By Mwizenge S. Tembo, Ph. D.
Professor of Sociology
Once again another Christmas season is here. It has always occurred to me that parents create lasting warm memories through the wonderful things they do for their families and especially children during the Christmas holidays season. When these children grow to be adults, they will often return home during the holidays to re-experience that magic. I do not know whether I can ever re-experience my special childhood Christmas magic living in a modern city or urban environment.
We were a family of nine (6 girls and 3 boys) in rural villages in Chipata in my native Zambia in Southern Africa. My father was a primary school teacher who earned a modest K20.00 or twenty-dollars per month in the 1960s. How did he and my mother make us all happy at Christmas? Of course, some of the foods like corn or maize, beans, sweet potatoes and peanuts we grew on land just behind our house. How did my father manage to buy one gift for each one of us at Christmas? He saved and planned ingenious layaways for the whole year with the local Indian or Mwenye shopkeeper at Mugubudu Stores.
Each of the six girls and mother got an inexpensive dress sewn by local tailor. Designer clothes were out of the question. The boys usually got either a pair of shorts or a shirt. One Christmas at the old age of eight, my father bought me my first pair of shoes. When I opened the box and saw the beautiful shoes that Christmas morning, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I was grinning from ear to ear. I put them to my nose to smell them. They smelt new. Everybody had a big laugh because I did not know which shoe went on the right or left foot. Like a good mom, my mother teased me about my scrubbing my feet really good so that my razor sharp calluses did not put holes in the new shoes. She had a point because there were no socks with the shoes. A pair of socks would have been too expensive.
The most exciting and memorable part of Christmas day in our family was the food. The day before Christmas, my dad would buy a loaf of bread, rice, onion and Madras Curry Powder and a special spice called chikasu. Early in the morning on Christmas day, my mother told us to catch the big rooster we had saved all year. We kids ran so fast that we could have won the hundred-meter dash in the Olympics. The chicken was slaughtered. My mother diced the onions and sautéed them in oil with the curry powder spice. The aroma wafted from the kitchen. The smell was so good that it could have killed several starving and emaciated men. We kids would all hang around the kitchen our nostrils sniffing the air around us. Mother would tease us asking what we were hanging around the kitchen for!! Why didn’t we go and play outside, say about a kilometer away? She needed elbow room she would say. She would have this special beam and smirk on her face that said a thousand words that this was a special happy day.
After church at noon, we would have a large family feast; rice with chikasu spice that turned the white rice bright yellow and chicken cooked with the special curry spice, mango cake my sisters baked with recipes from their domestic science classes at the Kanyanga Catholic Boarding School. In the afternoon, dressed in whatever best new piece of clothing each of us had, we went to Christmas festivities including a variety of African or Zambia traditional dances like vinyau, chitelele, and cimtali in the nearby villages.
One memorable Christmas incident surrounds the African or Zambian precious village tradition of not wasting any food. When a chicken is slaughtered, for example, everything is used except for the feathers. Children clean and roast the intestines and the head and eat them as a snack ahead of the main meal. This was often seen as a preliminary reward for us children for performing the hard and exhausting task of chasing the chicken through the village before it was apprehended.
My brothers and I always looked forward to amusing ourselves by using the chicken’s stomach as a football ball. We would clean the inside, inflate it and tie it. We would usually get a good game of football going. One Christmas day, my brother and I had just inflated the chicken stomach and kicked the “ball” about fifty meters ahead of us in the village square. We sprinted after it. Six to ten chickens began to also chase the thing. This was not unusual. But from nowhere, our family dog furiously charged the “ball” amidst our screams to “stop!!!”. The African village dog knows a good meal when he sees one. He disappeared into the bush with the “ball”. He reappeared later licking his chops.
These Christmas memories are dedicated to my late mother Enelesi Kabinda Tembo (88yrs) who passed in January this year 2018 and my older sister Mrs Bridget Zimba Tembo(69yrs) who passed away just recently on December 14, 2018.