Esther lives in a Bomu village 97km (60 miles) from San and in honor of the tastiest party of the year we decided to visit her village and workplace (she is a health volunteer and works with malnutrition and vaccination programs at the local health center) before biking the 60 miles into San. Tuesday morning, after meeting Esther's closest Malian friends and teaching an English lesson (numbers and days of the week) to a crowded classroom of eager 7th graders, we set out early to conquer the paved road into San. With a water and millet drink break in Cassie's village which is on the way, we made it into San in a little over 6 hours. While I would (unbiasedly) wager that biking 60 miles is a pretty impressive feat for most, Esther's dedication to Guinea Fowl Trot and Treat 2009 is made all the more outstanding considering she only learned how to ride a bike last year within the confines of our training compound in Bamako; way to go Esther!
mid-way through our ride at Cassie's site - the millet drink is in the silver bowl and was delicious - thanks Banta!
As we pedaled our tired bodies into San it became apparent that the holiday spirit had slipped ahead of us and into the streets of San. Bustling vendors perched on wobbling stools, pushy on a normal day as they hawk their goods, called out even louder from their roadside spaces shaded by fraying beach umbrellas as we rolled by. A parade of braying donkeys and horses streamed into San alongside us, straining under the weight of wagons overflowing with eager Malian shoppers, goats and sheep. Tarps laid stretched out on patches of unoccupied dirt and gravel to display the latest in Malian fashion: stretchy head-wraps for women, leather sandals for men, bonnets and miniature sandals for kids heaped in piles. While Malians have an incredible affinity for Barack Obama no matter his progress on American health care, they have not adopted the most wonderful American holiday of the year -Thanksgiving- as a holiday but were instead out in force to celebrate the most important holiday of the Muslim year - Eid-el-Kabir or Tabaski. I learned more about the meaning of Eid-el-Kabir by reading an article noting the parallels of the two holidays and the rare occasion when they fall at the same time of year (Tabaski is celebrated a little over 2 months after the end of Ramadan - each of which depend on the cycle of the moon). Eid-el-Kabir is a celebration of the intervention of God when Abraham prepared to sacrifice his own son, Ishmael, but instead killed a ram. (Shouldn't we all celebrate this holiday?? Doesn't it signify the end of human sacrifice?!?) It was fun to share in the festive spirt in market alongside Malians as we haggled with the best of them for guinea fowl, potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes and new shoes for our dress-up outfits even if they were for different parties!
San-kaw (l-r) Caitlin, Bradley, Patience, me, Cassie, Ryan and Esther)
While our Thanksgiving celebration in San was an intimate one, we made up for our lack in numbers with a truly quality feast. Cassie, in true West Coast style, slaved away in the kitchen as she constructed homemade crusts for all our pies (apple, pumpkin and cheesecake) in addition to rolls from scratch and her signature corn pudding. I prepared the green beans, sweet potatoes and Oreo pudding while the boys, Ryan and Bradley, made mashed potatoes and carved the meat. We bought pre-cooked guinea fowls (like a chicken but more feisty and harder to catch) from a meat-seller in San and relished in the processed-ness of Stover's stove-top stuffing sent in great quantity from loved ones back home. My mom and Memaw also made sure our event would be celebrated in true Karison style by sending hot pepper jelly, black olives, festive plates, napkins and an accordion Turkey centerpiece; thank you Mom and Memaw! After filling our bodies with traditional Thanksgiving dinner and our conversations with traditional topics (best road trip, quirky family traditions, favorite holiday foods) we invited Malian friends over to share in our abundant desserts and the meaning of Thanksgiving. With Cassie's friends from a local NGO, mine from a restaurant I like in San and Patience's pastor, we talked in between bites of pie about the upcoming AIDS day concert and soccer game in San, how Americans like sugary things (which led to talks of hypertension and diabetes), the meaning of our Malian names and traditions in America.
please note the accordion turkey at far left and fall-themed plates :)
As the half-moon rose and twinkling stars blinked above our open-air dessert, the paper cloth sent by a returned volunteer ceremoniously caught fire from a melting candle. While the flames were quickly brought under control with the remains of water glasses I looked around and, in spite of the mini-blaze, smiled at our celebration. From biking 60 miles to shopping for the Thanksgiving meal in the outdoor market to sharing leftovers the morning after, Guinea Fowl Trot and Treat 2009 brought the comforts of American tradition to Mali as we shared the best American holiday amongst Malians preparing for the most celebrated Muslim holiday.
our tablecloth in flames - don't worry, i waited till it was doused out to take a picture -the fire here is the candles still burning
see more pictures from the bike ride and Thanksgiving feast here