Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Korité and Site Placements

a glimpse of the new moon
 Korité Eve (09.Sep  2010)

We returned to our training villages on the afternoon of the Eve of Korité, although no one was actually sure whether or not Korité would be the next day yet.  This holiday marks the end of Ramadan and is as big and as much anticipated as Christmas.  The Marabou of each Muslim brotherhood* looks to the sky on the 28th day of Ramadan in search of a glimpse of the new moon.  This happens at sunset when people are breaking fast, hopefully for  the last time.  When and if he sees the moon, Korité is declared and is celebrated the next day.  Because each brotherhood’s Marabou declares Korité, however, the holiday sometimes falls on different days across Senegal, which apparently happened last year and caused all sorts of confusion and scheduling conflicts throughout the country.

This particular evening, however, the clouds had broken after a raining afternoon and the sky was fairly clear,  The streets and rooftops of my neighborhood were crowded with people searching the western sky for a sighting.  When they saw a sliver of the moon there was cheering, laughter, and dancing in the streets.  The kids acted as if they’d seen Santa Claus flying through the sky, which I guess, in their own way, they had.  Immediately thereafter, everyone rushed inside to watch Koranic television with interviews about the sighting and wise words from the Marabous about the end of Ramadan.

After dinner, my 12-yr old brother Cheikh, my 4-yr old sister Bébé Maty, and I rushed to the market to pick up a top that I was having altered for the big occasion.  The streets in the village were filled with people out celebrating and the town took on a new carnival-like vibe. I was immediately sorry we’d agreed to take the my little sister because I was afraid we’d lose her in the crowd.  The market in Thiès, earlier in the day, had been like this, too.  Everyone was out buying last minute things needed to make their holiday more festive, like gaudy hair extensions, shiny new shoes, and live chickens.  We made it safely to the tailor’s shop and waited for an hour while he filled the last of his Korité orders.  This is the busiest time of year for tailors as everyone--men, women, and little children alike--all get new clothes for the celebration, or so I was told.

Korité (10 Sept 2010)

I slept in the morning of Korité, since it was just the 2nd day since arriving in Senegal that I did not have any classes.  When I walked out of my room, I noticed Cheikh in a penned in area in our courtyard talking to his  “new pet chickens” that mysteriously arrived the day before.


When I arrived back at my host-family’s house yesterday afternoon and noticed the presence of 3 chickens in our courtyard, I knew that they were not our new pets, but likely, very soon our celebratory dinner.  Having raised chickens myself, albeit only for eggs, and having seen the many chickens being carried around by their wing-pits for sale in the market the day before, I knew how this story would end.  So, as I was headed back to my room from the toilet, I stopped to watch Cheikh as he grabbed his first victim and reminded myself that I am not here in Senegal to change the customs of my hosts (a mantra I often repeat to myself.)  The killing was not exactly swift, but well-practiced.  Cheikh turn the hen on its side, stepped on it’s feet with one barefoot and it’s wings with the other and hung its head over a hole in the sandy earth he had dug just moments before.  Using a very dull knife (this is where the lack of swiftness comes in), he proceeded to cut the chicken’s throat and drain its blood into the hole.  As he grabbed the next one, the third chicken high-tailed it out of the pen.  Acting instinctively, I threw down the basket of toiletries I was holding and cornered the hen in the courtyard with my skirt to keep it from escaping.  Cheikh smiled proudly and came out to fetch his last victim, my dinner.
After this, my sister-in-law, Fatou, came out to take over from there.  AGAIN, IF YOU WANT TO BAIL OUT HERE, NOW’S YOUR SECOND CHANCE……I sat down next to her and we plucked, gutted, and cleaned chickens for about 2 hours.  First, she poured ladles full of hot water over the birds to loosen their feathers.  This was fairly effective and I’m sure made the job easier, but it was definitely labor-intensive, regardless.  Next, we held the chickens over a propane gas fire to burn off the really small hair-like feathers.  Then, using that same dull knife we cut open the carcasses and pulled out the insides.  We kept the livers, hearts, and stomachs (emptying these out of course) and through the rest in the bucket with the feathers and now-resident flies.  Next, we washed the birds, which I was beginning to fear would not be one of our steps.  Fatou stepped away to fetch her bar of soap (the very same one she uses to bath with.).  When she returned, she cut off pieces from a plastic mesh rice bag for each of us to use as scrub brushes and we soaped and scrubbed the birds until they were spic and span.


preparing the Korite meal

So the big meal of the day on Korité is lunch and we had this lovely chicken dish that I helped prepare.  We fried some chicken, and made pommes frites (French fries).  We then cut a couple of kilos of onions and marinated them in vinegar, oil, black pepper, and crushed Maggi and Dolci seasoning cubes (a necessary ingredient in all Senegalese dishes).  These were sautéed and it was all served together on a big platter and eaten with torn off pieces of baguettes.  Greasy, but good (and not Thieboudienne).

Cheikh sportin' his Grand Boubou
While we were cooking, my little brother donned his best grand bou-bou and went to the grande mosque to pray.  The rest of the day was kind of lazy, but we had a lot of visitors.  All of the men who’d been lounging around for the past month came out of the woodwork and stopped by in their bou-bous to say hello to the family.  Apparently, Korité is a holiday for making amends with your friends and neighbors and forgiving any bad blood between them.  I’m not sure how much of that went on today, since it was all conducted in Wolof.  In the early evening the young kids get dressed up and go door-to-door asking their neighbors for money.  So the holiday is kind of like Yom Kippor, Halloween, and Christmas all rolled into one.

The bedroom dinner hosts
So all day long, with the exception of my little brother who had gone to the mosque, everyone was wearing their everyday clothes.  The visitors all donned their new threads, but my family was still just hanging out in their regular house-work quality pagnes (wrap skirts). Later in the evening, Fatou and her husband (my uncle) Darou, who were married earlier in the year, got decked out to have some friends over for dinner.  Since families all live together, when just one couple wants to entertain, they do this in their bedrooms.  So Fatou and Darou had about eight people piled into their modest sized room with a tablecloth spread out on the queen-sized bed.  I suspect they were wearing the same clothes they’d been married in.  

 As the rest of the family sat down on the outdoor mat to eat a meal of left-over beans and bread from the evening before (as I mentioned, lunch is the big Korité meal), my family all encouraged me to go put on the outfit that I’d had made specially made for the occasion.  There was a lot of build-up to this at the Peace Corps training center and everyone had had clothes made.  Somehow, at this point, with the day almost over, all of the visitors having come and gone, and no one else in the family dressed for the occasion (aside from the entertaining newlyweds tucked away in their rooms), it seemed kind of pointless, so I politely declined and am saving my outfit for the next grand fête.

Site Selection

Just before heading back to our training villages for Korité, we all found out where our permanent site placements will be once we’re sworn in as Peace Corps Volunteers in mid-October.  As per tradition and despite the rain, we were all blind-folded and placed on a map of Senegal painted on the basketball court.  You could hear voices of the people who were standing near you before the blindfolds were removed--that was kind of fun. My site will be the city of Diourbel (pronounced jer-belle) and is a pretty big city (130,000 people) located just an hour and a half’s drive east of Thiès.  I’m taking over my site from someone who is signing on for a third year and will be moving to Thiès to work with our Cross-Cultural Coordinator, so she’ll be a nearby resource for me.

Oh where oh where will we go?
Looks like I'm going to Diourbel

The Sunday after Korité, I was able to spend 4 days visiting with her in Diourbel so she could show me the ropes, introduce me to potential work partners and meet my new host family.   We just arrived back from there today and I am happy with where I’ll be living and working for the next two years.  Because it’s about 3 hours inland from the coast the weather is hotter but I am living in Africa, so I should just suck it up and anticipate being hot for the duration.  Rumor has it that the winter months are much more tolerable, so there is some relief.  Diourbel is in the peanut basin so the soil is really sandy, as is just about everything I put in my mouth to eat.  The fine sand catches the wind and lands on everything so, invariably, you end up eating quite a bit of it.

My new host family is not the conventional Senegalese family, but I’m going to be quite happy there.  My host dad, Ibou, is in his early 60s, loves Jazz music and gardening, and will also be my work counter-part.  My host mom, Khady, is in her late 40s, is “trés chic et moderne”, and is a fabulous cook.  She owns the house where I will live and works part-time for Baol Enviornment, an organization that is also headquartered in the house.  Ibou is its President, Khady is its Treasurer.  The organization focuses on finding and implementing sustainable, eco-friendly solutions to development and community-minded activities.  They collaborate with all of the women’s groups in the Diourbel region to provide training and organizational stability.  They also work with micro-financers and local artisans to support environmentally-friendly project work.  It should be a cool to work with this group and I look forward to living with Ibou and Khady.  Their French is great and they seem like really down-to-earth people.
Ibou is very techie and loves new gadgets (note new camcorder in his hands)

The terrace garden / afternoon lounging area

Khady master of the double-fisted fan

There’s a lot of work already established in Diourbel that I can jump into after I get there and have finished my Peace Corp training.  I’m looking forward to working on these and finding some new projects, as well.  I’ve already lined up a French tutor so I can continue my language studies.  When we return to our training villages this weekend, I’ll be switching to Wolof lessons.  Wish me luck!
My new address is:
April Muñiz (Fatou N’Diaye)
B.P. 566
Diourbel, Senegal
West Africa  PAR AVION

List of  Fatous:

  • Fatou Sougou - name given to me by my host family in Tivaouane.  This is what people call my in the village.
  • Fatou Torré - my sweet midget aunt in Tivaouane where I'll continue living though mid-October
  • Fatou N’Dieye - my sister-in-law in Tivaoune
  • Fatou Sougou - deceased sister-in-law of my host-mother in Tivaouane and after whom I was named by my grandmother
  • Fatou Diop - nice lady who gives me my weekly allowance at the training center
  • Fatou N’Diaye - name given to me by my new host mother in Diourbel (freakish since she didn’t know my first host mother had named me Fatou).  This is what people will call me in Diourbel.  All future mail should include this name as well as my real name since that's what the Post Office will know me as.
  • Fatou N’Diaye - deceased sister of my host mother in Diourbel
  • Fatou Baldé - my new supervisor in Diourbel
  • Fatou Kebe - woman who owns a tailor shop that is interested in some business training
  • Fatou Mbacke Ngome - woman who owns a small food stand who is interested in some business training
  • Fatou Kane - Director of a school where I will be teaching basic accounting classes
So, basically every 10th person I meet, including me, is named Fatou.
More from me later...love to all!





  1. What a grand adventure -- please keep the posts coming :)

  2. Love all of the details! Just got back to Cville last week and thinking of you often. Let me know when you are able to Skype! XOXO

  3. Wow! Very interesting, as always. I really like the glimpses into people's lives, and how open you are about your own reactions. I enjoy experiencing this with you vicariously, April.