Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Christmas and a New Year comes around again in Humjibre

Humjibre: December 23, 2011 - 5:44 P.M.
 We are inching into Christmas here in Humjibre. It’s drier here than I’ve ever seen it; the harmatthan dust from the desert has settled in town, casting a spooky diffused light everywhere. It’s like Christmas in sepia, with children playing in whirling dust devils instead of freshly fallen snow. I’m not sure how, but it cuts an equally magical image. After all, this time of year is about anticipation and the excitement of everyone gathering and celebrating, not about snow and shopping malls. And if you take a walk in town, the excitement is everywhere.

The holiday greetings here are "Afehyia Pa" in Twi.  This means I wish you a good meeting of the year, or along the lines of 'one year has gone a full cycle'. The response is "Afe nko mmeto yen", which means, 'may the year go round and find us again'.  To me, it sounds like when the years meet, that is when we will also meet.
Humjibre: December 24, 2011 - 8:13 A.M.
About a month ago, as the holidays were just over the horizon, I sat down with Lawrence to get to know how it goes down here. With the mail service in Ghana the way it is, our Christmas themed correspondence needed to go out soon, and if we were to give our supporters a taste of Humjibre Holidays, I needed to know what that looks like.  
Lawrence has been a great cultural attaché recently and he agreed to acquaint me with what Christmas was like for him, as a kid, here in Humjibre. I was fishing for was a few sentences, so when he quietly talked for over half an hour, I was a bit surprised and relieved I was recording it. Clearly, Lawrence is still excited about Christmas: 
8:15 A.M.

When I was young, I would start thinking about Christmas early, even from February I would start thinking about Christmas being around the corner, and then I would start thinking of different things I would want to do and the types of clothes I would want, and then I would start thinking about my friends, and I would wonder if my gifts would be more beautiful than theirs, and on and on…

"For months before, because I would be thinking of Christmas, I would be saving some small coins from my chop [lunch] money or collecting some fallen wood in the forest and selling it as firewood. I would do this so I could buy foodstuffs for December 24’th when I would go home and prepare my own Christmas dish. It was usually rice and stew and I would make it very delicious!”

8:18 A.M.
Like a hardened capitalist, I asked, And the presents? What about those? 

 Oh yeah. Before December 15, you would tell your parents [what you wanted]. You would alert them to what kind of clothes, what kind of shoes, and they if they had the money, they would buy it for you. If the money wasn’t there, they would choose whatever style they could afford. From the 20’th to the 24’th was when you would get your presents, if you could get them…

"On the 24’th of December, you are thinking about Christmas, Christmas, Christmas! When you finish making your own food that night, I would taste a little of it, but then I would reserve it for myself for the next morning. Elders in my family would come in the morning and take a small taste of everyone’s food, and declare this person’s food the most delicious or that person’s food the most delicious.”
8:23 A.M
Did your friends think it was strange that you would be cooking and not hanging out with them on Christmas Eve? “All my friends were also preparing dishes!” So, everyone stays home cooking on Christmas Eve? "But..."  Lawrence continued.

Later on the 24’th night, all the children who go to the Catholic Church would gather and sleep there. We would prepare to wake up early and sing Christmas songs early on Christmas.
8:21 A.M.
"We would even wake up sometimes around 4 in the morning and we would sing for 30 minutes or so in the church. Then we would go out to every house in Humjibre and sing for people. If they liked our singing, they would give us a little something as a Christmas gift.”

You would sing in front of people’s houses at 4:30 A.M!?! “Yes!” Do they still do this? “Yes, some churches do.” In the recording, you can hear the sound of my palm slapping against my forehead. Lawrence went on,

8:25 A.M
"We would be singing at people’s house until 9 or 10 in the morning. After the house to house singing, we would then hand the money over to the church, and I would come home and take my bath. And then, I would get a chance to eat my food.”

The church took your money? “They would give us some biscuits and candy for our work.” I thought this didn’t sound fair, but that’s a whole other discussion. So no one would eat your food? “No! Nobody would touch my food unless I gave them a little…which I usually did.” 

8:27 A.M
 In the evening, I would go out with your friends and just hang out. We would be comparing our new clothes. We were very honest too! Sometimes, I would say things like, ‘Oh your clothes are nice, but you, your clothes are not so good.’ We would discuss this way for a long time.” Lawrence looked a little sheepish recollecting his childhood vanity. I thought of my own childhood vanity at Christmas in comparison: I would hope packages under the tree weren’t clothes at all but stacks of aggressive video games...Now I was more embarrassed and I reached over to stop the recording.

But! New Years!” Lawrence exclaimed. I stopped mid-reach. “People in Humjbire say that New Years Day is the most popular day in the whole year! Even more than Christmas!”
8:29 A.M.

First of January is not something small! It’s a very big event! This is when the Catholic Church has their annual harvest celebration. Everybody would be taking photographs if they have cameras, and those who got new clothes for Christmas would be wearing them. Even if they didn’t go to church, they would come. Sometimes, there was half of Humjibre there. People would come from other towns because they knew that people were dressed well and there was good food in Humjibre!

"In the morning, the youth church members, like myself, would arrive early on the first of January, and help get the place prepared. We would sweep, arrange chairs, and put up canopies outside. By 11 or 12 the Harvest would begin and it would continue on into the night. 
8:31 A.M.
"What would happen is this: You would bring food, and place it with other food. It was food like, some yams or some plantains. Once the food was all collected, and it was your turn, you could say a price. But then if people liked the food, someone would say a higher price, then if someone else liked the food more, they would say a higher price. Sometimes people would by so much food!”

So like an auction for foodstuffs…you could pay like 5 cedis for a yam, even though it’s like four times higher than the real price? “Yes!” Why would people do this?

Because everyone was having a good time together!”

As I was pressing 'stop' in the recording, I was thinking that no matter where you are in the world, you celebrate holidays not to taste good food and get things, but to have a good time together. And what better time to do so when a year makes its full cycle...

Humjibre, December 24, 2011 - 8:40 A.M
From all of us here at GHEI, here’s to you, your family and your friends, all having a good time together this holiday season. Afeyhia Pa!

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