Tuesday, October 29, 2013

On Pumpkins and Memories

Her name is Mariama.  Yama we call her.  And she knew about life and smiles and play.  She taught me not to worry about getting my clothes dirty, to open my hands to one and all, and to smile with reckless abandon. 

She was just a toddler when I lived in her compound for two years.  Just beginning to talk and experience the awe of new words.  "Cry" was a word she shared when I left village for good.  She knew my name and could say it as we were both called Mariama.

As she sits with the pumpkins above, it's clear that she was always up for a picture. 

When Halloween came my first October in village it seemed fitting to introduce my family to the joy and creativity of pumpkin carving.  The Gambians did grow pumpkins after all - green ones!  They tasted good and were a treat in any rice or coos dish.  Part of serving in the Peace Corps is the cross-cultural exchange.  I learned the Wollof language.  I worshipped with my family.  I worked in the fields.  I celebrated holidays with them.  I cooked with them.  I shared pictures and books of my home and family.  We laughed a lot.  We sat and shared stories.  We sat in silence. 

And with Halloween came pumpkin carving.  With the challenges of language and my limited pumpkin carving skills, it was a feast for the eyes as we indulged in the fun of bringing our pumpkins to life.  We cut and drew pictures.  We picked out the seeds.  We scared one another with our faces.  It was Halloween. 

And when everyone carved and was content with their new creations we lit candles and placed them in the pumpkin.  The night was alive not only from the moon and the stars this night, but from our pumpkins. 

We looked proudly on what stared back at us.  For a few moments we stood in awe. 

Then Yama's mother asked me, "What do we do with them?"

"We just look at them," I say. 

"That's it?"  She looks back quizzically with a hint of concern. 

"We need to eat them.  We can't have them go to waste." 

And there in that moment, in my attempts at sharing across the cultures and bringing Halloween to The Gambia, I was face-to-face with my own culture's excessiveness.  The cultural lens in which I was raised celebrating Halloween and gorging on candy and carving pumpkins only to have them smashed days later came head to head with the people of The Gambia.  A people who never waste anything - from vegetables to animals, to pieces of scraps, to plastic bags.  A people whose children share one piece of candy between four or five friends.  A people who continually opened my eyes to see the abundance in my midst.  To be reminded to use that abundance for sustenance and not destruction. 

In the end, we did have the night lit with pumpkins we had carved.  I have great pictures from my cross-cultural sharing.  There was plenty of laughter.   

And the next night we feasted on pumpkin. 


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