Sunday, January 8, 2012

Christmas differences

They have "wrapping sheets" in "bookstores" here, but bookstores are where you go to buy books of empty lined paper, not reading books. We found three packets of wrapping sheets, and it's a pretty good term for them: pre-measured sheets of wrapping paper. You get a lot in each package, and it was really high quality, but it cost $8 per package. Coming from starving-grad-student days of buying dollar store wrapping paper, that feels expensive, so we actually saved some sheets to reuse for birthdays.

The price of rice goes up starting in Sept or Oct, I am told, as farmers and traders prepare for the big Christmas rush to buy rice. Rice is apparently the traditional celebratory food for Christmas. For our part, Christmas preparations involved driving the dirt back-roads looking for the one guy in town who butchers a pig (that's right, A pig ... one) each day so we could have our first pork in Nigeria.
Even my brother might appreciate the machete he used
Speaking of livestock, I ought to mention that Joy loves eating the skin ... but only in the US. There's something indefinably different about the taste of the bird skins out here. There is one part that is definable, though. We soak all our meat in a vinegar solution for about 10 minutes and scrub it before we put it in cold storage, and that helps, but there's still sometimes dirt on the skin, and the pork came with some of the hide still attached. There's no attempt to give rib cuts or differentiate between good cuts and bad cuts. I could just specify "not from the leg" and be thankful for what I got.

First World Problems: in the US, people complain about decorations going up so early. They complain about Christmas music blaring everywhere for months. I missed those problems! I miss Christmas decorations everywhere. I could find a few small plastic trees with a strand of singing lights. I was glad we kept the top of our old tree to be our new one.

(some*) People who don't celebrate Christmas in the US complain about its use and over-marketing. Here, most of the Muslims I spoke too also celebrated Christmas and were quite happy to wish each other Merry Christmas. Eventually I got over being timid about wishing people a Merry Christmas around here. This was nice.

Caroling is apparently a Western tradition. Most everyone was surprised that I was wearing a "Father Christmas hat." Prince occasionally sang and mostly hit a can of nuts with a bit of stick to make a drum. We caroled to our guards, and one fellow in their post turned the radio up while we sang. We caroled to our neighbor the chicken farmer and they sang with us. "We only do this in church." We offered to carol to some neighborhood women on their way, but they didn't have time and thought the idea was strange but invited us over another day. We caroled to our next-door neighbor just as they got back from a 7 hour drive and they were happy. They apologized for not having cider to offer us and we apologized for not having brought fudge. (Ah, the exchange of proper seasonal apologies was sweet: the acknowledgement that we both recognize the same Platonic/Rockwellian traditions and know we can't do it "right" here, but are sure trying hard! *sigh*) We caroled to another family in the compound ... and found a fellow Latter-day Saint who said, "You are stealing our songs! Those were from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir." When our mouths dropped (quite literally in my case) he realized he was no longer alone in Yola.

I tried to find out about Nigerian Christmas traditions, but was met only with the bland "We get together with our families and eat food and go to church." Then again, I imagine it is a difficult for someone who has only lived at home to know what they do differently from other countries. What, you mean the Wise Men don't come and leave presents in your shoes and Knecht Ruprecht doesn't make the children recite a poem or song they learned that year or else get a beating in America (Germany)? Why would you celebrate on the 25th when everyone knows Christmas is January 7, and what's up with all the commercialism for a strictly religious holiday (Russia)? Maybe next year we'll figure out what a true Nigerian Christmas means.

* - I will fully grant that Islam has rather a different relationship to Jesus than Judaism or atheism or your favorite ism and do not mean to offend any out there for whom this is a tender subject.