Friday, April 11, 2014

Celebrating Senegal's 54th birthday

Last Saturday, April 5th, the Senegalese Association of Oregon and Southwest Washington held its annual commemorative celebration of Senegal's Independence Day.

In addition to its primary function (recognizing Senegal's independence from France in 1960), the event is an outreach to the Portland community. Most of the Association's members are Senegalese immigrants (many with American kids and spouses) and this event provides a vehicle for introducing Senegalese culture (food, clothing, music, dance) to the people of the Pacific Northwest.

Monsieur Maty setting the mood with some djembe
This event has been going for six years now and it continues to grow apace. Attendance this year approached 300 people. Every year, we see new faces as members of the Association broaden their circles at work, in their neighborhoods, at school. It is to the point where we may have to find a new facility, since the crowd packed the Hollywood Senior Center to near-capacity.

Héctor Miramontes, representing the City of Portland, and Emcee Masene
Further, we're now gaining recognition in the larger Portland community. This year, we had two guest speakers: Héctor Miramontes, representing the City of Portland, and Scott Maguire, State Operations Director for Senator Jeff Merkley.

Senegalese ladies in their traditional finery

I love this festival for many reasons. The traditional costumes of the Senegalese women dazzle with color, the music is infectious and happy, and the food is delectable. In general, I find the festival to be a perfect encapsulation of the Senegalese worldview. That is to say positive, appreciative.

Souke, Maty, and Awa: three of the heroic Senegalese chefs
A lot of work goes into preparing for the party. But in particular I must acknowledge the efforts of the women in the community. They cook copious amounts of traditional Senegalese food. And they take pride in their exertion.

At my home on Friday, the night before the party, Maty and her two friends Awa and Souke, started cooking at 5pm. I left the house to give them room and returned about midnight. They were still cooking.

I went to bed at 1am. They were still cooking.

I was fast asleep when Maty finally woke me. "Can you give Souke a ride home?" she asked.

My mind was a fog. "What time is it?" I asked.

"Six-thirty," she said.

I opened my eyes. "Are you serious?"

They'd been cooking all night. Thirteen and a half hours. Their heroic effort was replicated in the homes of the other Senegalese ladies throughout the Metro area.

Eat, drink, laugh, dance!
They're a proud people, these Senegalese. I'm so grateful to have come to know them.

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