I was Shorn, the Sheep were Slaughtered

Johannes Raatz - Senegal


February 9, 2011

As the sheep were dragged out into the middle of the compound they somehow sensed their fate. They refused to walk willingly to their deaths. The men dragged them over by a leg or two and then tied them to metal stakes to keep them from running off.

As I heard the knife being sharped, I became more nervous for myself than the soon-to-be slaughtered sheep. My head was about to be shorn. By that, I mean that I was about to have my head shaved for the first time in my life. I really don’t have the right head shape for a shaved head, or even a buzz. I knew I was about to look like a white egg, my formerly well covered scalp exposed. I felt nearly like I too was tied to a stake.

[slidepress gallery=’jraatz-sheep’]

There was a good reason why eight sheep were getting their throats slit and my head was getting a “razor-close” shave. All the men in my family were shaving their heads too. It was the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Tabaski is the Wolof name for the holiday, which translates from Arabic into English roughly as, “Festival of Sacrifice.” It commemorates the willingness of Abraham to sacrifice his son Ishmael as an act of obedience to God. It also marks the end of the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Besides shaving heads, killing sheep and its religious significance, Tabaski is about getting dressed up, cooking special food, and most importantly, coming together with friends and family. Dozens, if not over a hundred people passed by through our compound, greeting and well-wishing, sitting down to chat and eat together.

As for my head, “C’etait le priemaire fois et le dernier fois,” I told Naomi’s host-mother, on her asking me if I would be shaving my head again. An older brother of mine here, Moustaffa, commenting on my new “coiffure”, told me I was now one-hundred percent Senegalese. Although clearly an overstatement, I asked him what I was the day before. He said, “Yesterday…yesterday, you were an American.” I replied, explaining, “I’m simply trying to integrate.”

As I lay on my mattress that night, I heard music playing off in the distance, where much of the village was dancing late into the night. After a long day, full of new things, I did not have the energy to attend. Similarly, my attempts to integrate into my new family and community are always limited by my finite capacity to overcome my inhibitions and predispositions. But as I waited for sleep to overcome me, I did, in fact feel greater solidarity and cohesion with my surroundings. Although still distinctly a foreigner, I was no longer a stranger. No longer was I a guest. I had accepted my environment and my environment had accepted me.

Johannes Raatz