I've mentioned that I still don't know how the 17 people in my family are all related. There are many reasons for this. First of all, it's considered rude to ask people directly how many children they have. It is not strange for children to call their parents by their first names, or, alternatively, to call relatives who are not their biological parents "Mother" and "Father." Husbands and wives don't typically wear rings, nor do they publicly show any affection. Women always keep their family surname. And oftentimes in villages like mine, the husband lives and works off in a bigger city and only comes to visit on major holidays -- so a woman may be married and you wouldn't even know it, although she will live with the husband's family. And similarly, children from very small villages without a school often go to live with relatives where there is one. Thus, you can see where my difficulty arises... I have learned some helpful hints, though, such as the fact that many children are given their father's first name as their middle name. This is how I discovered that Fatimata Samba is the daughter of Samba. But then there is the practice of a mother and father giving their child two totally different names. That same child is called Fatimata by her father (and everyone else), but her mother calls her Mariam. Confused yet??
In any case, I got to meet a few new family members to add to the mess during the Tabaski celebration the week of December 8th. It was nice to be off from school for a few days and to eat some good food. Banafe is my favorite dish -- a mutton stew with big chunks of potato. I also had a very traditional outfit made, which really impressed my family. They gushed, "When you wear that in America, everyone will say you are so beautiful!" I don't know, you be the judge:
I gave my Trimester 1 final exams this week, and now my vacation has officially begun! I am headed tomorrow to our national capital, Nouakchott, to spend Christmas at the country director's house with all of Peace Corps Mauritania. Then my friends and I will travel back down to PK7 to visit our host families from training this summer. After that we will ring in the new year with a few days in Saint-Louis, Senegal -- the land where alcohol is not illegal! ;) And finally, all the first-year PCVs will be back in Nouakchott for our five-day Early Term Reconnect conference. I won't be back in my village until January 10th. I am much looking forward to these amazing couple of weeks spent with friends (and electricity and running water and showers and real beds)!
Are you familiar with this song "Do They Know It's Christmas Time At All?" It was a collaboration of musicians for Band Aid, raising funds to eradicate poverty worldwide. U2's Bono was the driving force behind it, and while I respect him and appreciate his efforts, I find this song so absurd. "And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas..." No, there won't, but there won't be any in Austin, TX, either. Is it less of a Christmas? "Do they know it's Christmas time at all?" No, Bono, I'm here to tell you they don't -- but did you know it was Tabaski?
True, there won't be snow, but there just might be rain -- which is nearly as unexpected! The wet season here runs from July to October, and it is very rare for any rain to fall outside that time. But a few nights ago, I was awoken in the night by a distinct pitter-patter on my roof (and by the grumpy goats outside my wall, unhappily stirred from their slumber). And my first thought was -- it's not possible! It's a Christmas miracle!
And so, may your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases... be wet.