Friday, November 4, 2011

Counting Sheep....

On Monday the Muslims in the country  - 95% of them - will be celebrating a  very important holiday called Tabaski.  Tabaski  (from Wikipedia) is the commemoration of the the willingness of the Biblical patriarch Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) to sacrifice his son  Ishmael (Isma'il)  (his son by Hagar) as as an act of obedience to God before God intervened to provide him with a ram to sacrifice instead.

On Tabaski a  sheep ("mouton") is slaughtered as a symbolic gesture of the ram that God substituted for Abraham’s son. The goal of every family is to  buy,  kill, cook and ultimately eat a sheep (or as one man told me it can be in a stew with vegetables) on the day of the celebration. The sheep look a bit different here - not the wooly kind you might have in mind.

No matter where you turn  sheep are for sale everywhere. This past week  I saw a man sitting on the street near the Cultural Center near our apartment with a few sheep tied up to the fence.

And while on a trip in a taxi I had to take (and sadly I left my camera at home) - I saw many many roadside areas where the sheep were being sold.  The best way for me to give you a good picture in your mind would be have you imagine it as a pumpkin patch of sheep - every shape and size!  If I get lucky before Monday to get a photo I will add it in.

And if you are not buying one than you might be the Senegalese compound of families next to us who I "think" have been raising their own for awhile. Having heard it's 'bleating"  (and that of their goats too) for the last 2 months - I'll be curious to find out it's fate after Monday.

Of course I can't let this slip by without asking if I can ask the guy a few questions and he obliges me. I ask him how much a sheep costs and he tells me his are around 50,000 CFA to 300,000 CFA - that's a big range so who knows - because of course the longer you wait to the last minute the higher the price until Monday at some point, but come Tuesday the price drops until next year.  He tells me the price is dependent mainly on the size, muscle and the horns. Of course I'm not satisfied with just one data point so I have to ask a few other Senegalese men we know who are security guards for various apartment houses we pass by all the time on the way to the gym. And they told me sometimes it can go up to even 1,000,000CFA. So all together we are talking anywhere from $110 - $2,000 USD. 

Senegalese on average earn $1,000 a year in wages - so behavior of desperation to get the funds to buy a sheep increase...thus an except from an e-mail we received from the  US Embassy -  U.S. Embassy Dakar, Senegal Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens--Security Precautions during the Holidays October 31, 2011 The U.S. Embassy encourages U.S. citizens in Senegal to practice good security habits during all holidays. An increase in crime usually coincides with the various holiday seasons. Crimes of opportunity such as pick-pocketing, purse snatching, thefts from vehicles, snatch and grab, etc., are more common....

Today around 2:00 as we passed by the SGBS Bank - we saw  more than 100 men waiting to get into the bank. Normally you see a handful of people waiting when the doors are to open in the afternoon but this was Friday and they needed their money to buy the sheep over the weekend. That's what the SGBS security guy told us. He is soooo nice. He is always open to answering any question we have - and that was top on our mind. 

Then we posed another question to another security guard "Oumar" at the next building over about how many sheep might just be slaughtered in all of  Senegal.  While we speak French with him, he does speak English so it was funny to see him change to English as he was talking out loud to do his calculation - and I'm paraphrasing here - "Well, let's see. There are 12,000,000 million people in Senegal. Maybe on average 10 people per family with friends, okay let's say 1.2 million sheep at least. Or more if families buy more than 1."  Unscientific but still something to work with.

To us at the moment the city seems just a tad bit quieter because many people have also left the city to return to their villages for the celebration.   

At this point we have not been extended an invitation to anyone's home or village  that is Senegalese of whom we've come in contact with to witness or even partake in this ritual and celebration.  If we get the chance to be extended an invitation we will certainly go.

Pourquoi pas? We only have one chance to grab the bull by the horns (or should I say "mouton") while we are here.

We'll keep you posted!


  1. Are the lambs quiet now Clarice?

  2. I find it interesting that the Muslims believe Ishmael is the son that Abraham was to obediently sacrifice, when the Bible states it is Isaac (his son by wife Sarah).

  3. JAMM - I believe there will always be an open interpretation among historians and religious scholars all over the world as to who is considered the sacrificed child. And that in fact makes the world an amazing place that people can follow their beliefs while hopefully respecting those of the others.