Sunshine, Couscous and Quality from Spain: Christmas in Dakar

When it got to December, I really struggled with the fact that Christmas was fast approaching.  This was for two reasons. Firstly, I had already celebrated Christmas with the family in September. We had the full works; dinner, crackers, presents and even a tree! Secondly, although I was no more a ball of sweat, I was still wearing sandals and the sun was still shining the majority of the time. I felt so confused! For the past 22 years I have associated Christmas with being an event that occurs when it is freezing and it normally happens just once a year. But I’m not complaining, I had a bit of a tan AND more food to look forward to.

The week before the Christmas holiday was a blur. The English Club Christmas party was on the Wednesday, followed by two days of exams, both of which were hectic and not without their problems. But they happened. There was a great deal of stress on my part, a lot was learnt from these three days, and a lot was achieved.

Christmas Eve started so unbelievably not festive with a trip to the visa office. Even though I had only heard negative experiences, I had applied for a 12 month Visa as I decided it would be easier in the long run. I was told I would have to book an interview which was apparently difficult to obtain and would take at least a few weeks (which I did not have as my visa would expire a week later). Although we did have to wait for a few hours (where I got to catch up on my sewing) by what only could’ve been a miracle my visa was processed without an interview or any other hitches! With the knowledge I would be legal in the country I was able to relax and enjoy the holidays. That evening we celebrated with mulled wine, Christmas games and yummy goodies with some dear friends.

Christmas day was very different this year! It started very early when Vickie and I had breakfast and exchanged gifts. Malou, our colleague who is a catholic, invited us to celebrate with him, so by 9am we were seated in his living room in the suburbs of Dakar. The first thing he did when we arrived was to present us with a bottle of banana schnapps and a bottle of wine (which was good quality wine from Spain, don’t forget), so after a shot of banana schnapps we headed off to Mass.

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Although Mass differed hugely to my home church, I really enjoyed it. The songs were beautiful, lead by a very talented choir. The style can only be described as a traditional church choir you might find in the UK, only the lyrics were in French, and it was accompanied by African drums. The service was rather long with at least 5 children being christened somewhere in the middle! The entire service was in French apart from one song (I didn’t notice until Malou pointed it out) and the leaders parting words of ‘Merry Christmas… be happy’.

After that we went back to Malou’s house for ‘breakfast’; a massive plate of pork, chicken,  onions and chips. Don’t forget more schnapps and wine. Then we hopped along to his friend’s house around the corner, which was a large family affair where we had more wine, juice, snacks and party music. Whenever our glass or plate was empty, it was filled right back up again! Once I learned this I was a bit more careful… We ate lunch there, delicious couscous and meat, and spent most of the day there, talking, laughing, dancing…. drinking and eating. There were many toasts, ‘Quality…. from Spain!’ Later on we went back to Malou’s where we had…. guess what…. more wine, couscous and meat! By about 9pm we were exhausted and made the trip home, very full.

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On boxing day, Matthew hosted ‘a very British christmas’ where we helped to prepare roast chicken, with roasted potatoes and vegetables, AND pigs in blankets. This was followed by a board game. And I was very lucky to make some gingerbread (very important Christmas baking in the Gatland household), my first use of an oven in Dakar! One thing I noticed was that in Dakar, Boxing day was any old working day, and it was very hot for this time of year!

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In the next few days we got to be tourists. We hit the pink lake with our lovely colleague Adama, which is more lilac than pink, and also visited the Renaissance monument. The following day we went to Casamance for a little holiday!

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Did I wish I was with my family for Christmas? At times, yes.  There were moments when I would’ve loved to be at home baking lots of yummy treats and playing board games, however this was an invaluable experience which I could not pass up. Plus, I only had two weeks off work.  I was blessed to be busy for these two weeks in order to not feel too sad about not being at home, and by being here with Vickie and all the other lovely people experiencing new places and new things I managed to very much enjoy the Christmas period.  As much as I am loving being here, I’m not going to lie, I do look forward to seeing my family in July!

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