The hour between 5 and 6 pm is my favorite time in Bamako! During this hour the sun is starting to set and the temperatures have cooled off, so everyone is outside enjoying their outdoor spaces. As I walk around my neighborhood this evening I see the familiar sights: men sitting outside of their houses drinking tea and playing board games; boys playing soccer in the sand; young men, whose job it is to wash other people’s clothes in the river every day, folding up the clothes that were left in the sun to dry; women walking by carrying various items (bananas, vegetables, rice, water) on their heads. But, today there is another type of excitement in the air- it’s the day before the biggest holiday of the year, Tabaski! There are sheep everywhere, and their characteristic cries indicate that they are not used to all of this attention. Boys are helping their fathers and brothers wash the rams in preparation for their big debut tomorrow morning. Men on motorcycles are carrying freshly cut grass in a last minute attempt to fatten their rams up before their slaughter tomorrow. In the distance I can hear the distinct sound of pounding that comes from a small hut where bazins (beautiful Malian fabric) are being beaten with wooden mallets until they shine in preparation for tomorrow. On my walk I pass by several small hair salons with girls packed inside in the process of braiding each other’s hair, as well as several shoe salesmen trying to sell me nice shoes for… “my husband?” no. “children?” no. “for yourself then!” Women line the side of the streets selling all of the fixings for a delicious Tabaski meal: lettuce, tomatoes, potatoes, and onions. The tailors look frantic with their sewing machines working double time. They drink tea in copious quantities in preparation for one last late night finishing all of the Tabaski clothing orders. It’s great to see everyone so excited and happy. Even the guy with the unfortunate job of selling watermelons door to door in a push cart seems fairly jovial.
As I walk around I feel both connected and disconnected from all of the hubbub. On the one hand, Tabaski is not my holiday to celebrate; I’m just an observer. But I also feel a sense of connection that I didn’t necessarily have before. This is my fourth Tabaski in West Africa, and I feel like I can now participate as well as observe. I know the right questions to ask and right responses to give back. And when it comes to slaughtering the rams tomorrow morning, I don’t think I’ll watch in shock like the first several times I witnessed it. It’s nice to feel this sense of connection to a culture, even in an entirely new place. I hope it will continue!