X-Factor hunt for Senegal sheep star
ON THE street level below Ousmane Ndiaye’s flat there is a fabric shop, and on the floor above dwell his ram Billal and ten other sheep.
They prance on a terrace, high above the commotion of buses and street sellers and only rarely venture into the stairwell.
The street level of Ousmane Ndiaye’s building features a fabric shop. He and his family live in an posh apartment on the second floor. Their upstairs neighbors? His beloved ram Billal and 10 other sheep.
Here his animals prance on a sunny outdoor terrace well above the commotion of buses and vendors below, and only rarely use the building’s winding staircase.
Billal is fed leftovers from family meals, and Mr Ndiaye jokes that his wife is jealous of his sheep. The family foregoes potential rental income by leaving the upper level of their building unfinished.
“I could rent this place out for 250,000 francs (£310) a month, but I prefer to keep Billal and my sheep here,” says Mr Ndiaye, 60, he strokes the head of the sheep he hopes will become a reality television star.
In a nation where sheep are given names and kept inside homes as pets, the most popular TV show is called Khar Bii in the local Wolof language, which translates as “This Sheep.”
The show is an X Factor-style nationwide search for Senegal’s most perfect specimen. Now in its fourth season, it airs several times a week in the months leading up to Eid al-Adha, or Tabaski, as it’s known in Senegal.
The feast of sacrifice is when Muslims around the world slaughter animals in remembrance of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son, Isaac.
In Senegal, the sheep’s ties to the religious holiday have made them a part of many urban families in a Muslim country of 12.8 million people. Still, every family that can sacrifices a ram at Tabaski, when an estimated 712,000 sheep are purchased for slaughter. Some 240,000 of those are in the Dakar region alone, where supermarkets are already offering scratchcards for a chance to win a Tabaski sheep.
“The Senegalese are really into their sheep,” says Fadilou Keita, 28, who lives with six of them at his Dakar home. The financial analyst carries his iPad in one hand and sticks his other in the mouth of Aziz to drag him to the scales. “This is my passion.”
The finalists from each region face off later this month for a chance to win 2,000,000 francs (£2,500) and a boost to their stud credentials, said veterinarian Dr. Mamadou Ba, a consultant for one of the programme’s sponsors. The sheer volume of entries and its loyal viewership are testaments to just how much the Senegalese love their sheep.
As the country has urbanised, many have kept alive the tradition of sheep raising. It’s not unusual to see them grazing in a traffic island or seeking shade near cars at a taxi rank.
TV show Khar Bii follows a team of judges as they make housecalls to identify candidates for regional heats. Trekking down side streets and up to roofs, the crews set off in search of an animal which has the right physique and temperament.
In one Dakar district, the team ducks under lines of clothes drying in a courtyard reeking of urine until the ram named Cherif is brought out of his pen.
A staffer with a face mask uses a rectal thermometer to be sure Cherif is healthy. It takes a total of four people to keep Cherif still while they measure him.
Winners from home visits then square off at regional finals, where one doting owner even brought a special umbrella to protect his sheep Dogo from the blazing sun.
“Some people love cats, some people love dogs. Here we have sheep,” says Abou Aziz Mare, 27, who says he spends three to four hours a day on his terrace with his animals. “I live with him like a close friend,” he says of Dogo.
Each competing ram is graded on a series of physical criteria – including up to five points awarded for the symmetry of its testicles and another five for the quality of its coat. How well the sheep marches with his owner can bring another ten points.
But even for the sheep who don’t win cash prizes, there is still plenty of love. Lamine Diop, a 33-year-old post office worker, keeps a photo of Eto’o on his mobile phone. “I treat him like a brother,” he says of the animal named after Cameroonian soccer player Samuel Eto’o. “A sheep is a part of the family. When the sheep is sick, it’s like a member of the family is sick.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east