Yesterday was Tabaski, a holiday that celebrates sheep. Or at least that is what I am told every time I ask anyone what exactly the day marks. I guess it falls exactly 2 months and ten days after the end of Ramadan, and consists of a similar chain of events as Korité (that is, eating a lot), except as you may have guessed a sheep is involved. Unfortunately, the way the holiday of the sheep ends up is with each head of the family killing one for his wife (or wives- one for each, which can get excessive if you have more than three) and children. I thought that living with a Christian family, I might escape witnessing a slaughter, but to no avail- I spent the day with a Muslim co-worker named Fatou Kindé, whose company I enjoy but who pretty much force-feeds me every chance she gets! In preparation for the celebration, I witnessed the transport of many sheep in ways that nearly brought my animal-loving heart to tears, including shoving them into trunks of cars or strapping them to the roofs of station wagons. I tried to see the humor in the whole situation, as I have had to do often here. Anyways, the holiday itself consisted of a lot of sitting around and eating, as I have found many Senegalese holidays to entail. I was allowed to help prepare a bit, was given a knife and told to cut potatoes and later fry them to make french fries. For the sake of the vegetarians out there, I won’t go into details of the sheep, but lets just say I saw (and to my dismay, ate) things I could live without seeing or eating again, including leftover meat for breakfast, served over soggy french fries.
In other news, one week left in Joal! And, with the holiday on Saturday, the bank is closed on Monday, so I officially have a day off. This past week has been fairly typical accounting work, but the week before I had the chance to get out of the office and talk to some people in the town who have recently taken out small loans from the bank- a phenomenon often referred to as micro-credit. In some cases, those who have taken out the loans have been really successful, augmenting their businesses and even starting new ones. However, for some people, I soon became aware that having access to capital is not the answer, and that there are bigger issues that exist that need to be addressed.
As I think I’ve mentioned, Joal is a fishing town, so many of its inhabitants are fishers, “maryeurs”- people that buy the fish from the fishers and then resell them to factories or to be transported elsewhere- or those that transform fish products, whether by drying or grilling. I talked with both a maryeur and a “transformatrice” at their respective places of work, and as to be expected both locations were extremely smelly. After talking to a successful businessman the previous day, I expected similar success stories as I began my interviews (in broken French and Wolof). However, both expressed the sentiment that forces out of their control, such as the general market for fish affected by industrial fishing and global warming, have severely limited their incomes and forced them to take out credit merely to produce enough to feed themselves everyday. Given the causes of the deficits, I was not extremely surprised to hear that things used to be better; there was enough fish to go around and enough clients willing to buy. Now, there is heavy reliance on foreign buyers, including other West African countries such as Burkina Faso and Guinea, but also Asian countries such as Japan and China, to make a living. It was really eye opening, the sheer poverty, and once again showed me that things are so much more complicated than they seem. While my program is centered on learning about development, I have essentially learned that the path towards “development” is sadly much more difficult and convoluted than I could have ever anticipated, especially when global trends exist that are out of the control of small businessmen and women living day by day.
On a more positive note (sorry if that was a downer), I’ve done quite a bit of bonding with my siblings here. The other night, we were playing a game of keep away, barefoot in the sand on a 75 degree night (despite being nearly December the days are still HOT), a game that unfortunately ended with my grandmother getting angry at the kids for playing soccer to close to the house- before she realized that I was a part of the crazy crew, and at which point both of us felt a bit embarrassed. Robert desperately wants to go to the beach with me some day so I can help him swim, and Clothilde has been practicing her typing on my computer. Therese is Therese, a little ball of energy whose newest thing is to greet me with, “Emma, yaangi noss?” which kind of translates to are you having fun/in good form. Despite our good times, Agnes still proves to be a hard shell to crack, but I think I am growing on her a bit. She even gives me a smile every once in a while. Even the dog, Bleck (great name, right?) has taken a liking to me, Clotilde told me he watches after me as I go to work every day and sleeps outside my door at night. It’s probably because I’m the only person around who gives him even the slightest bit of attention.