03 January 2011

The First Noel

People all around the world celebrate Christmas differently, mostly deeply seeded in religious, cultural or family tradition. It’s a time of the year that I am usually surrounded by a blanket of white snow, jingle bells and the colorful glow of Christmas lights hung from anywhere with an accessible power source. Christmas has always been about enjoying the comforts and familiarity of family and childhood friends, who makes the trip back to the Midwest to celebrate in traditional style. The only tradition I kept Christmas Day 2010 was the Peace Corps’s challenge of learning about the culture I have been trying desperately to blend into.

The morning was beautiful. The dawn was bright and cloudless. With Harmattan in full swing, Moyamba was enjoying mild African weather and a soothing breeze. Unable to let go of my Christmas routine, I woke up, got myself some much needed coffee from a pot boiling over my coal stove and attempted to replicate Sinning Family Christmas morning. My Mom had sent me a snowman figurine, a cinnamon scented candle and had affectionately wrapped a few gifts in my last care package. With only one Christmas song on my Ipod playing on repeat (some remade version of Joy to the World by the next so called teenage pop sensation, Mom, I really just wanted Willi Nelson) my cinnamon candle burning, I was eager to find out what Santa had brought me in SL. He did well, exactly what every PCV needs…ultra black mascara, a block of Velveeta and a good sewing kit. I was touched and the tickle of homesickness was at the brink of exploding out. However, it was violently suppressed by a blast of African music from just over the wall adjacent to my house. Moyamba was awake, generators on full power, ready to celebrate Christmas in true African tradition.

I didn’t know what to expect for my Moyambian Christmas and I was mostly unsure what exactly I should have been doing. Like a fish out of water, this tradition wasn’t something I quite understood yet and continuously looked to something normal. What I found was my intense desire to be in church. Knowing that a small service was taking place, I headed towards the bells, only to find an empty chapel. My Americanness didn’t take into account BMT (Black Man Time) …..I was disappointed and my emotions could not handle it and no amount of upbeat African music was going to suppress it this time. I broke down but it was like acknowledging the big black elephant in the room. It was over and I felt better, even though I did sleep through most of church.

Rejuvenated and recharged emotionally, the day took a very different turn. I left my self containment and headed out into Moyamba town. A few of my fellow teachers and friends were having a little party; actually it was pretty much a barbecue. We sat in the backyard with a few beers and talked about everything from American Christmas, upcoming Presidential elections, immigration, educational systems and attempted to get to the bottom of why I am not married. Lots of laughs and scheming for the upcoming New Year.

From the barbecue, I headed out to meet some other friends at, of course, the Christmas album launch of the next Moyamba hip-hop upstart. Every Christmas needs hip hop show, its a tradition most likely worth bringing back to the states ;-) It was another spectacularly surprising day in West Africa....

After a short recovery from my yuletide back yard bbq and rap/hip-hop debut show, I was back on the road with my bike in the early morning heading towards Bauya. Boxing Day in Bauya with Brandon Brown (please don't try and say that five times fast) Our destination was the 'outing' a.k.a a town celebration. We jumped on our bikes and pedaled the a neighboring village outside of Bauya. Ramping the ruts of the road, speeding downhill and cruising through the jungle, we came across a large group of people which we presumed was the 'outing'.  The crowd was conjugated around an entrance which donned a tattered blanket shrouding whatever was behind in mystery. We haggled our way to the front of the line and allowed entry to the secret gathering place. Beautiful! They had cleared out a section of the jungle so you could walk, dance and enjoy. Tall palm trees offered a canopy to block out the sun, large speakers that looked very out of place in the natural world pumped out more African beats, there was a stream and the SLeoneans had built a fence out of bamboo making it a VIP club.  We met up with some people from Brandon's village and tasted the local palm wine. From God to Man and I want to have another jungle party. Wanting to keep safe, we unfortunately had to take to the road again before darkness caught us. Another day in paradise...

On behalf of those hardcore PCVs who waded through the loneliness of Christmas in the village …I learned a valuable lesson. Christmas ‘events’ are uniquely different between my Midwestern family and my Sierra Leonean community but the tradition isn’t all that unfamiliar, we both eat our favorite foods, listen to music (even though it has some different beats) and spend the day with friends and family.  Moyamba has been happy I stayed and considered her my SL family.

A few days after Christmas, I was chatting with my Principal about my service and the upcoming teaching year at Harford. “The first term is over and you emotionally made it through your first Christmas away from home,” she explained. “The hard part is over.”

Finally...sending many Merry Christmas greetings from me to you all around the world!