Since our return to Dakar, life has once again circled back to my favorite subject: the rams, or as I prefer, the mouton. I finally got the species confusion cleared up--turns out they are, in fact, sheep; they just don't grow massive amounts of hair like sheep in the U.S. do. Why? Because they all would die from heat exhaustion. Thank you, Charles Darwin. I would really like to not talk about the moutons anymore--I would like to talk about all the fun and exciting things I've done this week, like go to the beach and eat at a fabulous new Ethiopian restaurant and stumble upon an African poetry slam. But I can't talk about those things without somehow touching upon the ever-present moutons. They are everywhere, and not only that, they're all anyone can talk about.
I started noticing their encroaching presence on our way back to Dakar from Kedougou, every so often along otherwise deserted stretches of road would suddenly and inexplicably be hundreds of moutons, all crowded together in a field. Sometimes there would be a handful of people there too, watching out for them. When we asked what was going on, Bouna, our program assistant, tossed out nonchalantly, "Oh, they're for Tabaski--soon, people from all over Senegal will go those mouton farms and then bring them back into the cities to resell them to the people there." It didn't take long for Bouna's words to prove true: twenty minutes inside the city limits and we were already seeing every available square foot in Dakar occupied by a mouton vendor. They're like christmas tree farms for sheep. It got personal when I found myself wading through a sea of at least 30 moutons pegged in the yard outside my house--my host mom had to come and instruct me in the art of grabbing the horns of the mouton and tossing them out of your way before you get a headbutt to the thigh. My city is drowning. In sheep.
No one here is looking to be rescued though, we're embracing the tidal wave, if not encouraging. A few nights ago, we had a conversation about Tabaski that left me mildly incredulous and of course, laughing, as most of my interactions here do. We're sitting around the dinner bowl--the rest of my family jabbering away in rapid-fire Wolof while I was busy carefully trying to extract every bone from my hunk of fish, when suddenly the conversation turned to me. "Lala!" my host mom barks, turning even the softest French words into stone with the Wolof accent. "We're going to kill a sheep for Tabaski!" "...you're going to kill a sheep for Tabaski?" I say, which is how most of our conversations go--me repeating the last part of whatever they say as a question in the hopes that it passes for holding up my end of the dialogue. "In the house!" she says. "...in the house?" I repeat, and they laugh. "Waaw!* Dogo's going to kill a sheep in the house for Tabaski! That's the tradition!" "...Dogo's going to kill a sheep in the house." "Yep! That's Tabaski! You're going to take so many photos, and then you're going to bring them to your American Mother!"
That isn't, of course, all there is to Tabaski--it's the biggest holiday on the Islamic calendar and they sacrifice rams in honor of the story of Abraham, who so loved Allah that he was willing to sacrifice his son Ishmael**. Allah, seeing Abraham and Ishamel's devotion, provided a ram instead--and Tabaski was born. It's a seriously holy day, but from what I gather, it's also a huge party--after the rams are sacrificed, the women cook all day and prepare a huge feast, and then everyone goes out and brings the leftover meat to relatives, friends, and then finally, in a generous gesture of tolerance, the Christians. The true name of this festival is Eid al-Adha, in case you want to look it up, but locally it's Tabaski.
Preparations have been intense. Everyone in my family has had new outfits made--I'd been with my family for a week when my host mom bought fabric and brought me to the tailor to have my dress made. Look for me in the pink and blue. The whole house was repainted a few days ago, the walls so whitewashed they shone. I found out yesterday that first, we would not be sacrificing my nemisis and the blocker of the bathroom door--we would be buying not one, not two, but three other mouton to sacrifice instead. In fact, when I asked whether we were sacrificing our resident mouton, Dogo turned to me gravely, and said, quite seriously, "Lala, of course not. He's a part of the family. That's my little brother." But then, inexplicably, he disappeared a few days ago, and with a little digging I found out that they had sold our mouton to some other family for Tabaski. I'm back to square one in terms of understanding what's going on. Typical.
And if the mouton competitions weren't enough--although those have gotten intense, with my whole family crowded around the TV arguing about which is the most beautiful--commercials have been popping up everywhere advertising "Win a Free Mouton!" and "Thousands of Moutons to Give Away!", promoting all kinds of products. The government sponsors a program, which I found out about through a billboard over the VDN, that guarantees a mouton for every family that can't afford it normally. Looks like moutons are taking precedence over electricity. Priorities.
It hasn't been all bad though. Saturday morning I spent an hour sitting outside the house with my host mom, watching the mouton. Every so often she would jab an elbow towards me, point at a particularly interesting mouton, and crack up. Her favorite was one that had fallen asleep while chewing. It's the little things.
*"Waaw" is how you say "yes" in Wolof. It's pronounced wow. For a solid three weeks I thought everyone was constantly impressed with each other. Big disappointment. **Huge lost in translation moment for me--the first time they explained it I thought they were saying they used to sacrifice children but now use moutons. Happy I got that cleared up!