As we amble towards Christmas the bleakness of not being able to spend time with our wonderful family gets harder to contemplate. We are the only ones in the office now – everyone else has gone ’travelling’ ie has returned to their village to be with their relatives.
Apart from not having our passports, we couldn’t return to our village if we wanted to, given the Big Freeze conditions back home which have grounded most of the flights.
Earlier this week we were taken to a local carol concert in another part of Ilorin. Katherine is in the choir and was eager that we should accompany her – which was fine, but after three hours in a cushion-free zone, my bum was definitely complaining.
There were several choirs, based on age/ experience, who sang a medley of familiar carols as well as ones we had not heard before including some in Yoruba and Igbo languages. Ashamedly, we had to stifle the odd giggle at some of the performances, but with others the harmonies and rhythms were emotionally quite powerful. It still seemed odd to be singing ‘While shepherds watched etc’ with the temperature in the high 20s; every bit of me is still expecting the days to get cold and dark some time soon (they won’t!)
Nobody could accuse the Nigerians of over-commercialising the festive season. Even in the church the decorations were plain and simple – long drapes of colourful cloth reaching across the air space and down the walls, and some fairy lights around the altar – that was it!
The shops are almost completely devoid of Christmas cheer except for a few ‘department stores’ that often have the gaudiest of decorations around the front door – huge singing plastic Father Christmases who could be heard several blocks away. No reindeers though, red-nosed or otherwise! Santa doesn’t even have a sleigh during his quick visit to Nigeria - because he has so little to carry, I would guess. The locals find our description of a jolly fat man climbing down chimneys to drop off gifts into stockings and pillow cases, partaking of a mince pie and a glass of sherry before zooming off next door, highly amusing.
The only presents that are commonly given here are small ‘washing baskets’ of groceries that are presented to the household. You see them outside the larger shops - a bit like hampers, wrapped up in cellophane and tied with a ribbon.
And yet everyone, Christians certainly, are looking forward to Christmas because of what it means to them in terms of the birth of Jesus and also the chance to greet their families again – often after many months of being away. They are excited far more about these things than by the receiving of gifts, over-indulgence and hours spent in front of the TV. Hmmmm!
So while we watch an ice-bound Britain struggling to make preparations for the festive season on Sky News, we try to deflect our thoughts by working, at least until Christmas Day, and vainly attempting to convince ourselves that we would rather be smothering ourselves with sun-cream than Vick’s decongestant!
P.S. The goat population does not seem to have diminished yet – nevertheless we are preparing ourselves for an evening or two of sorrowful bleating!