I write to you from inside my mosquito net, in the yard of the Boghé house. I hear: rap cassettes that neighbors blare loudly every night; the shuffling of feet and a pair of Pulaar voices (I can't hear the words, but the cadence is obvious); the insistent crickets; an occasional car whooshing by; a donkey braying in heaving gasps; the clip-clip of a horse's hooves pulling a cart on the pavement. It is late, past midnight. The moon is up, waning gibbous, which I can tell you without looking. Bailey, the house dog, is asleep at my feet -- if I'm fortunate, we'll make it through the whole night without her waking up and insisting to be let out of my tent. But probably not.
It's Saturday night, and Easter is tomorrow. That's why I'm in Boghé again, even though I was just here last weekend. On Thursday I mentioned to my host family that I was planning to head into town the next morning (weekends start on Friday, Muslim-style). "Tomorrow?!" They were incredulous. "No way, you'll never find a car." They proceeded to tell me that there was going to be a huge festival in Dar El, with mayors and village chiefs in attendance from many surrounding areas. There was to be music and singing and dancing and even theatre, they claimed. "Tons of people will be coming here," they vowed, "but no car will possibly be leaving."
But it's a religious holiday for Christians, I tried to tell them, very important. "Oh, I get it," they responded. "So you will eat lots of food! For three days!!" -- because that's what a religious holiday means to them. Food is part of it, I thought dryly, but so are photographs with gigantic rabbits, and joyful searches for chicken eggs -- oh, but not regular ones, ones that we've painted bright colors, and put candy inside of. Think these concepts will translate culturally?
As the idea sunk in that I might not be able to spend this special day with other PCVs as I had originally planned, I grew increasingly sad. I let my mind wander over memories of other Easters. When had I not been with family or close friends? When had I not been to church? It almost seemed like a cheap shot to try to pray to God to let me find a way to Boghé, like a "come on, I'm doing this for you!" But could I really spend it this year as just another day in my village, while everyone else goes about their business? The thought depressed me.
Not one to give up easily, I still got up before dawn on Friday to go sit by the road and search for a car. I'll spare you the gritty details, but let's just say not only did I find a car, but I made it to town in probably the fastest time ever. I was here by 8 AM. Alhamdulillah -- thank God!! (Is it sacrilege to say I actually thought, "It's an Easter miracle!")
So, we bought some eggs, blew out the yolks, decorated and dyed them (and dyed Bailey's tail baby blue). We will hide them tomorrow for a competitive big-kids hunt! Along with PCVs Yates and Mark, I've planned a nice little Easter meal. I have some canned turkey (about as close to ham as we can get in an Islamic republic). And thanks in part to American care packages, the menu will also comprise stuffing, mashed potatoes & gravy, okra casserole, buttered corn, bread, and jello. Can't wait! Right now I'm listening to a favorite playlist of "Jesus tunes"... so that's sort of like church? Take what I can get.
Quick school update, because I know I haven't mentioned it much lately. I feel like we're always on vacation -- which isn't far from the truth. Trimester 3 is underway, but not for long! The other trimesters lasted 12 or 13 weeks, but this one had already been cut short by over a month because of presidential elections scheduled for June 6th. (Since August this country has been run by a military usurper, do you recall?) But now, the buzz among teachers is that final exams will be pushed up even earlier. Essentially, I will probably only see each of my classes five or six times this whole trimester. It's crazy. And sad.
I have fun with them. Last week I taught agreeing and disagreeing vocab with my 4th-years. I offered some statements, which they could raise their hands and agree or disagree with. I started with generally accepted truths, like "Akon sings wonderfully" and "English is fun" (they agree emphatically!). Then I threw some curve balls: "Barack Obama is ugly." "To drink alcohol is good." These kids freaked out! "NO, TEACHER!! Sorry, but I disagree! That is NOT true!" You have to smile.
Pulaar and Hassaniya speakers alike refer to the school spring break with a French phrase, "la fête Pâcques." This literally means "the Easter holiday" (despite the fact that spring break was two weeks ago). I'm no Islamic scholar, but in my understanding Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet -- but not as one who rose from the dead to take away the sins of the world. So, they know the word Easter, but have no idea what it means.
Some things here are worth explaining, and others you just let go. "Yes," I told my family. "We will eat lots of food, for three days!"
Bonnes Pâcques à tous!