the cooking staff. It is interesting for me to note the pecking order in Malian culture. The male dominated environment is very prominent but it was nice to note the deep respect given to the elderly as well. While we were cooking, our maids were cooking the main lunch meal. By the time we finished cooking, lunch was ready to eat. It was hard work cooking in the hot sun and near hot coals. I have a new found admiration for Malian women. They do this day in and day out usually starting their day at 5am and ending it at 11pm when the last man or baby is fed bathed and put to bed. By 4pm, I was ready for a shower and a long nap which I gave into. I am glad for the experience and think I would be willing to do this again for a special occasion.
While I was cooking Keanen had learnt the simple words “I Sambe Sambe” in an attempt to get his grandma and uncles to give him money. In Mali, kids will go greeting the neighbors in exchange for money or candy. Keanen, forever the businessman, was only too happy to experiment this theory and even came by and said it to me. When I didn’t pay up, he said, “Mom you owe me some money”. Carmen was not that interested in the money. All she cared about was the meat. As soon as Keanen had his money collected, he told Yeah that he wanted to go to the store and buy everything that added up to the money he collected rather than what he wanted. Guess, I’m going to have to teach him to buy what he needs rather than all the things money can buy.
The rest of the time that day and the next two days was spent visiting and also being visited. It is always interesting to note the huge number of people that pay respects to Yeah given his position. This time I was a lot more prepared with my benedictions. Here are some old ones and new ones that I learned for the occasion:
Sitigiya la : May you have a long life
Fatigiya la: May your father have a long life
Batigiya la: May your mother have a long life
Balimatigiya la: May your relatives have a long life
Cetigiya la/Musotigiya la: May your husband/wife have a long wife
K’a ke an seli folo ye a kana ke an seli laban ye: May it be our first feast and not our last
K’I si ke negebere ye: May your life be as solid as an ironstick
Ala ka hine tabaaw la: May God have pity on the departed.
The answer to each blessing is “Amina” followed by: Ala ka dugaw minay( May God accept these blessings).
These benedictions are an indication of how deeply entrenched Malian culture is in religion. A lot of their life is left in the hands of God and you will often find Malians respond to something as unimportant as whether you will see them the next day with “Ala sonna” which means “If God wills”. Many Malians see their current situation as dependent on their maker.
To celebrate Tabaski, Yeah, as part of his campaign, hosted a musician in Ouelessebougou to entertain the youth. The concert started at 6pm and went into the wee hours of the morning. It brought the youth out in droves while sending a strong message that Yeah was here to encourage the youth to come out and represent their voice.
As we head back to Bamako, I can’t help but reflect what a wonderful first Tabaski this was. It was nice to spend time with extended family and start of the campaigning again. I look forward to the months ahead. April 2012 here we come. I sambe sambe to one and all.