Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas in Freetown

It is a very hot day today, just like just about every other day that I have been in Freetown. Children and college students are off from school for the trimester break and so the streets in my suburban village are quieter with fewer poda-podas at work. Streets heading to downtown Freetown are regularly jammed with wedding cars festooned with garlands and balloons that soon burst in the heat (the holidays are popular times for weddings because this is when many Sierra Leoneans return home from abroad), holiday shoppers, and people running all over town preparing for the various Christmas carnivals that just about every church and community organization seems to be holding this week.

For the last two weeks, women have walked the back streets and paths of my village carrying on their heads plastic basins filled with metallic Christmas garlands, paper cut-outs of Santa and wreaths, and packages of tinsel. Hip-hop and dance versions of all of the familiar Christmas carols have been playing on the local radio stations and at the local pubs and telecenters that keep their music blaring well into the night. My favorite so far is a dance version of "O Come All Ye Faithful." I doubt many people will believe me, but it's really good and works as terrific dance music. It's done by a vocal group that includes a bass with a wonderfully resonant voice. The melody is played on steel drums, and there is an electronic beat that holds the whole thing together. Second to this is a version of "Jingle Bells" with words in Krio I can't completely make out, but with a great beat.

There isn't as much to buy here as in the states, and of course many people do not have money enough to buy what there is for sale, so Christmas presents are not so prevalent here as at home. Plastic Christmas trees, however, are quite common, even among Muslims since they recognize Jesus as a saint, and as one Lebanese restaurant owner told me when I asked him why as a Muslim he would put up a Christmas tree, "Jesus does not belong only to the Christians."

Tonight I will go to midnight mass at a local Catholic church and tomorrow I will attend a Christmas service at an evangelical church in Goderich. Despite being away from my family and friends, I will be spending a lovely Christmas this year.

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