Happy 9th Day of Christmas! This is a season of celebrations. First, we remember Jesus' birth and his second coming –whenever that will be. The Central Evangelical Lutheran Church where I usually attend had a service in the afternoon of Dec. 24. (It used to be held at 8 p.m. and some would stay until midnight in anticipation of Christmas Day. This year as well as last year, the service was moved to the afternoon so that people could home by dark. There have not been any security issues lately, but it is better to be cautious.) I was told that the liturgy would start at 3 p.m., but as I was told again today, time here is “elastic.” It actually started at 3:45 p.m. A large part of the celebration was baptisms (about 60) and confirmations (about 60). Wow. It makes for a very long service, but imagine having so many reasons to celebrate!
On Christmas Day there was another liturgy with communion. I was a little disappointed that people here don’t seem to know many Christmas carols. I would be happy to learn some in French or Gbaya, but they don’t sing many. We sang one from the French hymnal but many didn’t know it and few people have the hymnal. (You buy your own and bring it with you.) The choirs sang a couple, too. Still it was a joyous occasion.
I made Christmas lunch for Dr. Solofo and Dr. Joely Rakotoarivelo, the Malagasy doctors who work at the Protestant Hospital of GB. It was good to have time to visit with them since our schedules don’t often allow much time for that.
I heard several times recently that Christmas is more a holiday for children. They expect to get presents (as do kids in the USA, but no Santa Claus or stockings). Girls often ask for dolls. Like in the US, sometimes toys don’t always last long! On New Year’s Eve I was visiting a friend and saw an abandoned leg (of the baby doll variety) on the ground near the house. Cheap toy, rough play, or both?!?
On both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, children come around singing “Oh, Noel-y.” They will sometimes also sing a song, but they definitely expect candy! (They repeat the process New Year’s Eve/Day, singing “Bonne Année!”
A week later, people celebrate the end of the year and the starting of a new one. In fact, in Gbaya, they talk about Dec. 31 as “kaɗa pɛ” (end of the year) and Jan. 1 as “mbɛ pɛ” (new year). Interesting the way language reflects the way we think about things…
For New Year’s Eve, I was invited to share a goat dinner with Cameroonian friends. I had seen the goat around the house for a couple of weeks before that. When I arrived (½ hour after the appointed time –trying to be a little elastic with my time, too), we sat outside and talked. There were girls/women cooking over wood fires near where we sat. The friend said, “We aren't having goat tonight. You can come back to eat with us tomorrow.” It is not that they weren't cooking (or eating that evening); in fact, they made greens in a sauce that I found delicious. It was that the mother of the house (and others) had worked in the garden all morning and had not had time to butcher and prepare the goat. I couldn't accept the invitation for New Year’s Day since I had a full “party” schedule. So, when the food was prepared and I got home from my lunch, a daughter brought me goat in sauce and manioc “cous cous.” I couldn't eat it then as I was full, but had some later, enjoying it. (I have to admit, though, that I liked the greens in sauce better than the goat!) When I took the meat out of the refrigerator to heat and take a picture, I also uncovered the manioc. (I had not put the manioc in the fridge thinking it would not be necessary for the time involved.) I didn't realize that sugar ants like manioc too! If you look closely at the picture, you can see them swarming the ball. I knew that bees are attracted to manioc that is sold in the market, but now I know that it also attracts the tiny ants. The bowl of candy is there since I had it for the children who came to visit.
I went to Solofo and Joely’s house for lunch. Solofo grilled brochettes which were delicious. Solofo thought to get sparkling wine so we were able to share a toast to welcome the new year. Their house is closer to the side road that leads out of the station. As we ate we heard music and saw people marching past on the main road (at a distance). Wow: a New Year’s Day parade. None of us knew it was to happen. Neither did a couple of other friends I mentioned it to. We figure it was a military parade, but didn’t go closer to check it out.
Later in the afternoon, I went to Marthe Yapana’s house. She works here at the station and has recently completed a new house. Her Aunt Marie has been visiting from Meiganga (where she cooks and cleans for Rev. Dr. Elisabeth Johnson. Marie has also cooked and cleaned for the Troesters in Baboua where I first met her.) So on this afternoon, some people were invited to a house warming. Marthe prepared snake (boa constrictor), beef in squash seed sauce, fish, plantains, and manioc. I had never had snake before. The taste is fine, but I was surprised by the number of bones. Marthe had told me that she had bought part of a medium-sized snake, but I still associate them with being pretty big around. I also know that boas unhinge their jaws and swallow food whole
Marthe’s daughter did a dance of celebration for the 20 or so people assembled. After eating, the food tables were removed and 4 couples did a dance to open the dancing part of the celebration. Some adults danced, but lots of kids did. Such joy on their faces! It was a pleasure to see.
When I got home (about 6 p.m., just before it got dark), I had a visit from the Cameroonian Chief Customs Officer who is staying here at the station. We toasted the new year and enjoyed some conversation. Around 8 p.m. the Bible School students who had not gone to their villages for the break came to my house to toast the new year. 8 men came and 2 of their wives. They, too, wanted to dance. What joy was reflected in their faces – part of the celebration, and partly because they were invited to drink a beer with me. (I know that they cannot easily afford to buy beer, so why not share with them?)
Churches here have services on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. I choose to stay home for both although I heard the liturgies were moving.
I got the share in the joy of the season with friends in Garoua Boulai. I also talked to my family on Christmas Day (and Mom on New Year’s Day). I hope that you were also able to spend time with family and friends in this Christmas season.
Remember, Christmas continues until Jan.6 when we remember the Wise Men arriving at the manger. This is only the 9th Day of Christmas, so keep celebrating! May you find much joy in your lives now and throughout 2015.