Continental Drift

December 12, 2009

American Thanksgiving in Mali, Malian Thanksgiving for an American

Filed under: Uncategorized — unaleona @ 7:11 pm

I thought, when I last posted, that I was getting ready to celebrate two very different parties.  But what struck me the most about our back to back Thanksgiving-Seli Ba extravaganza (besides the deliciousness of our two burner feast) was how similar the two fêtes really were.  Of course, the food wasn’t exactly the same. While we concocted our best approximations of garlic mashed potatos (success!), candied sweet potatoes (caramelized in a pan, delicious), rotisserie chickens (close enough to turkey), green bean casserole (with our very own fried onions on top), lime custard (new favorite desert item), and pumpkin pie (too challenging without an oven OR a fridge), the Malian cooking went back to basics: the sheep itself. 

I got all dressed up in the morning in my bazin and then watched as the men of the family killed two sheep, skinned them and proceeded to take them apart to turn them into cuts of meat.  Its the closest I’ve ever been to that much blood and guts, though I proved to be not too squeamish. Papa wasn’t sure at first if he wanted to watch.

But then he committed to helping.

On Sunday when we killed the third sheep to give the meat as a present to Korkoss’ brother, I even helped skin one of the legs!

I was happy we spared the two scrawniest sheep who had been around the house since before my arrival.  They are so small and they make such a fuss every time I walk to the nyegen, I’d gotten quite used to them.  Also, killing five sheep in one weekend seemed like it would have been a bit excessive.

On the other hand, both Seli Ba and Thanksgiving are about an excess of eating after all.  And Seli Ba, like Thanksgiving, is a day to spend with your family.  And if you can’t be with your family, you have to call them, which causes the national cellphone networks to pretty much crash for the day of the party.  Everyone walks around all day dressed in their best: the brightest bazin colors, the shiniest embroidery, the most intricate henna, the sharpest black suits, the flashiest sunglasses for the kids.  Everyone had different interpretations of what their best dressed looked like, a big mishmash of Malian and Western style clothes.

Instead of saying Happy Thanksgiving, or telling people what you are thankful for, the greetings you exchange are benedictions, a whole long list of them.  Everyone from the lady next door, to the kid hoping for some trick-or-treating coins, from the poor woman coming by to ask for some sheep meat to the cousin who calls you from the US to wish you a happy SeliBa, everyone rattles through the same long list. After each one you respond amiina, something I can manage quite well except when people trick me and throw a real bambara sentence into the list of benedictions.  In that case, I think I said amen to something along the lines of “You came from your house just now?” or “You have henna on your feet.”  Oh well.  The benedictions give Seli Ba a hint of Halloween, because kids come by and recite them and then expect to be given change or little presents (like the sunglasses).  They would never dare say trick or treat though.  At our house at least, it was Hawa who had authority over the purse strings, a literal string/strip of fabric which she pulled out of her enormous boubou to untie and extract a 50 CFA coin for the lucky children whose benedictions pleased her enough to merit a treat.

So after two days of enormous amounts of eating for those of us celebrating both holidays, no one got any pumpkin pie, but we were all fully satisfied.

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