AN UNFORGETTABLE CHRISTMAS IN SENEGAL
Bérangère, Laurent and their two children spent the Christmas holidays in the company of the villagers of the island of Ehidj…
We had reached the end of December. The Christmas vacation had begun, and all the young people who had left their families to travel far away since the start of the school year had returned home. In a matter of days, the la population of the village had doubled.
In Ehidj, as in most villages in Casamance, the population is Catholic. The celebration of Christmas is very important, an occasion for families to gather. Christmas mass is held on the morning of the 24th of December. For the occasion, we decorated the Chapel with paper stars and we brought along our little nativity. Most of the locals had never seen one.
In the afternoon, women were busy about the kettles preparing the dinner for Christmas Eve. On the menu: spaghetti and chicken.
According to tradition, on Christmas Eve, each family prepares a dinner at home. At dinnertime, the young people and children pass from home to home to devour the various meals prepared for them.
For us, the “toubabs,” a dinner was organised according to the wishes of the village chief, François. At the restaurant, Chez Léon, we would eat the meals that several women had prepared. The Senegalese spaghetti is a real delight! Afterward, an evening of dancing followed.
Seated around a fire, we chatted while the men drank Bounouk (palm wine). The music on the sound system was very loud and the dancing was frenzied. Late into the night, we returned to our Sun Shine 36, Zanzibar, with the children asleep in our arms.
Upon waking, the children’s eyes were bright with enchantment: Santa Clause had come! “Even on the boat!” remarked Blanche, who was afraid that he would not find his way to us. Before leaving, and in a hurry to meet our friends, we dressed in our tailored clothes made especially for the occasion. It was Christmas!
On this day, the entire village was gathered together. With our friends, we bought a pig to feed the entire village. The women were busy preparing the meal that would be served in fifteen or so large bowls. Seated on the ground, on a bucket or on a bench, we gathered into groups of 8 or 10 around a bowl. It was delicious; the pounded rice was served with a spicy onion sauce and grilled marinated pork.
After the meal, the women dressed in magnificent matching outfits. The men played the djembe. The women, in a half-circle facing each other, danced and sang. The party continued into the next day. In all, 70 kg of rice were consumed over the course of these festivities!
After the New Year, the departure for Casamance
The New Year’s celebrations took place a bit like those of Christmas, over the course of three days. Our children, more open and content than ever, roamed the village with their friends and played on the beach. But the end of the vacation had arrived for the local children, who had to return to school, far from the island and their families. For us, to, it was time to plan our departure.
Before leaving, we absolutely had to clean the hull, which was very dirty, the boat having remained in the water for ten months, and we had stayed in one place for some time without moving. On our travels, we noted that our top speeds were far from optimal. Here, no infrastructure allowed us to haul the boat out of the water, and with our two metres draught, it would be impossible to beach it. We had to bring our sailboat as close as possible to the coast, and then dive and scrape. Laurent was able to obtain help from twelve villagers to give us additional manpower.
After having made our provisions, we had to say our goodbyes in the village.
That was it, time for our departure, and a number of them accompanied us on the beach to embrace us and say farewell. You must shake the left hand, closest to the heart, to say that you will come back soon. The anchor was raised, and we were ready to go. Laurent took out the foghorn. On the beach, the men ran for the djembes to answer us. Overcome by emotion, we had tears in our eyes. The children were sad, too. Blanche said to us: “I would like to stay here all of my life and live here.”
We had to look toward the future and all the beautiful adventures still to come, as the voyage was far from over. We hope with all our hearts to draw the best from our experiences here, and we hope that upon our return to France, we will be able to put into practice the lessons that we have learned here in welcoming, sharing, authenticity and simplicity.
This evening we will anchor at the entrance to Casamance. We will leave tomorrow morning for Cape Verde, three-to-four days of sailing upwind after having spent over two months in the flat calm of Casamance. We hope to avoid seasickness…!