Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Today is the day thousands, nay hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of sheep meet their maker.  It is the Festival of Sacrifice, otherwise known as Eid-al-Adha in Arabic, and Tabaski throughout West Africa.  Muslims worldwide are celebrating the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son, Ishmael, as a sign of obedience to God.  Luckily for Ishmael, but not so lucky for the sheep, God intervened at the last second and told Abraham to sacrifice a ram instead.  Hmmmmm.   It’s the kind of story that can only work in retrospect, I suppose, when the supernatural was apparently commonplace, e.g. virgin births, burning bushes, people turning into salt, etc.  I’m guessing a willingness to sacrifice your son these days would not be well-received, in general.
Every Muslim household of means is supposed to kill a sheep, keep a third of it, give away a third to friends and family, and another third to the poor. The mass murder proceeded quietly, at least from my little corner of the ‘hood.  This morning the air was filled with prayer over loudspeakers, but I heard not the bleat of a sheep.  Kind of eerie, really.  All that blood, shed so quietly.  Just yesterday, thousands of live sheep moved through their day innocently, happily even. Over the last few days I’ve seen multitudes of sheep being bought, sold and transported.  I’ve seen them along the side of the road, in backyards, on tops of buses, and in the backs of cars.  Now, I smell them in the air, marinated and barbequed.

On this day, here in Senegal, by way of greeting, we say, "Baal me aq (Forgive my sins)," to which the response is, "Baal naa le (I forgive you)," followed by, "Yalla ne Yalla bolle baal (May God allow us all to share in the forgiving, or something like that).  And then a hearty, "Amin!" (Amen)" rounds out the whole thing.  It's nice to have a holiday where I'm forgiven all my transgressions.  I move to tomorrow with a clean slate.

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