Accessibility links

Breaking News

Many Senegalese Journey to Home Villages for Muslim Holiday

Some Muslims without enough money to make the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, travel to their home villages to celebrate the holiday of Eid al-Adha. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's West Africa Bureau on one man's 17-hour journey to join his family near the border between Senegal and Mauritania.

Doudou Ndiaye climbs onto the bus after negotiating cabin space for his luggage.

He borrowed the $24 for the roundtrip to his mother's home village of Ourossogui to celebrate the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha, known as Tabaski in Senegal.

He says that the holiday is very important to him, and that on Tabaski, there is really no place to be other than with family. No matter how difficult it is financially, he says he knew he had to find a way home.

Though Ndiaye speaks some French, on the bus he speaks Pular with others. He and many others from his ethnic group have two lines etched into their temples, identifying them as Pular.

Passengers pile rolled up prayer mats into the bus's storage bin. Some bring bags of onions and other ingredients to prepare the traditional meal of sheep they will have with their families.

Seventeen hours, two drivers and more than 700 kilometers later, the bus crosses a desert dotted with mosques, sparse vegetation and a sign announcing that Ourossogui is two kilometers away.

Upon arriving, Ndiaye's 60-year old mother greets him where she lives with her two younger brothers and their families, and Ndiaye's younger sister.

Ndiaye sits in front of his mother's house as neighbors stop by to say hello.

His childhood friend and now primary schoolteacher, Babacar Sow, crosses the sandy road that divides their homes.

"I feel very, very, very happy when I see him. Because it is a long time that I have not seen him. I have only seen him once a year, during Tabaski day only," said Ndiaye. "He has here his mother. He comes on Tabaski to do the holiday with his family. We grow up together."

Ndiaye does not move much from his stool on the porch until the morning of Tabaski on Sunday.

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, Ndiaye is still sleeping as his aunts prepare for the long day of events.

They clear debris from the sandy ground, and chop bags of onions to marinate the traditional meal of sheep they will have in a few hours.

On Tabaski Sunday, the men in the village leave the women at home cooking and put on their ornate long tunics and flowing pants, known as boubous, to attend morning prayers.

The town's religious leader, Imam Abdou Ly, sits in front of a town plaza crowded with hundreds of men who are here to attend the morning prayers, which mark the official beginning of Tabaski.

They sit on their prayer mats as the official opening prayers of Tabaski are sung. The imam's Arabic sermon recounts the day when one of Islam's prophets, Ibrahim, was willing to sacrifice his son for God, but then was given a sheep to sacrifice instead.

After the morning prayers, this biblical sheep sacrifice will be played out in millions of homes of Senegalese Muslims, or at least those who have the money to buy a sheep.

When they return to his mother's house, Ndiaye's uncle effortlessly kills the sheep that cost him $60.

Ndiaye uses aluminum siding as a cutting board to prepare the meat for a meal that they will then share with neighbors.

His sister grinds pepper corns, cubes of seasoning, salt, and then hand mixes the paste in with onions cut from the morning.

She squeezes a bag of mustard over the onion mix, setting it aside to fry with the sheep in the cast iron pot now bubbling over the flames.

In the evening, children celebrate the end of 2006 with firecrackers. Though Tabaski falls on the 31st this year, the Muslim new year will not be celebrated for another month.

The date of Tabaski is based on the Islamic lunar calendar and falls 10 days after Hajj, the annual pilgrimage Muslims make to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, if they have the money.

Guided only by flashlights and the near-full moon, Ndiaye and his nephew visit his great aunt.

After exchanging a long wish of good health, Ndiaye says the traditional Tabaski prayer that God will protect his great-aunt until next Tabaski, and for many holidays afterwards.

In recent years, Ndiaye has lost his father, his older brother, cousin and a good friend. He says that it was God's will. He hopes for a safe Tabaski season before next year's trip home to Ourossogui.