Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas in Senegal

My first Christmas not at home in Minnesota has been quite the experience. First of all, it wasn’t white – at least not in terms of snow, it was white in that I was surrounded by more white people than I’m used to. :) There were about 15 of us PCVs in Kaolack, my regional capital, for Christmas. I guess the best way to talk about my Christmas here in Senegal is to go chronologically…

I had gone up to Kaolack on Dec. 22nd because I had things I needed to get in the market for my hut and for our white elephant gift exchange we were planning on doing Christmas Eve, so I took care of that stuff on the 23rd, which meant I didn’t have to go into the market on Christmas Eve so I could focus on making all the Christmas cookies and goodies – I was in charge of desserts. After making a quick run to the Toubob store near the house (the type of store that caters to white people, so it has “white people food” like chips and cookies, as well as “white people stuff” like shampoo and conditioner) we stopped by the Catholic compound for lunch, which was delicious: rice and shrimp! Then it was back to the house to get crackin’ on all the baking. I and a few other PCVs made peanut butter marshmallow fudge, peanut clusters, snickerdoodles, oatmeal chocolate chunk bars, caramel peanut butter brownies, rice crispie treats (with corn puffs instead of rice crispies because we couldn’t find rice crispies), and sugar cookies (cut out in gingerbread men, star, and Christmas tree shapes with sprinkles and/or chunks of candy canes). We also made home-made egg nog, hot chocolate, and home-made apple cider! We had quite the sweet dinner (no pun intended) – as well popcorn thrown in to off-set the sugar a bit. :) We ate and drank all this goodness while doing our white-elephant gift exchange. I ended up getting 2 DVDs that have a ton of movies on them that apparently can be played on DVD players but not American computers because of the formatting, a totally outrageous necklace with a picture of a marabou (this is a really common thing in Senegal – to wear a picture of the marabou you are associated with in some way; I’m not sure who the marabou is on my necklace, so I won’t wear it in Kaymor since we have a really famous marabou there until I know which marabou it is), and some flavored powder mix for water. I was pretty happy with this, though I as jealous of the guy who ended up with black spandex shorts with “Barack Obama” written on the waistband. :)

After our white elephant gift exchange, several of us went to mass at the Catholic Church in Kaolack. It was supposed to start at 9:45 but it didn’t really get going until 10. For the first hour or so was the kids’ Christmas play (apparently they do that here, too). And then we had a full mass. It was really nice and the music was absolutely beautiful – Senegalese people certainly sing/play beautiful music, whether it’s Christian hymns or traditional African songs. It was a long service, like mass tends to be I guess, so we didn’t get back to the regional house until 12:30 or even later. We were all quite tired to say the least.

Here’s Mollie (on the left) and Jen (2 other new PCVs like me) showing off the wonderful Christmas tree and snowflakes they made to decorate our house:

Christmas morning involved cleaning the kitchen and all the dishes from the previous day (washing machines are such a luxury…), and once everything was clean, we started making everything dirty again by making a delicious breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon (this such a terrific treat since none of us have had any pig products since coming to Senegal – Muslim people don’t eat any pig products so since nearly everyone is Muslim, we haven’t had any bacon or pork or anything like that since coming to Senegal), and three types of pancakes: plain, banana cinnamon, and apple cinnamon (all the crushed apple bits left over from making apple cider the night before).

After breakfast, which was late as in typical Senegalese style, we played a game of telephone Pictionary, which was absolutely hilarious. Then we all scattered to do our separate things – I was able to Skype with my family and a few friends, which is always really great.

Since the main part of our day involved cooking and eating, we had a wonderful lunch of homemade tomato soup and gourmet grilled cheese. During breakfast we had all noticed that Santa had indeed made it to Kaolack, Senegal – each of us had a little bag of wrapped goodies “because everyone should have something to open on Christmas.”

Santa’s helper turned out to be another PCV, Mollie, though she wouldn’t admit it until we really pressed the issue.

Before dinner we had an interesting appetizer of deep-fat-fried onion rings, cheese cubes, cookies, sausages, and green beans – we had to try everything. Dinner was late, but not as late as we had actually originally thought, and it was delicious in our Christmas tradition here: honey-baked ham (yes, we splurged and got more pig), garlic mashed potatoes and gravy, almond-slivered green beans, canned corn, and millet bread (it was such a hit after Thanksgiving that Kenny made it again).

Dessert involved ice cream (another splurge item for us), pumpkin log, and left-over cookies from Christmas Eve. By that point we were all so stuffed moving was challenging. But American food is one of the things we all miss the most here – especially special food we’re used to having around the holidays – so it was great to be able to make such a variety of food and with such great company, too.

Even though I didn’t really get in the same “Christmas spirit” that I normally feel when I’m at home for Christmas, with all the Christmas ads on TV, shopping, Christmas lights and decorations, holiday parties, etc., it felt like Christmas here. I think that’s important – to really feel like it was Christmas here – because then I don’t feel so much like I missed Christmas back home, but that I just experienced a new and different Christmas. Several different links that were emailed to me helped me feel this Christmas spirit – one that was an electronic Christmas card St. Olaf made this year (first time ever, I think), one was an animation one of my friends made, and another was just a random website my dad got in an email and forwarded to me. They all made me incredibly nostalgic for snow and sledding, hot chocolate in Christmas mugs, big fluffy sweaters and hats and mittens and gloves, and listening to Christmas music while cuddled up in a blanket next the fire…oh Christmas in Minnesota. :)

St. Olaf’s 2009 (electronic) Christmas card:

My friend, Michelle’s, Christmas animation:

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