It’s not a delicious hot sauce. It’s the biggest Muslim holiday of the year! And this year it weirdly fell on New Year’s Eve, making a doubly big holiday! To Senegalese Muslims, Tabaski means reliving the ancient story of God’s sparing Abraham from sacrificing his only son and benevolently replacing him with a ram, by buying and slaughtering a ram of their own. To me, Tabaski means getting sick from rancid ram meat. It’s a festive time though and a lot of fun, as well as a great photo op. I visited every family in my village to distribute kola nuts and wish them happy holidays, and witnessed about 50 ram slaughterings in exchange. I had to take a photo of each one. Thank God for digital cameras. As the tradition goes, each family must purchase a ram or be ostracized forever. However, rams run anywhere from $60 to $100! Your average peanut farmer does not have that kind of money. But the pressure for a ram is so great families sacrifice basic essentials such as medicine and abundant food to throw a huge Tabaski bash complete with new hair weaves and bubus. According to global Muslim traditions, one third of the meat is for the family, a third for friends, and a third for the poor. But wait a minute…they ARE the poor! Save maybe Sudanese refugees they’re about as poor as it gets. Who do they give the meat to? Each other? The same thing happened at Ramadan, when my villagers told me they were fasting in order to know what life is like for the poor of the world. I didn’t know how to break it to them that THEY were the poor of the world. They were who every other Muslim in the world fasts for. I really feel like Islam needs to lighten up a little on the charity rules; if you ARE the poor I really think it’s ok to just enjoy the few meager pleasures you can get.
But anyway, nice as Tabaski was, I did get quite sick. I only had to glance at the blobs of undercooked meat floating in oil to know I was in for trouble. But it’s their Thanksgiving, it’s the one day of the year when everyone eats as much as they possibly can and generously offers food to everyone. To refuse to eat is just unheard of. So I tried to discretely nibble; that didn’t work. I finally gave up and forced food down. But it got worse! Turns out all 3 of my host moms had each cooked a meal; we had so far only eaten one. So I had to stay and equally stuff myself with the other two’s cooking. EVERY single time my family has cooked meat (blessedly few times) I’ve gotten violently ill. So has everyone else in the family. Oh for a nice grill.