Thursday, December 25, 2008

How I Spent My Christmas Holidays: A View from Ghana

Every Ghanaian child has written an essay on the topic, “How I spent my Christmas Holidays” at least once in his/her life, but I don’t think I ever wrote truthfully about my Christmas holidays. Maybe I was developing the knack for writing great fiction every time I had to invent stories about my holidays. It wasn’t because my holidays were not made of stuff that was interesting enough to write about that I had to whip up stories; it’s just that all my memorable Christmases were spent in a mining village which lies about six miles away from Tarkwa, and while I had interesting experiences there, I didn't talk about my holidays because I felt it wasn’t cool enough to warrant being talked about. So whenever I got back to Accra after spending about two weeks of my Christmas holidays in the village, I made my life easier by burying everything that had occurred there, and jumped back into my life in Accra. Oh the complicated life of the Ghanaian child- I was already being taught to hate my way of life.

That village experiences ranked low on coolness scale wasn't just a figment of my imagination. It was fact. I remember once when schools resumed after the holidays, the class clown kept telling everyone that he had called three people during the vacation. Let’s call them Adwoba, Adzo and Esi (Me). The guy said that when he called Adwoba, he was told that she had gone to the UK. Then he called Adzo, and was informed that she had left for the US. But when he called me, my mother said, “oh Esi, Esi ɔkɔ ekurase...(Oh Esi, Esi has gone to the village)”. This was quite funny, and I could take a joke, so we all laughed it off, but that guy really teased me about my village trips. I tell the story to make the point that, when you’re a kid in Ghana, you do not feel that you can come to school in Accra (I don’t know if the story was different at Nkwantanang School in Madina where my mother was a teacher, but I can imagine that if you were at Morning Star or any other such overprized school, you wouldn’t) and talk about your village experiences in the same way that people brag about abroad experiences. For one, you do not return from the village with fresh Nikes, nice-looking pens or jelly sandals (these were the rage in those times), or combat boots. We always used to come from the village with mushrooms, snails and akranteɛ. I don’t care how confident you are as a kid, there’s just no way you’re going to be talking about the akranteɛ soup you had during the holidays-Again, a missed opportunity to learn more about ourselves.

So today I thought I’d finally write about how I spent my Christmas holidays. It may be fifteen years too late but they say it's better late than never.

My christmas holidays usually began with a six-hour bus ride from Accra to Aboso. The journey to Aboso was always long and tiring, and by the time we got to Aboso, or even Tarkwa, our skins would be covered with a thin film of loose red dust. The dust came from the parts of the Takoradi-Tarkwa road which was untarred. It would collect on the hairs on our bodies so imagine my small teeny weeny afro,eye-brows and lashes, skin, and even the hairs in my nostrils covered with brown dust. I was always so excited to get to Aboso. Once there, we’d walk from the car station home. Because, we were from the city, all the villagers would be looking at us, and saying “Akwaaba o, Akwaaba o” (Welcome, Welcome). Elated, I'd beam and enjoy my 15 minutes of fame, and importance, forgetting that in Accra, I was a nobody. In my village, I was a bronyiba, and people I didn’t even know would say things like “Woarabae, awo na eenyin dei yi a” (Is it Woarabae who has grown so big?). I mean, being from the city was a big deal! Those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about can get an idea by thinking on how good the burghers feel when they arrive fresh in Ghana from Germano or Italy abontenso. Better still, just walk to the Accra mall and witness the nyatenyate young ladies from the US and elsewhere who have started arriving in droves right about this time of the year with their newly acquired slangs (foreign accents), and “ewurade, Ghana ayɛ hye papa” (God, Ghana has become too hot), comments. I saw one of these abroad people wearing a sweater-dress yesterday in Accra. She looked like someone who had just transitioned from Fall to Harmattan. I shook my head in amusement as a smile formed on my face.

Once we’d gotten home (my grandparents' house), we’d start the Christmas proper. The main highlights of Christmas in the village were

  1. Fancy Dress competition between the two fancy dress groups also known as kakamotobi (Japanese sounding Ga word for fancy dress/ masquerade costume) in the village. The two groups entertained with their dancing, climbing specially-mounted tall bamboo poles, and performing tricks at its top once they got there. The tricks included taking of their clothes and wearing new ones at the top of the pole. Some of the men walked on stilts and others danced in their costumes, swinging switches in energetic feet-stamping, arm swinging dances.
  2. Door to door singing by the singing bands of many of the churches in the village. Their Christmas carols were sung in Fanti and the house to house trips were made at dawn.

During one of those holidays spent in the village, I’d taken along a white shirt that my aunt had bought me from Marks and Spencer, tags still intact. Now that I think about it, this too is similar to the way that Ghanaians living abroad bring new clothes when they visit Ghana. I wore my new white shirt and green togas (tr: loose fitting pants). Then, feeling tres bien, (tr:good), went to join in the masquerade costume party. By the time the evening of dancing was over, my white shirt had turned brown, from my own sweat, mixed with red dust, and pushing and shoving by other dancers. No amount of washing, or blue (blue is a blue powder which Ghanaians usually add to water to make a solution for rinsing white clothing. The blue solution is believed to whiten clothes) could turn the shirt white again. I was very upset about the condition of my new white top, now turned brown, and so the brown dust has now become part of my Christmas memories.

One thing that strikes me is that I don't associate giving and receiving presents with christmas, though i'm sure that many Ghanaian families do this (even my siblings who came ten years after me have had christmas' when they received wrapped presents after my aunt's dutch friend introduced it in our family) but it's not something that formed part of my own childhood. I do however remember getting the usual bronya atar (christmas dress) which I'd wear to the village church on christmas day, but those were never wrapped.

If anyone were to ask me what images christmas brings to mind, I’d say that when I think of christmas, I think of red dust, chilly harmattan mornings, fancy dress, eating food from other people’s homes, chips, cakes, and batter-coated peanuts, danish butter cookies (because we always got them for my grandma at christmas), piccadilly biscuits, door-to-door singing, long bus rides, and snails crawling in our kitchen once we got back to Accra:)

What about you? What comes to mind when you think of Christmas in Ghana / how did you spend your christmas holidays?


  1. Merry Christmas Esi. That was a lovely post.One thing that comes to mind whenever I Christmas was approaching was Rice & Chicken.......I got to eat more chicken on Christmas as a kid....BA


    you reminded me of this video

    I love how descriptive you are about everything Im taking notes to use on my own blog

  3. Picadilly biscuits and cake, definitely! Those were constant elements regardless of where I actually spent the Christmas.

    PS: And yeah--back in primary school I distinctly remember wondering at the lack of creativity of one of my friends who didn't do too well when it came to writing essays like 'How I spent my Christmas holidays', 'Myself', and others. While I'd learnt that those essays were valued for their fictional content she'd be stymied by trying to write the truth (while hampered by the same mental construct that nothing she'd actually done was cool enough). I remember asking her to try conjuring stories about things she wished she'd done instead :) --talk about the non-existent bike received from the non-existent rich uncle, etc, etc. If your school was like mine then 2 main qualities made for a good essay: length (aka verbosity), and long sentences properly constructed :)

  4. I remember the new political suit my father will have the tailor sew for me for Christmas. That item of clothing was to be my only formal wear for the next year till Christmas came again. I also remember it was the only time we would gather around coal pots in the morning to warm ourselves as we take turns to boil water for bathing. Gosh those certainly were good days.....As for the essay i wrote after Christmas, it was always made up of fantasies i could only dream of. I came across one of those essays in my dad's stuff lately and i was amazed at my ability to write such good fiction at about nine years of age. At least i know that i can always write fiction to make more money to support my meagre salary as an investment banker...cheers

  5. During my SSS years on the OKUASS campus in Akropong-Akuapem ,the "Accra/Tema boys and girls" had so much to say when they came back from vacation. For me my vacations involved sticking around Akuapem Amanokrom and Akropong-Akuapem because that was where the fun/family was. ESI's so correct. We the ones who were not living in the cities were seen as uncool so most of the jokes sometimes came our way.

  6. Really Good Stuff. Hahaha. I could not help but laugh. I know exactly what you mean. I could never think of what to write when writing about what i did at Christmas. Many attempts to make things up did not ring true to my conviction, so my essays were always short and boring sentences. Some people travelled abroad at Christmas and came back with lots of clothes and shoes- you name it. I went to Morning Star- Arise and Shine

    The first time I came abroad was when I first came here and i am still here. hahaah. Thank God, at least my parents could give us pressies- unwrapped- but it still gave as joy. All my pressies were from the market- Kantamanto and the best part of it was that i choose them all- commemorations for not travelling. My mummy sewed, so we always had bespoke dresses- dats right, made to fit. When i was kid- i did not appreciate it but now i do. All Bronewawo dresses also served us well. Did you know- the rich here shop at charity stores to find rare and old accessories to adorn themselves. It is all abut style. Some go for ££000 of pounds. Enviable- i must say

    Girl- you have lived- at least you have a balanced view of life. As for those abrokyere crowd who go to ghana for Christmas- most of them pretend they have it all back home. Some do and they that do- are very humble, it is only those who r not made of money that make too much noise and cause many ghanaians to think abrokyere is greener than ghana- i just do no believe so.

    I really enjoyed the piece. Hilarious - Laughter is good medicince - i feel better.

  7. you just made my day,my 7 years continuous christmas in uk ha almost wiped all the beautiful childhood memories ...I remeber my christmas in the village was always fab becuase i get to meet all the cousins and family memebers that i've not seen for ages,small parties and stuff