Tuesday, 30 October 2012


So this weekend was Tabaski - the Malian word for Eid-al-Adha. Eid-al-Adha is the Muslim festival celebrating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his own son on God's command - for which he was rewarded by being given a sheep to sacrifice instead.

To commemorate this, every year sheep are slaughtered, with a prayer said as they are killed, and the meat eaten, with a portion given to the poor. The wider festival involves families visiting, sharing the meat, eating more meat. So to summarise: it's a big deal, and a lot of meat is eaten by all.

In the run up to Tabaski, the streets become gradually more and more full of sheep. You'll be driving along, and suddenly you have to stop because there's a herd of sheep in the way - think driving in the country in Wales, only in a city, and you get what I mean. And when you ask people about it, they're all excited, and you can't help getting excited too, even if it isn't your festival.

And this time, I was in luck - a colleague invited me to hers for some sheep. As I spent Eid-al-Fitr eating in a fairly depressing Chinese restaurant because it was all that was open, I jumped at the chance, and on Tabaski morning up I jumped to go across town to hers. Sadly, there was traffic, so I missed the actual sheep killing, but I ate a lot of sheep, which was good, and it was great to be part of it. By the evening, it was party time - huge queues outside all the clubs, and everyone out dancing and celebrating.And by the next day it was quiet, with only the massive, expensive sheep that no-one can afford to buy left standing - and the tiny ones, which people buy to bring up ready for next year.

Of course, because it's Mali, it has to be political too. A few taxi drivers complained that sheep were more expensive this year because of the crisis in the north. At first I assumed it was just taxi driver moaning (because some things are the same everywhere) but I asked a couple of colleagues about it, and it turns out it's true. A lot of the sheep come from the North, and the traders can't get down, so it's pushed prices up in the capital. And on top of that, the drought killed hundreds of animals - pushing prices up further. So prices are up by about 50%, and on top of everything that's hit people this year, a lot more of them can't afford a sheep. 

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