August 23, 2004

Eating and Celebrating Senegalese style

Yesterday, I was invited by TWO different people to do TWO different things. I felt like a **rock star**.

I was invited by a work colleague to share lunch with his brothers. At 1 o'clock, worried that he had forgotten about me, I call him to see what's up. He said "I'm really close, I'll be right there". 45 minutes later he cruises into my neighborhood. Hum, I guess that's what they call "African time".

He brought me to his friend's house (at which point I understood that the term "brother" extends over the notion of "friend") which basically consisted of three rooms around a courtyard. I did not spot any kitchen nor bathroom there and my instincts tell me that there were inexistent. The mother of the household, a rather large woman with a nice smile, was cooking a dish in the courtyard called Tjebouya: rice with tomato paste, grilled chicken, various spices, meat and vinegared onions.

The food was disposed on a large platter and brought into the room. The basic eating style is to grab the loose rice in your RIGHT hand, squish it into something more compact and pop in into your mouth. Being left-handed and raised to eat with cutlery only, I was very clumsy. The three 2 year-olds where more adapt at this than me. Very embarrassing. Sensing my awkwardness, the men handed me a spoon and a large napkin. At the end of the meal, I eclipsed myself from the room (I noticed that the women where absent after the meal) and went to play with the kids. They insisted on speaking Wolof to me despite my confused looks and touched my strange thin hair. We overlooked the courtyard where the matronly mother was doing the washing up, a teenaged girl was braiding her young sister's hair and children were running around wild. The scenes were interrupted by the daily 2:00 Muslim prayer when people started to take turns kissing the ground. A National Geographic Photographer would have killed to be in my place.

My friend invited me to participate in her cousin's engagement. Very traditional, Senegalese society frowns upon two people living together if they are not married. This girl has been dating her boyfriend for 7 years and (much to her relief I imagine) they finally decided to get engaged. The whole family and friends were invited to hang around yet another large courtyard. Some arrived by taxi, others brought their beat up old car and a truckload of them arrived in an orange spray city bus, almost spilling out from the doors and windows. The mass of people engaged in shaking everyone's hands, fanning straw fans and catching up with old friends in Wolof. I was seated next to a religious brother (this family is Christian) so I was on my best behavior. The poor fiance was requested to stay in her chambers and only allowed to leave them when notified.

I am told that the elders sat around in the room discussing the wedding to be: "well, your daughter would like to be marry my son. But does she know that he is smart, rich, educated etc...", "are you sure that she really wants to be with him"? At which point (exasperated by the lengthy proceedings), she stood up and proclaimed very loudly "yes I DO really want to be with him". Once the family accepted her into their arms, cheers went around the room and spread to the courtyard. The parents and grandparents then poured rather expensive alcohol on the doorstep while chanting and asking the ancestors to bless the marriage. Whew! After that came loads of food and drinks. I was scolded for not eating enough (even though they were sneaking more food on my side of the communal plate).

I was quite the sensation with my digital camera.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Quite the sensation indeed... I don't see any pictures!! :)