Wednesday, December 20, 2006

X-mas Greetings

December 27, 2006

Dear Friends -
X-mas greetings from Bamako! And because we are sending you these greetings from Africa they are a day or two late … !

Mali may be a Muslim country, but you would have never guessed it, what with the celebrating and partying and fireworks that went on here. I saw two guys in complete Santa costumes, there was a special x-mas event at the football stadium for the kids, and Male’s nieces and nephews showed us the presents that they received in Kindergarten. The stores and offices were closed on Monday, of course, and the city was filled with families, dressed in their finest, visiting family and friends. The Kempinski Hotel has put up a nice tree in the lobby which is decorated with traditional wooden spoons, painted golden (see photo!). Not sure what the cultural significance is here. Joyeux Noel et Bon Appetit?! Last night I watched TV, and they showed 30 minutes worth of coverage of x-mas celebrations throughout Mali. Enough to compete with American standards of fluffy holiday coverage. The Malians cannot understand at all that I find all this surprising – they tell me that, of course, they celebrate Jesus’ birth out of solidarity with the Christians.

In addition to all that, the city has been teeming with activities in preparation for the next big party: Tabaski. It will take place on the 30th. It really should be celebrated on the 31st, but that way it would interfere with New Year’s celebrations, and so it was decided to commemorate it on Saturday. Every evening the markets are filled with people shopping for the big day; the tailors are working overtime, since everybody is ordering a new outfit for the occasion. There are herds of muttons everywhere. Apparently there are still enough people who will buy one before Saturday, even though it seems that everybody already has a mutton tied to their front gate. The buses and bush taxis have muttons tied to the roof, and it is not uncommon to see somebody on a motorcycle with a beast slung across the seat in front of him. Occasionally a mutton falls of the bus or the taxi, and all traffic stops while the owners or drivers retrieve the valuable possession. (They cost about $80-100, but the price goes up daily now as the day approaches.) Each head of family who can afford it is expected to slaughter at least one sheep for his family, but preferably 2 or so to feed the neighbors and those who cannot afford it. So all these animals will be slaughtered on Saturday, after prayer. Let’s just say the blood will be squirting in the streets … I plan on hiding indoors somewhere, and I will come out again when the blood has dried, and the only remnants are the hoofs and the heads!

And who knows where I will be on Saturday. We are still stuck in Bamako, but hope to leave here on Friday in the morning, with Mirja and her two daughters. That would put us in Timbuktu on the 30th in the afternoon. But who knows. Making plans and having a schedule is a futile activity here. It’s best to have none.

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