Zangbeto, another Vodun divinity, is the protector of the night. This depiction of the divinity sits outside of a house in a neighboring town and is about three feet tall. I was told it was constructed to protect the house. At certain times of the year and at special ceremonies, this divinity comes out into the community in a bodily form (or, if you are a skeptic like me, then a person puts on a costume to represent the Zangbeto). The bodily form of Zangbeto looks like a walking haystack. I have seen this several times but have been warned against taking photos.
Easter is a big holiday in Benin — lots of church and family celebrations. Jen and I partook in both. In the photo above we are with three priests and other members of the local Catholic church at a lunch celebration. In the photo below we are with friends of ours at a picnic in the woods. We ate very well this day.
For our town’s festa day, Adam and I hosted a giant party at our house. We bought a few kilos of freshly butchered pig, mountains of kale, enough beans to feed an army, twice as much booze as seemed advisable, and made as many cakes as time allowed. From 6am to 6pm we were in action prepping, serving and hosting our former language instructors, other volunteers, and friends from town who passed by. In the evening, we headed down the hill to see the live bands. Despite my best efforts to stay awake, I had to throw in the towel at 5am, and I missed seeing Ze Espanhol, who came on stage at about 6am.
It’s festa (party) season in Cape Verde—the time of year when every town holds a giant street party in celebration of itself and its patron saint, and every household opens its doors to friends and family who come from all over the island to visit and celebrate. Every household cooks up a giant pot of food, stocks up on drinks and feeds everyone who passes through. The county government organizes free live music on stage in the middle of town and for the bigger parties, a big tent with a DJ. Plus, community organizations hold parties in other locations throughout town. The revelry lasts for several days without end: high schoolers stay up all night with their parents listening to the music, men young and old think nothing of going 36 or 48 hours without sleeping, and women cook up batch after batch of pork and beans and katxupa around the clock. Festa bedju literally means “old party,” but in practice it’s just a great party. I wish I were there to celebrate once more, so in honor of the season, I thought I’d share some pictures of last year’s parties.
It was market day in our town on Christmas day. The market ran at about 50% of its normal capacity. Less commotion and vendors made it particularly easy to navigate. I recently discovered that a vendor sells fresh beef (photo below) on market days so we splurged for the holiday. Market butchers don’t cut the meat into the same cuts we know from the US. Generally they will hack off any piece of the animal that is available. All is the same price. On this day the butcher tried to give me part of the liver and some large bones in my half kilo of beef but I asked him to take them out.
I took the beef home and cut it up into tiny cubes. Then I hacked it up with my chef’s knife until I had a course ground beef. I mixed in bread that I’d soaked in milk, some chopped onions and garlic, sweet basil from the garden, a couple of eggs and some salt and pepper. Meatballs. Yum. The meatballs were extra delicate because I used a lot of milk-soaked-bread so I broke them up in the sauce I made and we had pasta with meat sauce for dinner. A little of the fresh cheese from lunch on top and a bottle of wine on the side. It wasn’t Christmas dinner at Aunt Harriet’s house but it was a great cap to a fine day.
A friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer shared that her family’s Christmas tradition includes eating bagels on Christmas morning. Her family was coming to visit and she wanted to continue the tradition so she was making bagels for them. Brilliant. Jen and I decided to adopt the idea for our Christmas 2012. We used the recipe she recommended from seriouseats.com. The bagels were boiled for one minute before we added the sesame seeds and baked them in the Dutch oven. The added step of boiling them made the recipe only slightly more time consuming than making any other bread from scratch. And, they were really good. Not quite Absolute Bagels, but worth the effort nonetheless.