(Dec. 30, 2008)
Readers of past blog entries will perhaps remember the naming ceremony we took part in the first week in training village. It was a minor affair, but we have often been told of the splendor of the real thing. So Monday, Whitney and I don our full African garb and made the 1/2 hour bike ride over the undulating hills and devastated pavement to Jiroff, where the real thing was going down.
We arrived in the village around 9:30 amid the shouted greetings of children in Mandinka and Pulaar--the language of the Fula people. Jiroff is split down the middle to divide the two ethnic groups a la West Side Story, minus the dance fighting. We came to our friend Jes' hut, but we was bathing so we moved on to Jasmin's place. Her host brother and his friends were sitting outside and we chatted for awhile, wondering when things would start. We had been told 10, but not much seemed to be going on. After Jasmin and Jes had both changed into their Compleats (matching outfits) we hung out in Jes' hut to avoid the mob of children outside loudly yelling for candy, pens, or bottles. At one point I got annoyed enough to try running out and chasing them away, but that, as everything, became a game, and they returned to the door shortly after I went back inside.
Suddenly the beating of bidongs (water/oil jugs) filled the air and we were taken by Jes and Jasmin's teacher, Ida, to a compound in the center of the village. Ida and the girls found a spot on a nearby mat, but I was told to sit with the men. An ancient man in massive sunglasses and a deep blue robe bade me sit next to him. I shook his right hand, noticing it was the only one he possessed, and made small talk in Mandinka as I was able. Sometime during this conversation, I realized that I was surrounded by craggy old men in colorful clothes--one with massive cataracts, another with bare feet mummified with dust, a gaping hole where one big toenail should be. They boxed me in on all sides, leaning against me, and talked loudly and boisterously in Pulaar, occasionally throwing a word or two in Mandinka my way.
Then, things started happening. The drumming and clapping reached fever pitch as teh mother and child were encircled by a mob of singing revelers. A wizened old man in a white hat and purple robe produced a stainless steel razor and began carefully shaving the tiny brown scalp. While this went on, several young men in football jerseys and counterfeit Sean Johns pulled a ram into the center of the compound, just to the right of the clapping, gyrating mob.
Two of them grabbed the beast's legs and pulled them out from under it, laying it on its side, bleating loudly. Yet another old man in deep blue robes approached the animal with a long, sharp knife. Amidst the roar of the dance and the singing of the women, the last frantic shrieks and gurgles of the ram as it's throat is cut are all but drowned out. It attempts to thrash and kick its way out from under the weight of the grown men gradually fade to a series of twitches and a long shudder.
The men stand, releasing the ram, whose last remnants of life are draining out of its body along with the puddle of blood forming under its neck. All the while the chattering of the old men surrounds me, mingling with stamps and claps and cheers from the women. Suddenly, the ram is alive again, its leg rearing back and kicking in a violent reflex action, and an old man is speaking to me and I'm trying to respond and the the one armed man leans over me, his empty left sleeve brushing my face, and the ram thrashes violently again and there is laughter and music and shouting and life in the air and death on the ground...and suddenly the most difficult thing about being here is explaining it to you, because you're not here.