My brother Mamdou with our Tabaski sheep
Tabaski, I realized is a lot like Thanksgiving. It’s a Muslim holiday celebrated a month after Ramadan. From 8am to 3pm, all the women in my family were cooking a big meal. And by big, I mean BIG. The cauldron (I’m not even going to try calling it a ‘pot’ cause it definitely wasn’t) could’ve fit Hansel and Gretel easily. Instead, it was the poor sheep being stewed – bones n’ all. While the women prepared the meal, early in the morning, the Muslim men in my family wore their Tabaski outfit and went to the nearby mosque to pray. I woke up and started helping my sisters peeling and cutting our giant bag of onions. I cried a lot that day. I loved how even though my host family is Catholic, our neighbors (I call them my second family) are Muslim but everyone helped out and shared in the celebrations.
Our big outdoor kitchen, my mothers and sisters worked here all day
Cooking and cutting onions all morning
The perks of being a boy on Tabaski – you don’t do anything but sit around and eat at friends’ houses
When the boys came back on the donkey cart from prayer, it was time to do the deed. Which meant the male sheep that my second dad had bought was about to be slaughtered. Right before the sheep came, my second dad dug a little hole (there’s something specific about where the hole needs to be in order to face Mecca). My brother Mamdou dragged the sheep out from the back and the poor guy was so scared that it peed right before. Pretty sure he knew what was up. It took 4 of my brothers to hold the sheep down while my second dad slit its throat and they waited to let the blood soak in the dirt hole. It was really sad to watch.
Right before the sacrifice
I didn’t really want to take pictures of the process but everyone was telling me to go grab my camera so luckily (or not so luckily) I have pictures to show you all. While my moms and older sisters (two had come from Dakar just for Tabaski) were gutting the sheep, I went back to faithfully cutting my onions. I joked with my younger sister, Mariama, that today was not my day, because ‘Rachel’ in Hebrew meant ‘little lamb.’ She thought it was hilarious.
If there was any day to get sick from the food, it would’ve been today. I love cooking and I love helping my family cook but sometimes it’s hard not to say anything about the way that they prepare the food. At times, I have to catch myself from blurting, ‘Ah! Go wash your hands before…..touch that.’ Or, ‘Don’t use the same knife that…..you just cut the raw meat with.’ But back to Tabaski, our special meal consisted of 2 giant bags of macaroni, sheep parts, onions, all sorts of spices n’ everything nice. The cauldron was stirred with a spoon that could’ve paddled me back to America. Every once in a while, they’re be stirring, stirring, stirring….and then a giant bone the size of my femur sticks out. Just in case you forgot the poor sheep sacrificed earlier. I knew every little part of the sheep was saved. The skin was being dried in the sun for a future belt, sandals, or drum.
I hadn’t eaten anything all day since we’d been preparing the meal all morning and afternoon. I thought I was uber hungry until I realized, I’d never stop eating today. On Tabaski, all the Muslim neighbors go to each others’ houses to bring a part of their meal for us to eat. So you could be in the middle of saying, ‘Sournaa (I’m full)’ and then someone would come with a bowl on their head and you’d have to eat a part of what was brought. This happened for the rest of the day.
Girls who had brought food from their family’s meal to share with us
In the evening, everyone put on their Tabaski outfit and and walk around the neighborhood asking for pardons. The children walk around and ask the women for money and each would have to be obligated to give some money. Kinda like Halloween but better cause you get money. I ended up going to my co-worker Fatou’s house since she invited me to have a bit of Tabaski food at her house. Don’t worry, I wore my Tabaski clothes to her house while riding a horse chariot, and you can bet there were a lot of laughs and ‘Toubab!’ call-outs while we trotted down the road.
Eliane, Fatou & I
On Fatou’s horse chariot getting ready to go to her house