The toukel is decorated, the presents are wrapped and away beyond the latrines a goat nibbles absent-mindedly on some old orange peel, oblivious to the festive Sword of Damocles twinkling o'erhead like the Star over the Stable. It's Christmas Eve and I'm singing along to 'A Christmas Gift For You', trying manfully to outdo the somewhat incongruous strains of 'Mysterious Girl' that have been drifting across the compound since dawn yesterday. Eeh, Kambia! It's been a very strange festive run-in, all told- the heat alone is enough to disorientate and even as I type sweat is rolling down my temple onto the table. Nice. There really won’t be snow in Africa this Christmas. In fact, there's been no rain either for weeks now and all is dust; feathery red dust caking every spare square inch, glittering in the headlamps and the torches. This is the Harmattan, swirling down from the Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea as it does at this time every year. The other thing that’s strange is the complete lack of any recognisable Christmas paraphernalia. No decorations, no special foods, no presents, scarves, mittens, bells, no window displays or sparkle, no cards, no carols, no Slade (small mercy that last one)- the list is endless. Even in church Advent has underwhelmed-no candles? No crib? Surely to God they’ll sing a Christmas carol soon?! Bah humbug! But then again, most of this is stuff is, well, just that-stuff. Padding for the commercial horror that Christmas can so easily become if not kept on a tight leash. And of course they don’t have it because it’s 40 degrees outside and nobody has any bloody money anyway. It’s different somehow- simpler- after all, peace reigns in Sierra Leone and surely that’s what really counts.
Having said all that, we do actually have a really lovely day planned out-carols in the toukel with mulled wine and mince pies (I know!), then onto Midnight Mass. Tomorrow it’s church again followed by secret santa and a big cook-off/feast with friends and family. Charles is going to teach me the secrets of perfectly caramelised plantain and I’m going to show him how to, errr, boil a Christmas pudding.... Secret Christmas foodstashes have survived the ravening attentions of volunteers and mice alike, and-glory be! There's not a turkey in sight! There's a chicken, mind, a juicy moist, tender little chicken strutting about…
[Exciting interlude! 4pm Christmas Eve and who should call at the base but the postman!! Christmas parcels all round! Can’t hardly believe it!!]
And we do seem to have rather a lot to celebrate-Dr Mary has arrived to join our motley crew and has instantly proved her worth with all manner of ingenious homemade decorations-Toblerone wrapper nativity stars? No problem! Intricate snowflakes crafted from scrap? Coming right up! Very impressive J But that’s not the half of it ladies and gents....... Big News in Kambia! The lovely Grace is being visited by her fella, the equally lovely Borja, and he’s only gone and proposed! On the veranda if you please! Of course we had to have a party and duly gorged ourselves on engagement beans, engagement cucumber and engagement mayonnaise, all washed down with engagement wine-in-a-box (don't knock it!) Best of all, we got to serenade the happy couple with 'All I Want For Christmas is You', a capella first verse then breaking out into the Full Mariah with an, ahem, 'freestyle movement section'..... Well worth popping the question for, eh? In fact they're probably not even engaged at all, the whole thing was probably just an elaborate hoax so they could see the Show of the Century. Probably.
Back in England Mr. and Mrs. Garner will be celebrating a matrimonial Christmas for the first time, as will Mr. and Mrs. Bennet. Emma, Luke and Nora are spending their first Christmas together with Baby Woody, while Wills and Kate (what?! I'm happy for them!) …well, actually they’ll probably just be stuck in a rut of hair holding and second-hand stollen, but I’m sure they’ll be very happy and excited notwithstanding. Right. I’m going to be serious, just for a moment if I may-the very reason I miss Christmas so much is because it reminds me how much I miss all of you. Life isn’t always straightforward and some familiar faces will forever be absent from round the Christmas table, but they’ll never be missing from our hearts and nor will you from mine, no matter how many millions of miles away I might be. That’s really all I meant to say, but there. You know what I’m like.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night,
Ps; dashing off to the tailors now to (hopefully!) collect my Africana suit-just in the very St. Nick of time!!