10.21.2015

Eid al Adha, American Cakes, and Werewolves

Lining up for Prayer

I recently finished the a book by Bruce Feiler titled Abraham. Essentially the book traced the story of Abraham through the three Abrahamic religions and argued that Abraham has the power to serve as a uniting force among religions that are far too often warring with each other. I thought the book was not only informative, but insightful into how prominent figures in Judaism, Christianity and Islam view Abraham and his importance.

Eid Al Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, is a celebration approximately 60 days after the end of Ramadan. Eid al Adha celebrates the moment when Abraham obeyed God's order to sacrifice his son Ishmael (Christians and Jews believe it's Isaac) and due to his obedience, God replaced Ismael with a sheep and rewarded Abraham's obedience by allowing him to sacrifice a sheep in Ishmael's place. The festival celebrates Abraham's unwavering obedience to Allah and reminds Muslims to emulate his devotion. During Eid, Muslims the world over sacrifice a sheep, just as Abraham did, and share the food with the poor. It's a holiday not only reminding them about the necessity to obey and trust in Allah, but also a festival which emphasizes service to the poor.


Eid in Ngatt is always fun. Ngatt is a very small, poor village, so most people don't slaughter a sheep, with the exception of a handful of wealthy Al-Hadjis. Instead, most people buy a cut of one of the several slaughtered cows from our market, or if they have a bit more money, they'll slaughter a goat.


Ngatt's Butcher Killing one of the 4 Cows

This is my second, and last, Eid al Adha in Ngatt, and it occurred pretty much as it did last year. I woke up early and was alerted by Oumarou around 9am that everyone was making their way to the cellphone tower atop the hill for morning prayers. I walked there side-by-side with Oumarou and when we arrived, men and children were occupying themselves by spreading out their prayer mats in straight rows across the open field. Oumarou took a spot in the front row, alongside his brothers and nephews, and a few of my favorite boutique owners in the market.



Waiting for Prayer to Begin

As the field filled, the Imam and village chief finally arrived, flanked by the Dambanga, Ngatt's tradition vigilante force, adorned with antique rifles, cross-bows, spears, and swords.


The Imam started prayers immediately. For 10 minutes I faced a sea of prostrating, bowing, kneeling and standing synchronized individuals. When prayer was finished, the Imam gave his sermon, which discussed the need to care for the poor. As he talked, a herd of cattle passed through the audience, but he continued as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. As the Imam talked, the audience fingered their prayer beads, mumbling Allah-u-Akbar under their breath as the Imam continued. The sermon was short and to the point, unlike the Catholic services here which drone on for hours on end. When the Imam finished after 10 minutes, everyone rose and greeted each other before making their way to the road to watch as the Imam and chief made their way back to the chefferie by car.




A procession of drums, spears, and swords followed their car as the entire village tailed behind, prayer mats, prayer beads, and adorned swords in hand. As the car pulled up at the chefferie, the chief's wives came out dancing and yelping to the drum beats as he slowly made his way to his greeting room as everyone applauded.


Back home, I was visited by the Gbaya theatrical group, which in my opinion is far freakier than artistic. The Gbaya group showed up to my house drumming and dancing, which was great, until I noticed they were all wearing creepy masks, which reminded me of the terrifying Asiatic Santa mask that my grandpa used to wear for Christmas. Like I said, creepy.


When they finally left after I gave them $1 (bribing to leave me in peace?), I set off to begin baking desert. Last year for Eid I made a few American-style cakes for my landlord and other prominent people as a way to get to know people, since it was only my first week in Ngatt. Seeing as several men over the past year have asked me when the next time I would make cakes for them would be, I decided to uphold the cake tradition this year. Last year I made brownies, red velvet cake and banana bread, but this year I decided to shake it up. I ended up making two dark chocolate chili brownies topped with almonds as well as a nutmeg bread. I was skeptical how they would receive the dark chocolate chili brownies, but surprisingly they were a hit! Not a crumb was left.



Ceremonial 'Sword'

As we stuffed our faces, we flipped through my Fulfude dictionary and laughed at some of the words that were included and which were omitted. Oddly enough, werewolf  is included in the dictionary because apparently they are referenced in certain types of local sorcery. We then took group photos as I choked back tears. My departure from Ngatt was fast approaching, and each day was filled with more and more goodbyes.


Sadly, the Tibati Fantasia that is held annually, and which I attended last year, was closed this year out of mourning for the 300+ people who  died in Mecca, of which about 10 were from our area. Unfortunately we didn't realize the Fantasia was canceled until I had already paid for Oumarou and I to go to Tibati. Since there was nothing to do, I bought Oumarou some meat and a drink and we chatted as a storm rolled in. After briefly watching the Nigerien Mbororos preform their traditional dance, we returned to Ngatt.


Eid al Adha is always a fun time, and this year was no different. Sadly the day was tinged with sadness as my departure date loomed, but I couldn't have asked for a better moment to leave Ngatt. My final days in Ngatt were filled with celebrations, festivities, and happiness, so much so that I had no time to ponder my imminent departure until the morning of. While I'm not a Muslim, Eid was a great opportunity to appreciate the similarities between the Abrahamic religions while also contemplating all that we have in common, and to be thankful for all the wonderful memories I've been given in the best Peace Corps village.



Oumarou (far right) and his Relatives After the American Cake Feast

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