But say a prayer to pray for the other ones
It's hard, but when you're having fun
There's a world outside your window
And it's a world of dread and fear
Where the only water flowing is the bitter sting of tears
And the Christmas bells that ring there
Are the clanging chimes of doom
Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you
And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime
The greatest gift they'll get this year is life
Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow
Do they know it's Christmastime at all?
-Bob Geldof, Midge Ure
“Do they know it's Christmas time at all?”
While this song has never quite sat well with either of us, it feels even more condescending than ever. We can only speak for Malawi, but yes, they know it is Christmas time. They also know it is the start of the New Year. They don't call it “Holiday Season” or “Christmas Season” they call it the “Festive Season”.
There are no trees or lights or in most households gifts on Christmas morning. There is Christmas music on the radio, Chrismas Eve and Christmas Morning services, and a lot of families will make special food around the Festive Season like rice instead of nsima. Christmas here may look different but they do know it is happening. The majority of Malawi has been infiltrated with Christian theology, so again, they know.
It is the beginning of rainy season and right in the middle of the hunger season and the height of crime season. But to say “the only gift they'll get this year is life”, not so accurate. Just like in the sates there is a lot of pressure for families to make this time of year special, but because of the season this is the time of year food is scarce and money is limited so unfortunately, there is a rise in robberies to make the ends meet. However, on a day to day basis Malawi, nicknamed “The Warm Heart of Africa”, is known for their hospitable nature. They are friendly and helpful and no matter what the day is if their neighbor is in need they help. There is plenty of life here and sometimes it is difficult but I would argue that the greatest gift they give each other is the day to day generosity that comes from a communal life style.
The rains stopped around August so most families are living on reserves. Most of Malawi's revenue is based in agriculture so there is little money around this time. No rain, no crops. (Of course this is a practice we are working to change, but that is for another post.)
“Where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow”.
This year, December 20th, it started to rain. And now every road is a river. Our front yard, though mostly weeds, is green, lush and thriving. We are just starting to get real food from our garden. The few plants we were able to keep alive are starting to really produce. Our neighbor's maize is starting to sprout and the fields are bright green. It took only two weeks of rain for all of this to happen. When it rains it pours and the fields and crops respond. There is actually little that won't grow here. The people here might not grow a large variety but that doesn't mean it's barren.
Christmas time for us, looked a little different. I just finished Malawi Music Project (I promise to update!) and met Matt in Karonga District at our friend Amy's site, which is along the lake, to celebrate Christmas with friends in-lieu of family. From there, we went to Kande where I read books while Matt became scuba certified. To celebrate the New Year we headed to Nkhata Bay. At all of these places we saw Malawians vacationing and celebrating. There were families enjoying the lake and taking time to do something special. This is not a common experience for most Malaiwians, but it is a reminder that things are not always what we see on TV. Children with distended bellies and flies stuck to their face is not the whole picture of Africa.*
“And there won't be snow in Africa this Christmas time”.
Duh. The climate of Malawi does not particularly lend its self to snow. In some the northern, mountains they occasionally get frost. Snow, however, might indicate a larger problem, especially since right now, it's summer time.
*Disclaimer: Africa is not a country. The views and opinions in this post and blog are specific to Malawi, a small land locked country in the continent of Africa, and does not accurately express Africa as a whole.