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Abu: The Pig King September 3, 2006

Posted by Nima in Uncategorized.
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 Greetings folks, Apologies for falling off the radar for a while: Things got busy around the farm and the programme. So here are my last two posts from Québec to satiate your blog desires.  

 

Abu is the Pig King

 When our supervisor Martin first made mention of the “Festival du Cochon” in St. Perpetue, I envisioned a gathering of farmers exchanging tips on growth hormones and hog castration techniques while someone strummed a banjo in the background. At some point a pork poutine would be consumed.  

But I should’ve known that Quebecois villages are just looking for an excuse to throw a massive party, no matter the inspiration.  

Throughout the summer, villages in the Nicolet region host an endless parade of festivals with a seemingly limited focus, all of which have a mind boggling amount of success. We’re talking villages of a 1,000 people receiving 30 or 40 times that number in visitors in a single week-end. Quebecois love travelling around their province –  Their number one tourist destination? Quebec – and have a strong connection to the folksy roots of these festivals, even though they’ve become a stage for multi-million dollar concert/carnival bonanzas.

So St. Celestin has the “Festival du Blé d`Inde” (Quebecois for ‘corn’ although literally means ‘Indian wheat’ ), St. Francois-du-Lac has the “Illuminated Boat” festival, and Sorel has the “Festival du Gibelotte,”  (apparently a traditional meaty Quebecois dish which nobody knows the recipe to).  

We volunteered for the festival during the day, but were all anticipating the grand evening showdown: Abubacar (Abu) taking on a pig in the international exhibition of the tremendously popular annual chase the greased pig race. I never imagined just how big a deal a pig race can be: Teams from across Québec participate in the grand pig showcase which takes place on Centre Pig Stadium, a complex that holds 10,000 plus with TV cameras and helicopters buzzing all over.

Seriously.

Abu –  the most diminutive of the Malians, who’s almost always cheery faced, can keep a soccer ball in the air for an hour, whose father started off with 3 wives but one of whom passed away and another divorced – faced off in a new international division which featured an American, a French and a Bulgarian who apparently was filming a movie in St. Perpetue (Oh what I would do to see this movie). Considering he’s never touched a pig in his life, he was remarkably calm before show time: I wondered if he actually realized what he had gotten himself into.  

But as it turned out, he was born to chase swine: He was remarkably swift and graceful on his feet and managed to outpace the pig (which given my own experience on the farm, pretty damn hard) but ran into trouble when it came to lifting the sucker – The pig likely weighed as much or more than him, but Abu was so strong he managed to lift his squealing, flailing counterpart up halfway to the target drop zone where a little friendly help from the referee (which shall go unmentioned in the official game log) helped Abu reach the pinnacle of the greased pig domain:  The roar from us pierced through the stadium, we celebrated as though Mali had just won the World Cup  and couldn’t believe this could actually be happening. And the entire crowd caught ‘Abu Fever’ and 10,000 cheered with approval, chanting “A-bu! A-bu! A-bu!” along with us, which got him the ‘Best Performance’ award.

This was yet another one of those surrealist moments in Quebec: A Muslim Malian boy who has been raised to despise pigs, see them as an affront to the Prophet, but wins over the hearts of a crowd of 10,000 Quebeckers by tackling one in a mud pit, at a festival to revere the animal itself, at the Mecca of Pork if you will. 

After the award ceremony, every male Malian was later mistaken for Abu (Ahmadou’s great response: “I’m not Abu, I’m Abu’s coach.“) and tons of pretty Québecois girls were swarming him, congratulating him, seeing if he was up for getting some bacon a little later. (which would be an innuendo if we were anywhere but St. Perpetue) 

And get this: A week after the festival, Abu was out with some of us in a neighbouring village and a car of people drove by, honking and cheering “A-bu! A-bu!“ 

 I really don’t think he wants to go home.   

And speaking of his home…

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Comments»

1. Daniel - September 4, 2006

This story is freaking unbelievable. One of the craziest things I’ve ever read.

Have a safe flight and a safe Mali.


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