Friday, April 28, 2006

My First (Senegalese) Seder

This is a little after the fact I know but I planned and hosted my first Passover Seder recently. There were 11 volunteers and guests in attendance, several first time seder-goers, and the Seder took place at the Kaolack regional house. In the days leading up to the event I was scouring the internet for Haggadah material to use since the package my parents had sent more than a month earlier, that included Haggadahs and stuff for Matzah ball soup, hadn’t shown up yet (this is not surprising, especially since we just received 5 packages for volunteers who are no longer here, they were sent a year and a half ago). This serendipity led me to the perfect Haggadah, something that was gender-neutral, in English, was inclusive of non-Jews (since I was the only one raised Jewish at my Seder) and as it happens, this Haggadah highlighted themes very pertinent to our lives as volunteers, like always asking questions, the importance of community, liberation of the mind through education and exploration and of course, striving for a time when the world is in peace (a more secular view of the Messianic era).

The day of had some very stressful moments including searching for everything I needed in the Kaolack market (see previous blog) and figuring out exactly what we were going to eat and how I was going to prepare it in the kitchen here. We had to make our own Matzah which I guess wouldn’t really be considered kosher since we just used the flour we could find. We got some help from people that had traveled to Dakar, the site of the only supermarkets in the country, as far as walnuts for the charoset. These folks also looked for horseradish, something entirely necessary in any Seder as far as I’m concerned but no luck, no horseradish in Senegal. Senegal does, however, have something that is the most bitter thing I’ve ever tasted – Kola Nut. Senegalese people eat these things to increase their energy, they are so bitter that ANYTHING you eat after a Kola Nut will taste sweet. So for a local twist we used shredded Kola Nut as our bitter herb, and it ended up tasting pretty good in the Hillel Sandwich. A shank bone was no problem with so many sheep here, and in true Passover miracle form, the package showed up just in time so we had our Matzah ball soup, which everyone was raving about if I do say so myself. Our menu included the soup, delicious potato and ni├žoise salads and a goulash that were contributed by other volunteers, we had a fruit salad for dessert with mangoes, oranges, bananas and apples, and of course lots of wine, boxed wine(a favorite of volunteers). This didn’t seem like it was an insane amount of food, especially compared to the Seders I remember having at my Aunt Rosalee and Uncle Herbie’s house in Milwaukee, but I, for one, was pretty full after the soup. We gave the leftovers to the guards who were much less weirded-out by the shredded Kola Nut than I thought they’d be.

I had a lot of people tell me that they really enjoyed the evening and I really enjoyed starting a new tradition here so if next year is not “in Jerusalem” it’ll be in Kaolack, Bismilah! (Welcome!)

Edited May 6th, 2006 to add:
After I typed this whole thing up I realized that I didn't note how supportive my host family, mainly my host mother, was during Passover. A few weeks ahead of time I told her that there was a Jewish holiday coming up, during which I couldn't eat bread for 8 days. She looked at me crosseyed for a second, not eating bread is not exactly normal here, but after that she didn't miss a beat, the main meal that it affected was breakfast when I usually have a bean sandwich. She said 'No problem, I'll just cook you two eggs and salad for breakfast every morning.' She was even asking if I could eat rice, a staple here, for lunch. She was willing to make me salad for lunch too, but I decided to go the Sephardic route and allow myself to eat rice but just stay away from bread. I was very touched, as I am daily, by how inviting they are.

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