Seasons greetings to friends family and followers! I hope you are all enjoying your Christmas holiday no matter the weather or place and have friends or family to spend the season with! I thought I would fill you in on my Christmas happenings so far and share a little bit of my reflections of the differences I have been experiencing in Senegal so far this Christmas season...
So, currently I am sitting in the house of Belgiums who live in Dakar working for a international NGO. They have lived here a little over a year and open their home to Peace corps volunteers who come into dakar for various reasons. Graciously, they opened their home to three of my girlfriends, Maggie, Erin, and Shannon this christmas as we were on our way to the beaches of caps Skirring but won't be leaving until this evening. The sharing of their beautiful home included attendance at a Christmas eve party with their closest friends and family (some even flying in from Paris/France). I must say it was probably one of the nicest Christmas celebrations I have ever experienced (despite not having my family and traditions here ...don't worry mom :)) My friends and i were a little nervous going into it because most everyone speaks french and my french is there but its not up to par...lets just say im really really good at pretending i know what you are saying (the things you learn in a foreign country). So schmoosing around frenchies was a little bit scary but we were up for the challenge...especially knowing games, food, and wine would be involved in the festivities. So we prepared...traveled to the local grocery store (yes they DO have them in Dakar!!) and bought a bottle of red wine and came with my "white elephant" gift, party dress, newly purchased gold and fabulous strappy $3 sandals, and ready to enjoy the holiday season! Guests started arriving around 7:30 pm and were supplied with "hors doeuvres" that would challenge any posh restaurant in town. We consumed caviar and creme (my first experience, it was quite delightful i must say), smoked salmon, belgium sausage, some type of delicious pickled eggplant, tapinade, mozarella and sun dried tomato, anchovies on toast, and wine that flowed all night long. After snacking on this for an hour or so we played a getting to knwo you game...in french and broken english, and it wasn't as awkward as we thought it would be. Around 10pm we sat down to a salad including four types of meat (duck included) with walnuts, pine nuts and a delicious olive oil balsamic vinegar type of dressing. It filled an entire dinner plate and I was already getting concerned with the fullness of my stomach from the dining on appetizers. Salad was of course followed by dinner...around 11pm. We dined on delicious turkey, potatos shredded up and fried to perfection in small samples, a sausage type stuffing, pears filled with cranberry sauce and all followed by champagne two types of bouche de noel, a chocolate mouse extravaganza and of course the holiday fruit cake. To end the evening was a wonderfully entertaining game of White Elephant in which i ended up with a basket found in most senegalese restaurants...still deciding what i will do with it.
My thoughts on this evening....
1. I probably ate more meat in one evening than i have eaten in an entire year in Senegal...it was incredible, my stomach wasn't ready for it, and today i am feeling the effects.
2. Toubabs (white people) can be as generous kind and fun as my senegalese village friends...this was noticed by their kind words, opening of their home and lives to us, jokes, conversations through broken french and english, kados, creepy old men, and the playing of Nelly Furtado's promiscuous girl as a festive holiday selection.
3. The differences that can exist between two communities in one country are huge! Despite the differences however I have seen the kindness that exists among one another and the love that people have for the human race. It was nice to see people take care of one another and to feel the effects of that.
Finally I just wanted to share my thoughts coming from my village to a very posh and nice home in Dakar. I think when you are completely immersed in a culture it is difficult to see beyond it, to realize differences exist beyond your current reality. Traveling from one extreme to another made me realize how stark poverty can be, and how different my life is from the lives of others while I am in village. It may sound sort of "look at me" but i honestly forget the poverty of my village family when that is all I know. It was a shock to realize that not having a warm shower in 4 months, not sleeping on a real mattress, not eating more than one type of meat in one week let alone one meal was both totally normal but totally abnormal to me. I can live in both worlds, feel somewhat at home and at peace in those worlds, but yet they are so different and i can forget so easily that the other exists. Its a strange existence to live in but its home.
From all of that I hope that wherever you are this Christmas is home to you. I hope no matter your economic status, what you ate for christmas dinner, if you had a warm shower or a clean bed, no matter your circumstances I hope you had people in your life who love you and whom you love. I hope you are able to spend quality time with them and enjoy each others company. I also hope that you are able to invite others into your life who might not have that due to their circumstances and treat them as a part of your own family, sharing your home, your food, and your love! And with that, most of all i hope you experience love this Christmas season. No, I didn't attend a Christmas service last night, or a senegalese party celebrating the christian holiday, but I was with people who cared deeply for one another, gave generously, and shared their love with me. That, I believe, is the true meaning of Christmas. Merry Christmas with LOVE from Africa!!