Sunday, February 7, 2010

Tendaba and Tobaski

After about a week and a half living in our training villages, we traveled to Tendaba, a rustic tourist spot by the river, for Thanksgiving. We had our first language test to assess our progress, which was quite intimidating to hear about but turned out to be a casual conversation between a teacher and I - he asked questions that we had been practicing, focusing on the greetings and general stuff. I ended up with a Novice-Mid rating, which was basically how everyone else did. To swear in as Volunteers, we had to get to the Intermediate-Mid level. We also spent that time (about a week) having sessions about things like personal health, gender and development, health related topics to share with our communitites, coping strategies, malaria prevention techniques, etc, and of course spending our evenings at the lovely bar adjacent to the Gambian River.

We had compiled a shopping list and on Thanksgiving day we were able to use the Tendaba kitchen to make the side dishes for Thanksgiving Dinner (they made the turkey) and everything turned out really well. It was nice to be with everyone because it distracted us from the fact that we would usually be with our families. We even went around and said what we were thankful for... which is a lot.


The day we got back from Tendaba was the start of a three or four day holiday called Tobaski. It is probably the equivalent of our Christmas, though it differs on many different levels. Our training had prepared us for what was to come: ram sacrifice, which I knew I didn't want to see. The morning of the first day, we went out to a field beyond the village where everyone prayed (we stayed in the back to watch) and when I got back, the ram that had been tied up in the backyard area was now in the middle of the compound. I ended up seeing most of the sacrifice, and it was actually not terrible. They dug a hold in the ground, took the goat over to the hole, layed it down, and slit its throat and the blood went into the hole.

My host mom used phrases like "pity" and "sympathize" and asked if I was
going to cry, which made me realize that they do understand what they are doing and don't want the animal to suffer. Plus they ate every last bit of that goat. I made the mistake of going back into the kitchen area while one of my host moms was cleaning the body, and the first thing I saw was the skull with its eyes still in it on top of the skin, and there she was scraping away at the hoofs and bones. They offered me some of the heart, which they had cooked, but I only took a tiny piece. The other trainees told me about finding pieces of brain; luckily my fam understood I didn't want any of, so I didn't really eat any of the meat (this is before I discovered shwarmas in the city, which will be explained later).

{our Tobaski family picture with the visiting relatives - Gambians really love posed pictures, but they never smile for them - clearly noted in the picture}

Other parts of Tobaski are sallibo (giving children candy and others money or gifts when they come into your compound to visit you) dancing, and more eating. We basically went from compound to compound drinking juice and attaya, bringing and getting presents, and chatting, much like any holiday in the US. At night, they brought out the turntables / CD player / radio with speakers thing and blasted dance music in the middle of the village, which was awesome. All the kids and teenagers went out to partake and for a while it felt like a middle school dance, seeing as I didn't know how to act, when it was ok to dance, and the clear separation of boys on one side and girls on the other. But my little sister would just say "dance, dance" to get me dancing or "you're tired, sit" and I would sit, and everything was gravy. I mostly just played with the adorable little girls in the village who absolutely loved to dance with me. We held hands in a circle and they just did whatever dance move I did and laughed and laughed.

The rest of the holiday went pretty much the same way. There are so many times I wish I had my camera but didn't, not only during Tobaski but everyday. One of these times was during Tobaski, when I was leaving a compound, walking home after some late night attaya, and there in my path I see a group out dancing near the DJ table, with a full moon shining. It was so perfect I almost cried. A true Peace Corps moment (a term we use when we can't believe our own lives), when everyone was in their own little world, dancing to the beat, in rhythm to the music, from young little girls to guys my age, not a care in the world. I never in my life thought I would be lucky enough to see something like that, a small African village enjoying their holiday to the fullest, and dancing the night away under the moonlit sky.

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