Bom dia F3llows. Como ku shta?
I hope you all had good weekends wherever you may be. I certainly had an eventful one. A few quick notes to start off.
A) The rainy season is here! After not seeing/feeling precipitation of any sort since last September when I arrived in Dakar, the rains started here in Bissau four nights ago and have fallen every night since. The cooler temperatures and overcast mornings are great to wake up to. We will see how enthused I am when the torrents really start coming down and the streets get muddy, but for now it reminds me of summers back home.
B) Remember those Commonwealthers I told you about the other week? Well Jenny, the British one, has come back to Sadio’s for an extended visit. She is going to help out for a few weeks before heading back home in early June to start work. We have been trading travel stories and comparing Britishisms/Americanisms, and it’s been nice to have an Anglophone friend around again.
Conveniently enough, the day Jenny returned we were invited to witness/participate in a traditional, Balanta ceremony celebrating Mala’s nephew who recently passed away. While the burial itself had already taken place a week ago, this ceremony seemed to be more of a celebration of life than a mourning of death as it was a very lively party with several animal sacrifices, plentiful drinking, traditional drumming and dancing, and endless music blasting throughout the night and well into the next morning.
Upon arriving in the village of Incheia after a tedious set of rides in transporte mixto (public transport), we were quickly absorbed into the festivities. Dozens of men and women from the village had gathered and were marching down to the riverside, singing and dancing along the way, with six cows in tow that were to be sacrificed in honor of the young man who had passed. It was later explained to us that the cows are given a final drink of water and painted with mud as an homage to their close relationship with the river before they must meet their fate. Mud is also painted on the faces of those participating in the ceremony, and it was within only a minute of getting to the riverbank that we had some face-paint of our own. From there we returned to the house of the father of the deceased, where a pack of mostly men danced/chanted around in a circle carrying the older brother of the deceased on their shoulders. Gifts of fabric and drink were bestowed upon the family including the sacrifice of all six cows right there in the front yard. Celebrating Tabaski back in Dakar had been a primer on animal sacrifice/butchering for me, but cows are much larger animals than sheep, and seeing six get slaughtered right in front of us was pretty strong stuff. Jenny and I were then handed some leafy boughs and pulled into the fray to dance around to the consistent beat that was being played out on two, massive, hollowed out logs. Eventually we were ushered out of the sweaty, dusty pack and offered a delicious dinner. As the sun set the traditional dancing and drumming made way for more contemporary music (you just can’t get away from Rihanna no matter how far you go) blasting out of huge speakers run off a generator. Plentiful drink was offered to us, including Carolais – a favorite, local brew. I think it could be best described as melted black-raspberry ice cream with alcohol in it. Apparently the actual ingredients include milk, red wine, sugar and cana – sugar cane alcohol. While I may be a fan of some good homemade egg-nog (another dairy-alc. mix), warm, purple milk with a kick seems like a bad idea so I generally take it easy on the stuff. We danced along with the other revelers well into the night but called it quits around 2AM and retired to our tent that had been set up in a “room” that had been made out of branches around a mango tree. The party, however, continued on, with music blaring throughout the night; it wasn’t until I finally conceded that I wasn’t going to get any more sleep at 7AM that the generator ran out and the music finally turned off. Exhausted from the previous day, we spent most of Sunday napping and eating beef (what else?), before packing up and heading back to Bissau in the afternoon.
The main takeaway from the weekend: when I die, throw a party for me.
Life comes and goes here frequently, in a way that can seem startling for someone coming from a “developed” country. Because of this however, I find that people here have a much more level perspective on the fragility of life and in turn look to celebrate it fully. With births and deaths occurring more commonly here, I think I have come to recognize them both as the phases of life that they are, as opposed to seeing death and the opposite of life.
Paz from Bissau,
N.B. One of the pictures from the weekend below shows a cow being slaughtered.