At the turn-off to Podor, a village at the banks of the Senegal river in Northern Senegal, washed-out signs announce half a dozen different organisations with lengthy acronyms. AHMP (Association handicapé motorique de Podor), Maison FED etc. A battered pick-up fitted with benches in the back is waiting for people returning from the market that has been taking place at Tereji, on Senegal’s No 2 Highway. Over the next days we understand why they went all the way to the highway 30 km away to buy food.
After a lengthy walk around town we finally check into the guest room at the Maison de la Femme. The “House of the Woman” once obviously was an ambitious project – a purpose-built meeting place with a large seminar room and guest rooms. A badge on the house wall indicates the formation of a women’s mutual savings association, but the compound is deserted and overgrown now, and the room has not been cleaned for weeks or even months. Furthermore, we have the occasional cockroach as our roommate. The family in charge of the keys – and entitled to receive the rent – lives next door: In a pleasant courtyard Deck chairs are arranged, and a boy just opens a laptop computer.
Foray into the market
Since we are always hungry since we have left Dakar and come to Northern Senegal, we venture into the market. At this time of the day it is in full swing: About 20 women in voluptuous robes sell fish. A few others have a bowl of mint leaves placed in front of them or a napkin with small piles of pumpkin or carrot cubes.
Each heap of three or for cubes costs about 10 or 20 cents – most buyers apparently can not afford a whole carrot. Shops in the wooden huts around sell onions, potatoes, milk powder and concentrated tomato paste by the spoon. Twice a day the bakery offers fresh and very tasty baguette, but nothing else.
Tabaski or the festival of sacrifice (Eid al-Adha)
The Muslim holiday of Tabaski is near, and in front of every house and in every courtyard, a sheep or goat is lashed to a withered tree or an old tyre. The next morning, boys are bringing the animals for a bath in the River Senegal. While a little boat ferries passengers in bright orange life vests to Mauritania on the other side, they struggle in pairs to lead their white goats and sheep into the water, scrubbing them vigorously with soap. Men in colourful boubous are walking to the mosque with their sons. Little boys proudly carry their prayer mats.
By now, the only free space is in the uncovered street leading up to the mosque, where the Imam is going to cut a sacrificial sheep’s throat. It is a symbolic re-enactment of Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Isaak. When the prayer is over, everybody returns home.
In each courtyard there are a few animals awaiting their fate. Pits have already been dug in the soil to take up the blood. In some families, the pater familias does the work himself. If not, young men working in pairs are ready to seize the sheep and quickly draw their freshly sharpened knife across its throat. Children swarm after them, keen to watch but shocked when the blood suddenly spills out. The mother is holding down a dead but still kicking goat when the butchers have long moved to another courtyard. Apart from a woman selling small bananas, the market is deserted today, but the baker sells warm and fresh bread as always.
Moving on through Northern Senegal
Because of Tabaski, all transport in Northern Senegal has stopped,and we were stuck in Podor for three days. We found a much nicer room with balcony on the river side (sometimes even a W-LAN wafted through the air) and lived mainly on bread and bananas until transport started again and we could continue our journey.
NB: Our travels to Senegal were not sponsored in any way. We paid all expenses ourselves