Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Mange! Mange! - The Eating of the Moutons - Part 2

I left off where we had just finished enjoying the Ataya tea and before we knew it we were being shuttled back into Diop's house for the continuation of the celebration.  By this point we had lost track of time. And before we knew it a handful of male friends were showing up at Diop's doorstep. Apparently they had a tradition where some men friends in the neighborhood visit as a group - eat together - and move on to the next friends house. Once the men (and boys - Parker and Addison) got going the women do the same thing. Call it a progressive dinner of sorts - there is progression from house to house - the menu is the same - but the houses and drinks are different. Let the scooping and eating begin!

Placed in the middle of the group is a big saucer of grilled mouton, sauteed onions and french fries along with fresh baguette pieces.  You only use your right hand for eating from the shared plate and left hand for holding the bread.  Manning shared with me he was also instructed not to wash his hands until he had gone to all the houses, ate and had tea.  It really was a pleasant experience being part of something so simple and communal - everyone sharing, laughing, commenting on the food and just enjoying the holiday moment.  At the second house Manning asked Diop what everyone did for a living and it was a pretty mixed group - auto mechanic, restaurant worker, unemployed software developer (guy sitting in front of the fridge).  Manning said what came to mind was  "what a nice group of guys!".

Each house seemed to have different hand crafted (non-alcoholic) drinks you could 'pair' with your mouton. Chilled and ready to go in small glasses your choices included - bissap, ditakh and ginger.  Bissap comes from the hibuscus shrub. The dried hibiscus flowers are made into this delicious cold fruit drink. It's got a taste similar to cranberry juice, with a beautiful rich red ruby color.  Next we have the ditakh juice - a sweet fruit that looks like a rock and is filled with green fibers and dry pulp of which when the juice is squeezed - it's green.  All were excellent and hard to turn down. 

Once Manning had left the premises - I was finding myself being rounded up by the sisters and other Senegalese woman friends from the neighborhood and being directed to a house across the way.  First thing we did was take off all our shoes and asked to also pick up a glass of what was already pre-poured - the bissap, ditakh or ginger juice.

And once again - there in front of me - more mouton, pommes frites (french fries) and onions. I think my stomach could not take much more but what can you do when you are handed a piece of bread and within the plate one or two woman are breaking off meat from the bone and tossing it in your direction on the plate. You smile, scoop (a small portion) and eat. After time in this house we moved outside for a moment. However in our case we were given the option to wash our hands in a small communal hand washing bowl each time we departed.  

Somewhere along the continuum a discussion broke out about my name. They had asked me if I had one - a Senegalese one that is. I couldn't tell them I had self-proclaimed name of "Fatou" on the day of the fabric negotiation so I said no - I had not received one yet.  I felt honored and humbled at this point that they wanted to bestow one on me with meaning - and meaning it has. They discussed amongst themselves both in French and Wolof - few a threw out at me - and with a collective agreement  I became "Boundaw."  It's a Wolof name that means "small."  So next time I bargain - "Boundaw" it is!  After that was finalized we moved onto the next house.  As I think back, there was not a lot of conversation between me and the other women as things seemed to move quickly from one house to the next. I did try to explain how we came to know "Diop."  The one woman I had the most involved conversation with was the woman to my left with the hoop earrings. While we spoke French she was up for some English conversation too. Surprisingly enough - she is a basketball player on the European circuit  who was living between Senegal and Germany and is waiting to find out from her agent what league/country she will continue with.  Click here to read up on her from  and interview in 2008 . She herself was just fascinated with our own story of coming here for a year.

While kids were playing in the alley - Parker and Addison were more mesmorized by the sheep they went back to play and feed other of Diop's moutons whose life was spared on this day. 

The same ritual at the next house and all I can hear is MANGE! MANGE!

Yes,  I'm reaching for a scoop of mouton, onions and 
pommes frittes (just a different form), one more time.

And a final good bye to the ladies of the house!  Diop was kind enough to drive us back to our apartment and just when we thought our sheep eating days were over - he presents us with one more piece of mouton to cook at home.  Tired, sleepy and full (maybe even overstuffed) we arrive back at our apartment thinking about what an incredible day it was before life for the week is back to 'normal' as we know it here.  Tabaski is a celebration not to be missed and certainly one we'll never forget!


  1. Are you wearing a Sengalese outfit? I love all the vibrant colors that the women are wearing.

  2. Not yet - that just happens to be a colorful dress that I brought from home that 'worked' that day. I've got my fabric ready to now take to the tailor. I'm so excited to have that on my to do list. I am mesmerized all the time when I walk in the street and see the woman in their head wraps, tops and long skirts with those African wax print designs.