A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about celebration

My African Christmas

Because corny headlines is my thing now…

sunny 28 °C
View Kurdistan Summer & West Africa on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Christmas Dinner

Christmas Dinner

I celebrated Christmas 2016 by sitting eight hours in a bus, before eating a magnificent Christmas dinner of roasted chicken and French fries with ketchup. Honestly, I went to the finest restaurant in town – they even had tablecloth on the tables. I also ordered the most expensive item available from the menu (which was limited to fried chicken or fried fish, with either fries or rice). Why? Because I was stuck in a provincial town in eastern Côte d’Ivoire, waiting for a morning bus leaving early the next day.

None of this

None of this

On the upside, celebrating Christmas alone on the road could quickly become a very lonely affair. Now it felt no less alone than a regular day of travelling. Back home, Christmas stuff begin to appear everywhere at the beginning of November. Constant reminders that this is the season of friends and families (because we apparently need a special season for that) makes December a shitty time to be alone on. Then again, on the road I’ve had none of the usual stress about gifts, family visits, a calendar packed with snaps and Christmas dinners or any of the cold, dark weather. Actually, having had no Christmas season this year have been rather nice.

The Basilica

The Basilica

Especially because there has been none of that commercialised Christmas crap. I’ve been roaming around in provincial Côte d’Ivoire, which has none of that. Throughout all of December, I’ve seen almost no signs of Christmas. My first Christmas spotting was on December 20 when a large metal Christmas tree was standing in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix in Yamoussoukro.

Since then I’ve seen all of two plastic Christmas trees, three shops that had some Christmas decorations and two (two!) people were wearing Christmas hats. Though one bank employee wore a Santa tie. But that was it. That was all. No reminders that we were hitting the holiday season. No cold weather – the temperature only drops under 25 degrees centigrade if I walk into a room with air condition. Christmas isn’t around – despite having spent much of December in the prominently Christian regions.

Abidjan

Abidjan

This changed a bit when I arrived in Abidjan, the largest city in the country, on December 25. Abidjan is the commercial capital of Côte d’Ivoire, so – no surprise – things are a bit more commercialised here. Plenty of Western-orientated or -inspired places looked more “ready” for the holidays, and more people were running around in Christmas hats. But it wasn’t before sitting in the lobby of a big hotel in Accra, Ghana, that I heard the first Christmas music. On January 2nd! I have even made it through the holidays without being Wham’ed!

African Christmas

African Christmas

So no, in case any of you wondered, travelling in Africa during the Christmas season has not been more lonely, unbearable or sad, that travelling alone through Africa at any other time. Not at all, actually. Down here, friends and family are attended to constantly. They don’t need a particular month for that. Though people I met had taken a walk around with their friends to visit each others’ families – a pretty common Christmas tradition. Other than that, people here are pretty like at home. They spend most of their holiday with friends and do a lot of drinking.

To be honest, the lack of Christmas actually surprised me (once I finally figured out it was mid-December), because so many people are so massively religious. Most of the first few drafts of this blog post were mainly centred around religion, but as I have only negative things to say about the subject it quickly turned into a rather bitter read. So I scrapped it and started over.

Church on Dec 21st

Church on Dec 21st

Sure they do special services on Christmas, but the churches are often full no matter what. And many places have services not every week, but every day. In some cities, it seems like every second building is a church, and every second billboard is certainly branding one kind of congregation or another. People here should be thrilled that Christianity has stolen a number of pagan rituals and turned them into the make-believe birthday of their bronze age, born-of-a-virgin, zombie god.

But as mentioned that’s not the case at all. Despite being such a religious part of the world, Christmas doesn’t really seem to be celebrated much here in West Africa. At least not in a way that’s recognisable to my eye. My common sense reasoning has three solutions for this:

  • The Pagan traditions were stolen to form Christmas celebrations come from Europe, not West Africa.
  • “African Christmas” is not commercialised the way "Western Christmas" is back home.
  • Christmas is expensive, and large scale celebrations are out of reach for many families.

Commercialised!

Commercialised!

As for the last reason, Christmas in we West is so much about the money. That might very well be why I don’t usually enjoy it. As a student and/or someone trying to save his money to go travel, I don’t appreciate how expensive December has become. In conclusion: Everyone who’s tired of the over-commercialised December holiday were an invisible sky man's son, which is actually himself, is celebrated should spend their December budget on going to West Africa and rid themselves of all that silly and expensive nonsense.

If you’ve liked what you’ve read, why not give a ‘like’ this blog on Facebook so you won't miss future stories?

Posted by askgudmundsen 15:33 Archived in Cote d'Ivoire Tagged churches religion travel christmas africa santa holidays travelling season celebration west_africa ivory_coast côte_d'ivoire Comments (0)

Animist Africa

Traditional kings, sacred forests and festive circumcisions are best enjoyed with some new quality company.

overcast 32 °C
View Kurdistan Summer & West Africa on askgudmundsen's travel map.

Boys walking to their Ceremony

Boys walking to their Ceremony

We arrived at the village without much idea of what to expect. Our guide from the day before had simply told us that there would be a festival taking place. From the back seat of the motorbikes that took us there, the very first thing we spotted was a tent selling beers and soft drinks. Very much like a festival back home. The next thing, however, not so much. Around fifteen boys, the youngest under ten and the oldest in their early twenties, was led into the village by a village elder. The elder was dressed all in red, while the boys – walking, very ceremonial in single file – were dressed in nothing but skirts of dried leaves.

Astrid also like beer

Astrid also like beer

But first thing first. I’m writing “we” because I’ve picked up some semi-perminant company. I’m lucky enough to have some adventurous friends, who don’t mind flying down to Africa to visit me (and don’t mind roughing it either), so I’ve picked up Astrid in Banjul’s airport about a week ago. I know Astrid from university, where we both worked for the student union. Besides that she has a big travel heart – particular for Nepal. As she has already visited the mountainousness country once this year, I have managed to talk her into joining me in Africa. Thus I have company for the next month. After a few days of resting, we headed out of the Gambia, into southern Senegal and the Casamance region.

Ceremonial Dancing

Ceremonial Dancing

Like the far southeast, southern Senegal is far from the glitter and glamour of Dakar’s fancy nightlife (and equally far from the misery of Dakar’s shanty towns). Here are as many – if not more – animist believers than Christians or Muslims. The traditions here are thus far from what I have experienced anywhere else I’ve travelled. Or back home for that matter. Here is a culture traditional to Africa. Maybe even to West Africa. Without any influence from it’s northern neighbours – both Arab and European. Astrid and I thus had some difficulties deciphering what is going on around us, but have managed to get a somewhat comprehensive idea pieced together by asking locals on site.

Boys of the Festival

Boys of the Festival

What we were attending was a circumcision ceremony for the village boys. It’s a huge, two day festival drawing crowds from many of the neighbouring villages. It’s especially celebrated because it’s a rare occasion. Our guide said that this particular village had not held such a festival for the past 20-30 years. However, based on the age-span between the youngest and oldest boys it’s is more likely to be 10-15 years since this village last circumcised its boys. Neither Astrid nor I are supportive of the idea of circumcision for any other than medical reasons, but we are also not gonna walk into an African village and disapprove of their customs or traditions. These traditions are part of why we went to Africa in the first place, part of the experience whether we like them or not.

Large festival crowds

Large festival crowds

The circumcision is also celebrated because it’s a coming of age ritual. These boys and young men aren’t allowed to marry before they have gone through the ritual, so some of these guys must have been looking forward to this day for years. The ritual is not just two days of festival. The festival is just their sending away party. The festival finished with the boys leaving the village, together with the elders, to go live in the bush for an entire month. This, I should add, with bleeding penises as the circumcisions are performed in the beginning of the month. What they are going through exactly is still clouded in mystery, as we wasn’t able to find any answer to this. Most of the people we talked with simply lived in other villages, were the rituals are slightly different, and none was willing to disclose their own rituals as they are traditionally hidden from strangers and outsiders

Traditional dancer

Traditional dancer

The festival itself consisted of a lot of drumming, dancing, and drinking. More than once we found people who’d just fallen over from where they stood due to the drinking. Most people, though, were on their feet. The boys in particular were leading the dancing. With the drums in the middle they danced their tribal dance around the drummers, with plenty of villagers and guest joining them, with an even larger crowd of spectators standing in an even larger circle around them.

Mortar flower box

Mortar flower box

Common for everyone – to our surprise – was the weapons. Most people were carrying large sticks and clubs, plenty had machetes and some were yielding large knifes. Two guys even carried around mortar launchers (though we didn’t see any grenades). When we asked about all the weaponry, the only answer we got was that it was “for protection.” We hope it was against evil spirits, but with all that drinking going on and a rather rowdy atmosphere, we couldn’t rule out that they were simply carrying weapons for personal protection. Sincerely hoping that it wasn’t for the latter reason, we thankfully never saw anyone acting aggressively.

Village Elders leading the boys

Village Elders leading the boys

It was all rather chaotic, and Astrid and I managed to get lost from each other on multiple occasions. Once when the entire festival suddenly began moving towards the bush in one big wave of people. Women and outsiders are generally not allowed to be part of the ceremony’s ‘bush-parts,’ so separately we both got into trouble for walking too far out towards the bush. Astrid got yelled at before an old woman kindly brought her back to ‘safer’ grounds, while my turning back was a bit nicer. A few guys came up to me, indicated that I wasn’t allowed any further and then, as a way to lure me away from the ceremony, offered me tea in their house on the opposite side of the village. I declined and instead went looking for Astrid, who I manage to find close by before having a last beer and leaving the festival behind.

Animist King (of 17 villages)

Animist King (of 17 villages)

As if this circumcision ceremony wasn’t enough animist experience for one day, we manage to secure a visit with the local animist king once we’d returned to the larder village we stay in. It’s not especially easy to arrange such a visit, as there is proper procedures and traditional rituals that must be followed when requesting an audience. But somehow, with the help of a couple of locals, we were brought to the sacred forest in which the King lives. The king is chosen by the village elders, for life, on a rotatory system between the areas’ three eldest families. It’s not necessarily a desired role, as the king has to give up his planned carrier and is not allowed to travel (ever) beyond those seventeen villages that this traditional kingdom consists of. His role is to act as advisor, broker, conflict manager, social security (if villagers go hungry, they can ask for rice from the king’s field) for the villagers, who seek audience. He is also somewhat of a representative for the area to the regional and national elected politicians and governments. We didn’t ask for any rice, but simply tried to learn more about the traditional role of the king – and then we shared a few trivia about the Danish king, who to everybody’s big surprise is a woman.

If you’ve liked what you’ve read, why not give a ‘like’ this blog on Facebook?

Posted by askgudmundsen 04:21 Archived in Senegal Tagged traditional travel king africa ceremony festival ritual celebration west_africa animist senegal circumcision africa_village elders Comments (0)

The Pros of Celebrating Birthdays Abroad

Celebrating one's birthday away from home inevitably means celebrating away from friends and family. However, there is also pros to this kind of celebration.

sunny 20 °C
View Kurdistan Summer & West Africa on askgudmundsen's travel map.

My 18th years birthday was held in Rome, the 20th in Egypt, the 24th in Canada, the 27th in Mongolia and now I have turned 30 in Morocco. So though it sounds like bragging, I am getting pretty good at celebrating abroad. The obvious con of celebrating your birthday abroad is that you do not celebrate with your friends and family, but instead with complete strangers.

Rooftop Celebration

Rooftop Celebration

That is also the first pro. For ‘strangers’ do not stay strangers for very long when you travel. Especially when travelling alone. You simply become more outreaching and engaging to not go insane from loneliness. This is why the same three or so questions always initiate a new meeting between travellers at hostels, guesthouses and bars across the world: “So, where are you from?”, “How long have you been in *insert country*?” and “How long are you staying for?”. It is simply the etiquette for approaching new people to create friends out of strangers. Add to this, that most travellers are alike (compared to the general population). Young of mind, adventurous, fond of the unknown, open-minded and in need of turning strangers into friends. So why is this a pro of celebrating birthdays abroad? Because most travellers like a party and a birthday is an excuse for having a one. Parties are and will always be the easiest way to turn strangers into friends. So birthdays make up a fast track of making new friends, where the alternatives are rather stiff conversations over breakfast or semi-forced travel talk on a roof terrace as the sun sets. Just because making friends is a necessity and travellers are alike, does not mean that it is a piece of cake. A birthday help smoothes things along.
Secondly, having people who, few hours or days ago, were complete strangers celebrating you feels splendid indeed. That people you just met, think that they should celebrate you is really something, which makes the brain cells that control self-worth tingle. Thirdly, you hostel will do nice things for you, e.g. give you a free room/bed, provide dinner, a birthday cake or something else that will make you really happy when you travel on a budget. Sleeping arrangements are averagely a quarter of my budget when travelling. So I happily take any freebie I can get close to – and birthdays often equal freebies.

Room Upgrate (and a fes)

Room Upgrate (and a fes)

This year was no exception. Upgraded from a dorm bed to a private room, birthday cake on the house, birthday songs in English, Spanish, Korean and Arabic, and a party that included alcohol, something rare in an Islamic country like Morocco (though it is not illegal here). The point of this is not only to brag about my birthdays abroad or tell people at home that I had a nice birthday without them. I sincerely would encourage you to try this. At least once in your life. Travel abroad, preferably alone, during your birthday week, and try it out. I cannot stress enough how fantastic it is to have people who barely know you, celebrating you. If you feel sorry for friends and family, you can always through a birthday for those people a week before your actually birthday. Trust me; they will probably not care that much.

Goodbye Fes

Goodbye Fes

On that note, I hope you will give it a go. Having also enjoyed this birthday abroad, I arrive in Rabat today and move in with the host family (more about the later), whom I will be living with for the next four weeks of French lessons. I start school tomorrow.

Take care, wherever you are!

Posted by askgudmundsen 02:56 Archived in Morocco Tagged travel birthday travelling abroad fes celebration fez Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 3 of 3) Page [1]