A Balaba Christmas Party

Even though The Gambia is mainly a Muslim country, the Christians here celebrate Christmas. The Muslims working in essential services like the police, the army and health care, stay on duty so their Christian colleagues can celebrate, (The Christians then return the favour at Tobaski, a big Muslim feast). This arrangement works well for everyone!

We usually have family visiting over Christmas itself, but our Christmas usually begins on 8th December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. This feast is mainly celebrated in the Roman Catholic church, and acknowledges the conception of Mary, mother of Jesus. For Christians in The Gambia, this is an important pilgrimage day, when thousands converge on the shrine at Kunkujang (near Brikama), for Mass. The family then come back here to spend the rest of the day together celebrating.

This year was no different!

The evening before the party, a couple of guys turned up with a pig that had been slaughtered, ready to be cooked the following day. Lamin put it in one of our store rooms, and early the next morning, one of the family arrived to begin preparing the pig. Traditionally, some of the pig gets grilled on the barbecue, and the rest is cooked in sauce and served with rice. Both ways are equally delicious!

Later in the afternoon, the rest of the family began to arrive, bringing with them extras to add to the food (like onions, vegetables, and condiments), soft drinks, and the all-important palm wine. All this had been organised prior to the day, so everyone knew exactly what to bring.

Everyone came wearing their best outfits, so I thought I’d better dress in something African for the occasion as well. Lamin offered to take a photo, and Saffie’s little boy was determined to be in the photo too. He’s getting quite an expert at posing for a photo, then running to you to take a look!

The women got together and began to slice the onions, mixing them with mustard, mayonnaise, black pepper and chillies.

A couple of men set up the grill and got the barbecue going – at one point it seemed there were more flames than anything else, but it did eventually settle down. The rest of the men sat and chatted while the food was being prepared.

A row of vultures sat on the roof and watched enviously. It always amazes me how quickly the vultures appear when we start preparing meat!

Someone began brewing green tea, and drinks were handed round. There was even squash and soft drinks for the children, which is a bit of a treat here. There’s often not enough money to run to luxuries like fizzy drinks or squash.

By now it was getting dark, so I couldn’t easily take any more photos, but that didn’t stop the festivities. Once the grill was ready, large bowls were distributed and we all sat round them to enjoy the pork. A bit later, the braised pork and rice was served in the same way, with several people eating out of one large bowl, which is the traditional way here.

People continued talking long into the night. I gave up around midnight and went to bed, but I heard rumour that some people were awake until three o’clock in the morning. Quite a few people decided to stay the night, either sleeping on mattresses or even in plastic chairs.

The following day, some people came back again, and we spent another great day chatting and celebrating under the trees. We finished up the leftover pork, and generally had a good time together.

We have a got some family coming for Christmas this year, but there’s also a big youth congress happening in Bakassouck (the island in Senegal where Lamin grew up), so most people are heading off straight after Christmas Day.

So now we’re looking forward to seeing family on Christmas Day. So I’ll end this post by wishing you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I’ve got a few posts lined up for the holiday season – I’ve been a bit too busy to write them up until now, but there’s lots to tell you!

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