Posted tagged ‘snow then rain’

“Christmas, when observed with the right spirit, still has the power to call miracles from Heaven to Earth.”

December 17, 2013

The day is dark and getting darker: snow first then rain. The sky has that light gray color, the almost white which heralds a storm. Cold doesn’t quite describe the chill. When I ran out for the papers, I had to fix my star, a big white one which hangs on the fence to the backyard and has a trail of lights. I noticed it didn’t light last night because it had fallen off the nail and disconnected itself. I stood in the freezing morning connecting cords and rehanging the star. When I walked into the house, I could feel the warmth and smell the coffee. I was happy. I had my papers, the star was fixed and the coffee ready.

My back is almost its old self, achy but not bowed. I can even get out of bed without moaning. I walk almost upright: homo erectus again. I don’t know what I did to it but it was a doozy.

My first Christmas away from home was in Ghana. I will never forget it.

It is the harmattan in December when a dry, dusty wind blows from the desert and brings hot, hot days and cool, almost cold, nights. My students were dressed in layers every morning as they went about their chores, mostly sweeping the school compound. When I’d wake up, I would hear the swish of the hand-held sticks used as brooms. I knew I would later see the imprint of those sticks fanned across the dirt when I walked to class. Christmas is a low-keyed affair in northern Ghana. It is a morning spent in church. For my students, it meant school vacation. Empty busses would come, fill with students then head south to places like Kumasi dropping students at junctions on the way. The lucky bus drivers got their quota for the day with the one stop at my school. The Sunday before vacation started was when the Christmas celebration was held. Staff members wore their finest cloths and some male teachers wore kente, students were dressed in their Sunday uniforms and ministers and the white father from town were invited and sat at the head table. A tree was erected in the dining hall. It had mostly homemade ornaments though I lent a few of mine sent by my mother. They gave the tree a bit of home. The Bible was read and students sang carols. The ministers and the white father offered words of wisdom and spoke about the meaning of Christmas in our lives. Students sang more carols. We then stood as the head table left the dining hall followed by the rest of us, students last.

The compound was quiet once the students were gone. Patrick, another volunteer, and I prepared for a party on Christmas Eve. We knew they’d be volunteers passing through town on their way north into then Upper Volta and onward to the desert in Niger or Mali and Timbuktu. Patrick and I thought we’d all need to be together that first year, to take comfort from one another. I decorated my house with what my mother had sent including a small tree, ornaments, brick-designed crepe paper and a stocking with my name on it. Her Christmas package wouldn’t arrive that year until late January. We convinced the woman at the Hotel d’Bull bar to sell us beer. Her concern was getting back the bottles as beer was often unavailable because the bottling company would sometimes run out of bottles. We swore we’d bring them back, and she relented. We got gas for my oven, and I baked for the first time. I made sugar cookies using the cookie cutters my mother had sent. I had a tree, a reindeer and Santa. The cookies came out perfectly. We bought a few foodstuffs in the market but only a few as we knew our guests would bring food. A volunteer would never come to another volunteer’s house empty-handed. We didn’t know how many guests were coming. Five or six volunteers who were staying at my house and sleeping on my living room floor went to the market and brought back fruit, groundnuts, kelewele and I don’t remember what else. I just know it was a bounty.

The house was full on Christmas Eve. There was a lot of laughter and we sang carols. Someone said please don’t sing I’ll Be Home for Christmas, and we didn’t. Later that night a few of us went outside to cool off a bit and we sat together behind my house near the wall. The sky was ablaze with stars, the night was chilly and we were quiet until someone said,”The night must have been just like this on the very first Christmas.” That went right to my heart and made me realize Christmas is what we make of it and it doesn’t matter how or where or with whom we celebrate. That year I had a most wonderful Christmas. Everybody was my family, and I was home.