The Gambian women work hard, but they also love a good celebration. Living in the village this wimpy tubaab had the opportunity to spend the entire day at several events and attempt to party like a Gambian. The ladies all outlasted me and I did a lot of sitting while they danced and worked. The main ceremonies or parties in this culture are an Ngente (baby naming ceremony on the 7th day after a child is born), Takka (marriage ceremony and celebration) and Ceet (second part of a marriage ceremony, kind of like an American wedding reception but it can be many months or even years after the Takka). I was able to spend an entire day at each of these during my month in the village.
The Ngente was for a family member of the host family I stayed with and I was able to attend with my new Gambian family. We arrived about 10am and many people had already been there for hours cooking and setting up (the cooking prep started the day before). Immediately upon our arrival, the tubaab was given a huge bowl of breakfast porridge (they wanted to make sure the wimpy tubaab kept her strength up). My host family was very worried about me during this event and checked in regularly to make sure I was getting enough food and drinking enough water. After quickly eating breakfast we found that the first part of the celebration, a religious ceremony that involves naming the baby and shaving his head was at another compound on the other side of town. The group I was with wanted to go to the other ceremony and bring the wimpy tubaab, but was very worried about me walking so far. After my repeated reassurances that I would be ok off we went. It was about a mile long walk and they kept making me stop to take breaks and drink water while they cruised along in their high heels through the mud and puddles. When we arrived, the party was very crowded and the first thing they did was set off in several directions to find the wimpy tubaab a chair. We sat and chatted while the ceremony was going on and then walked back to the other compound again with much worry on their part about my strength. I admit the walk back was hot and I was tempted to take a ride in the car that was offered, but I decided to be stubborn and prove I could walk it). When we arrived back at the original compound the tubaab was given more food; hospitality is very important and they found me a place to sit in the shade. Several of the ladies set about making tea, dancing and pitching in to help cook while the wimpy tubaab sat in the shade drinking water. The mother of the baby arrived with a great flair of drums, singing, dancing and suitcases full of gifts and then unfortunately, the rain started. Of course, the wimpy tubaab was ushered inside and given a chair in a dry place while several people tried to wait out the storm under a tree and then on the porch. Meanwhile, the cooks had to move the huge cooking pots to another cooking area and scramble to get the food done. It rained and rained and rained which made for an interesting and challenging party. I sat and chatted while people ran around trying to take care of the wimpy tubaab and give me more food!!! We stayed at the party until about 8pm and it was a great time. Some things are the same in America and in The Gambia, the husband was ready to go home a lot earlier than 8pm (this is really a party for the ladies), but in this case he had two wives who both wanted to stay so he was definitely outnumbered. The wimpy tubaab who was having a nice time and enjoying all that I was observing and learning refused to vote when he asked if I wanted to go home earlier. Once arriving back at our house, the co-wives set to work cleaning the compound and I crashed and was in bed by 8:30pm. I don’t know how they keep going and going.
Next up was a Ceet, now I thought I was more prepared and understood a little better the concept of spending the whole day at an event, but this wimpy tubaab was wrong. I went with some villagers that I had met during my visits. I met up with them at 9am and we rushed over to the party to see the arrival of the bride at her new home (rumor had it she was supposed to arrive between 9am and 10am). Cooking was well under way and they recruited the tubaab to stir the pot and peel garlic and onions. After waiting for the bride for many hours people were getting a little restless, so when you live in Africa you find some metal bowls and plastic pans to use as drums and hands, spoons or flip flops to beat them with and the dancing begins. (I will try to load the video to my Facebook page). Again, I sat and observed while these ladies who had been cooking for hours in the hot sun danced and danced and danced. Around 3:30 pm the bride finally arrived and food was quickly served after a dance off between her family and the husband’s family. Yes, the tubaab was served first and given my own bowl and place to eat in the shade. Upon the brides arrival she and her family are presented with many gifts including a bed (carried in on people’s heads), two goats, material for clothing, pans and food for the dinner feast (I did not take a picture of the cow head off to the side, but you can see the bowl with the rest of the cow). Now, it takes hours to cook so I was wondering what they were going to do with all this food. Silly me, of course we were going to work and keep cooking. So, about 25 women set to peeling huge sacks of potatoes and onions (while I watched, they wouldn’t let me help) and another dozen got the fires going and the pots ready to cook (they did let me help with this a little). The cooking was interspersed with dancing and lots of chatting and not once did they look tired or grumble about the cooking (although there definitely were lots of people giving their input on how to cook). The bride arrives veiled (the details of this ceremony are very secretive) and she was prayed over and unveiled then went to change and have her hair done. Several hours later she returned with much celebration and by now dinner was almost ready (um, it was 10pm!). This wimpy tubaab was exhausted and the Gambians were dancing away. I ate a quick dinner and someone walked me home at 10:45 and then she returned to the party. Let’s just say I slept well and yes felt like a wimp, but I had a great time and wonderful learning experience.
Last up was a Takka, silly me, I really thought I could hang in there with The Gambians on this event as it was near where I was staying and worst case I could go home for a short break in between all the work. The woman that invited me to this event was kind of the party planner so I tagged along to “help” her do the set up and work. I decided to arrive a little later around 10:30 am and upon my arrival of course a chair in the shade was found for the wimpy tubaab. Now my friend the party planner needed to deliver breakfast to the husband’s family and I went along to “help”. Several ladies took turns carrying a huge, heavy bowl of food on their heads and they did allow me to carry a small pitcher of milk. We walked about 1 ½ miles to the husband’s compound and delivered breakfast. Now, in The Gambia delivering of breakfast is not just dropping it off it is accompanied by much singing and dancing. Before walking the 1 ½ miles back to the other compound we stopped off to do a little gardening (as if the walk wasn’t enough work). Well, we got back and I had just settled in the shade to drink some water when the party planner said she needed to go back to the other house again. Ok, I was trying to hang in there and be tough so I went along to “help” again. This time we were getting a cooking pot and as I stared at the huge and heavy cooking pot silly me wondered how we were getting this the 1 ½ miles back to the other compound. Well, of course the strong Gambian woman is going to carry it on her head! Upon our return I again settled in the shade and when 10 minutes later she said she was going back again this time I wimped out and decided to stay put. The women took turns helping out with the cooking while I sat and chatted. The bride returned from the ceremony at the mosque and then walked to the husband’s compound accompanied by much singing and dancing. I followed along to take some pictures walking the 3 miles round trip yet again (by now I was really wishing I had used the car). When I returned I was recruited to “help” a little with the cooking and then we waited for the bride to return and “lunch time”. By now it was 6pm and yes, the wimpy tubaab was starving. This party continued, but there was still a second evening portion of the party at a different compound to come and I needed a quick nap. After a short nap, bucket bath and change of clothing I went to the evening portion of the party. Before I arrived I could hear the loud music and horns so I knew these tough Gambians were still hanging in there. Honestly, I was exhausted when I arrived at this party around 9:30 pm and planned to only stay a short time. I hung in there for a couple of hours, but I heard the party going (from my bed) until 4:30 am!!! The wimpy tubaab failed again at keeping up with these hard workers and partiers most of whom were up at 6am the next day starting the many tasks around the compound. Speaking of working hard, my next entry will share some of my adventures with a seller at the market and her hard work in trying to make money for her family.