Musings At Christmastime
2016 began with a riot of fun. For the first time in many years, the effort that went into setting up our home for Christmas saw fruition with family and friends joining us for a week of celebration – at home and at our second home, the Maasai Mara.
The new year was ushered in with much song and dance, food and drink, fun and frolic. And as usual with a lot of good wishes and hope for all.
Unfortunately for us, the new year quickly lost its sheen as illness, pain and ultimately death took its toll on our family. The year has been one of the worst for me, personally. The devastation is immeasurable and the void impossible to fill. No one, after all, can be a mother, but a mother.
Add to this the physical upheaval of moving to a new country at just this time of year, a lack of treasured, familiar and comforting possessions that are yet to reach us, and it becomes a bit obvious why this Christmas sees us low key.
Yet I refused to allow the gloom of the fading year to take away from the spirit of this season which is all about peace, love and festivity. For this is one of the many lessons I take away from my childhood – a celebration of all events happy, a spirit to never say die, even in the face of death itself. It is, for me, the continuing of a tradition that should not be broken – not just Christmas but the need to look for the light beyond the darkness.
Christmas, through my growing years, has always seen us have a small tree – of any species, sometimes of plastic, sometimes of paper – decorated with whatever we could afford and lay our hands on. The one common thread running through the years being – joy, celebration.
So, irrespective of the need to pay excess baggage to the airlines, compromising on the essentials of living and trying to squeeze all that we needed into a few bags of accompanied luggage I chose to bring with me this tiny tree and decorations – for me the epitome of an African Christmas.
I put together this Christmas corner …
Therein lie many short stories.
The tree, all of six inches, is made by Stephen, a Kenyan craftsman whose raw material is banana fibre. The decorations are Zulu beadwork from South Africa. Some of the hangings are wine glass identifiers!
Then there is the backdrop. Or the underlay, if you must.
Kenya has many traditional fabrics. The kikoy, the shuka, the kanga … This is a kanga. It is a length of cloth used as a scarf, a skirt, a cradle for a baby and anything else you can think to use it for. The cloth is a soft cotton, the colours are vivid and the prints bold. But every Kanga has on it a strip of writing – an idiom, a saying, a philosophy.
As a final souvenir of our wonderful stay in Kenya, I had picked a grey and mustard Kanga to use as a table cloth, fortuitously finding matching napkins! As the lady at the shop was taking her time billing I went back to the shelves and discovered this red and grey beauty. I instantly asked her if I could exchange the two. She was very gracious and allowed me to do so. While she finished wrapping my other purchases, I idly asked her what was written on the Kanga. What was the wisdom that I would be sharing with my next dinner guests? Her reply still stuns me with its appropriateness, with the hand of fate that made me pick this particular piece at this particular moment in my life … “My mother, I will always remember you”. The candle holders are, again, made by Maasai women under the aegis of the MAA trust.
Unashamedly, I dedicate this Christmas to the woman who is responsible not just for my existence but for the spirit of living she nurtured in me; for the example of generosity and giving she set for me with her every action; for her courage and strength to face every adversity with a smile in her heart that she hopefully has bequeathed to me. She will be a hard act to follow.