Saturday, 26 December 2015

Reflections on Christmas in Bamenda 2015

I find it hard to reconcile the Christmas traditions of my North American upbringing with the reality of tropical Cameroon. There are signs and indications; Christmas carols blasted out from bars or loud speakers on passing trucks from early in the morning starting December 1st, an occasional synthetic Christmas tree parked at the roadside and young vendors walking the streets with baskets of those shiny mylar Chinese folded garlands and decorations in red green and yellow. I even spotted a cluster of those trees beside a gas station like an imitation tree lot without the snow or the camper and fence to prevent thefts. I don’t miss the grand push to purchase piles of corporate generated frivolity, the over the top commercialization and excessive advertising, the implied guilt and expectation to provide everyone I know with something.
I do miss my family, opportunities to connect, eating meals together, making cookies and other treats with children. Sitting together talking late into the night about what is important and how to make a difference in the world. The change of seasons surprisingly (or maybe not) was always a marker of time passing. Here the marker is the end or beginning of dry season. This year it came early and there were no grasshoppers. A tasty treat lightly fried, I’d come to associate them with Christmas.
The solstice came and went, the only noticeable indication the location of the rising sun now as far south as it will go.
And this is marriage season, who wants a wedding reception out in the rain? To celebrate, fireworks are set off, great flashes of light accompanied by sparkles and  concussions of sound reverberating  across the  city. Not only do they go all night long but for some reason they continue during the day, hardly visible even without the haze from the harmattan, dust from the Sahara. It looks like mist or fog, I half expect it to rain… wishful thinking.
The pictures of snowy mountains, trees lit up and decorated on the internet do bring a sense of nostalgia to me, but I prefer to be warm and not participate in the consumer frenzy.
We managed to speak with number of family members through the magic of internet technology, but the cookies are a challenge. Few ovens here and the ingredients are not so available.
Still we have found community and context - dinner with a local family who’ve “adopted” us.  Their newly occupied house, still unfinished, a construction site, but they are home. The opportunity to read a story to the youngest member of the family was grounding. The book, a Canadian  gift from me to him.
I found something deeply satisfying about that, sharing of myself, sitting together reading out loud. This is what  I believe is at the essence of the celebration for me, through food and drink, connecting, reminiscing making plans for the future, enjoying the present of the moment.

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