This time last year I was an unsure stranger in my village, barely out of training, spooking at all the noises in my hut and mefloquine dreaming them into monsters. No wonder that my Fete de Tabaski, known as the "Holiday of Mutton" was spent unspectacularly. Portents of great things to come- this year was entirely different.
I started out being woken at 6am by really loud drumming. I stumbled outside to see my host family not really doing anything, but out there. Drumming was from the compound over. I figured this part couldn't be that important, and I went back to sleep. 9am rolls around. I got into some nice Guinean clothes (this is a very important Muslim holiday, gotta look good) and went out armed with a knife on my belt
You probably all know the story of God, Abraham, and Isaac. Man asked by God to sacrifice his son as a testament of faith, Man about to do it, at the last second God says "it's cool bro just testing you." Well, after that comes the really important part. Abraham was allowed to sacrifice a sheep instead. So today, on Tabaski, everybody sacrifices sheep and goats, and everybody eats meat.
Now I'm not sure y'all understand the significance of that. Meat is ridiculously expensive and practically nobody in the village can eat it every day, let alone every meal. Most families don't eat it every week even. Think back to some 20th Century president whose name I forgot, but one of whose campaign slogans I still recall from history class: "a chicken in every pot on Sundays." (Was that FDR? How embarrassing that I've forgotten. Unless it wasn't FDR, then who cares). Meat every day is a modern phenomenon, and Tabaski is a highly anticipated ancient holiday.
I haven't explained what I was doing with that knife. Earlier in the week I'd asked one of my friends how I could get meat, since I wasn't sacrificing anything myself. Most of the time people receive a nice sack of meat from at least one friend or family member, but I wasn't taking any chances. (Turns out I'd get sacks of meat from 4 different people, 3 of whom I knew and 1 of whom I talked to for five minutes so today she gave me a sack of meat). Anyways, this friend of mine is a bit of a teller of tales, but his story was that you just have to walk around the village with a knife. When you see a dead animal being butchered, go up to it. Help. The family will give you a chunk of the meat.
Well, ok, I thought I'd try it. Armed with a knife, my dad's mutton recipe, and the vigor of youth, I set out in search of delicious delicious meat. I went over to my neighbor's house, and lo and behold! A goat, half chopped up. Well, these neighbors of mine are pretty awesome. Forgerants (blacksmiths) who have pretty friendly kids. I'm on good terms with them, but boy did today solidify our bond. They even invited me to come make a knife with them on Friday morning- score! Their oldest son was over- a smart guy from the capital, Conakry, not at all villageoise. We bonded over describing which cut of meat was currently being dismembered. And I got my knife dirty! And then they gave me a machete. And then a hoe. Turns out hoes break bones best. Morbid side-note: it is damned easy to snap a bone in half with a nice iron implement. I must have spent a good hour over there laughing, talking, and cutting. It was a really good time. The Diawaras are a really jolly family. Pics are coming
Eventually we got to the goat's heart. We cut it in half. They gave me half !!!
The first meat I've ever cooked, and it's probably the coolest meat ever. Heart that I helped cut out of the goat. There's something really viscerally satisfying about it all. Sorry to all my wonderful vegetarian friends! I spent some time eating with the Diawaras (they'd already cooked some of the earlier stuff mmmm liver!) and chatting with the guy from Conakry (on topics from development to certain cultures' beliefs that eating someone's heart gives you their power). Eventually it was time to move on. Unfortunately by then slaughtering hours were over.
I got a few other cuts of meat too, from them and others. I spent most of the day walking around to peoples' houses to say high, or applying my father's wisdom to turn the chunks of meat I'd cut up into something delicious. There were just too many people to visit though- I actually missed a couple important friends, just ran right out of time. I'll have to get them tomorrow. Hope they're not too offended. I called one and he said he's holding my portion of the meat for me hope that doesn't rot!
I tell you, Holidays are Holidays no matter where you go, and they always feel like home.