Yes, They Know It’s Christmastime

A lot of people get mad about Christmas music-not so much at the songs themselves, but from hearing the same songs over and over again beginning November 1. But not me. I love listening to Christmas music all day. But this year, there’s one song in particular I’ve got a beef with.

It goes like this:

“It’s Christmastime, there’s no need to be afraid
At Christmastime, we let in light and we banish shade

And in our world of plenty we can spread a smile of joy
Throw your arms around the world at Christmastime

But say a prayer, Pray for the other ones
At Christmastime 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
Where nothing ever grows
No rain nor rivers flow
Do they know it’s Christmastime at all?”

-“Do They Know It’s Christmas?”

This song was written at a time when the media was covering a devastating famine in Ethiopia and Eritrea in the early 1980s. While I appreciate someone trying to bring attention to issues in Africa, I’m really over people generalizing Africa as if it’s one country, one people group, one problem. I’ve experienced this first hand over the past year from Americans who try to warn me of the Ebola and terrorism they assume is in Uganda, (Ugandans laugh when I bring this up to them).

I heard this song my first full day back in America of my Christmas holiday. I’ve never had the experience of a Christmas song make me angry before. But come on really? “bitter sting of tears?” “clanging chimes of doom?” Okay so they’re painting a picture, and in some cases (such as a detrimental famine) that might be justified.

What bothers me is the insinuation that Africans don’t know about Christmas and that they don’t celebrate it. And that people think “chimes of doom” can refer to people across the entire continent.

Now before I go into a mini-rant, let me first say, I do have very limited experience of African culture, having only lived in one country over the past 7 months. So I can only speak on behalf of what I have experienced in Uganda in that short time.

I’m very bothered by the idea that Americans listen to this song every Christmas, feeling bad for people across the world, thinking they don’t know it’s Christmastime, which is ridiculous. Yes it’s true, we don’t get snow in Uganda (except the peaks of the Rwenzori mountains) but I’m pretty sure snow didn’t fall the night baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem. And let us remember the record heat we’re having this year-we don’t have snow in Michigan this Christmas either. If anything, Hollywood has made us associate Christmas with snow, and makes us feel like Christmas is incomplete without it. And “there won’t be snow in Africa this Christmastime” is not even a blanket statement that can be used legitimately after Cairo, Egypt was in the news two weeks ago for receiving their first snowfall in 112 years. 1

“Where nothing ever grows”? Don’t these singers know the huge amount of natural resources Africa is blessed with, such as coffee, grains, oil, and gold, just to name a very few. “No rain or rivers flow”? When I left Uganda a week and a half ago, we were still pretty immersed in the raining season. And do I really need to mention rivers? What about the Congo River, or I don’t know, the Nile?

It’s unfortunate that people think they can say what they want about Africa in such a negative way, and in this case, their words get played in melodic form for the next thirty-some years. Because of this, stereotypes about Africans are not going away like they should be, such as Africans are all too poor and dismal to celebrate Christmas or too oblivious to even know when it is.

According to the most recent census, 85% of Ugandans are Christian, while only 12% are Islam. This would mean the vast majority of the population celebrates Christmas. While Africans often have much less access to good education, they are still very intelligent, and they do own calendars! They definitely know when Christmas is.

From what I’ve seen, people that live in rural villages celebrate Christmas. It’s often the one day of the year that people buy meat and soda for their family. They don’t exchange gifts like we do, but just because they don’t celebrate like we do, doesn’t mean they’re not celebrating. Ugandans go to church on Christmas Day, no matter what day of the week it is. If anything, they understand and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas better than we do.

Let’s not forget that there are 1.2 million people living in the city of Kampala, and those of them that are Christians are definitely celebrating. In the city there are Christmas lights, Christmas music, churches do Christmas productions, and you can walk into a large retail store and buy a fake Christmas tree, just like the ones we have here in America. Christmas is a time when most people living in Kampala leave the city and go visit family that live in the villages.

The tribal languages of Uganda that I have been introduced to even have their own word for Christmas-‘Sekukulu’ in Luganda.

I’ve read a little bit about the mixed reception this song had when it first came out in 1984, and although it became the biggest selling hit at the time it was released (Music Week, 1985) I’ve read several articles in which one of the writers, Bob Geldof, is quoted saying it’s a terrible song. After starting conversations, I found my Ugandan friends do not know the song, but the idea of it is insulting to them.

What I’m wondering is how the conversation about Africa has not changed in the last 30 years. This song is still played on the radio and still covered by other singers at Christmastime today.

Maybe some people think this song raises awareness of African lifestyle but they would be wrong. This song over-generalizes and promotes stereotypes of African people.

Pitying the continent as a whole does nothing to empower African people.

In a 2014 ‘The Guardian’ article about a revival of the song to raise awareness for the recent Ebola outbreak, the author states “I, like many others, am sick of the whole concept of Africa – a resource-rich continent with unbridled potential – always being seen as diseased, infested and poverty-stricken. In fact, seven out of 10 of the world’s fastest growing economies are in Africa.”2

The West has a certain negative mindset about Africa, and they only see it that way. Often when I tell people I live in Africa, they have a hard time believing me because the words Ebola, Terrorism, Famine, Disease, Poverty, run through their heads. They have no idea that in Kampala, I go to the movie theater, I go for jogs around my neighborhood, I go to the grocery store. It’s a very normal place and I feel very safe there.

Let’s change the conversation about Africa and African people. We can start by remembering there are different economic levels in Africa. I really do not want to diminish the pain that people do go through in many places around the vast continent. Approximately 50% of people in Sub-Saharan Africa(that’s every country except Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, and Western Sahara) live on less than $1.25 a day.3 Millions of people live in poverty we cannot even fathom. But, there are also many wealthy people in Africa. There are many people that live very affluent lifestyles. In 2011, a report was made saying 1-in-3 Africans are considered middle class.4 While the average income is certainly well below the average income in America, the cost of living is also much less, so people can get by on smaller incomes, while living comfortably.

Also, when talking about issues in the continent, try as best you can to discuss people groups, specific countries, because there are still many people who believe Africa in itself is one country-wrong!

So please, by all means, give generously to organizations that take care of the needy people of Africa. But Africa as a whole doesn’t need your pity. They need your compassion and they need for you to be educated.

If you would like to read more on this topic, here are the links to some articles I have really enjoyed:

Global Citizen: “Africans Are All Poor and 15 Other Myths”

https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/africans-are-all-poor-and-15-other-myths/

Relevant Magazine: “You Need Africa More Than Africa Needs You”

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/reject-apathy/you-need-africa-more-africa-needs-you

 

 

Works Cited:

1.http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/12/13/snow-egypt-middle-east_n_4438571.html

2. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/nov/19/turn-down-band-aid-bob-geldof-africa-fuse-odg

3. http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2008/09/16/new-data-show-14-billion-live-less-us125-day-progress-against-poverty-remains-strong

4. http://edition.cnn.com/2011/BUSINESS/05/20/middle.class.africa/

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16 Things I’ve Missed About America

 

I’ve spent 7 months of this year in Uganda. So hard to believe. Here is a list of somethings I have definitely been missing since moving to Kampala.

  • My family and friends- Not to start this list as a downer..but….sorry not sorry. This first one nearly goes without saying. I have spent so many nights alone in my house over the past four months. Nights when I feel lonely and I wish calling home didn’t make me feel even farther away. I’ve spent a lot of time remembering all the nights I used to sit in the breakfast room with my mom talking and complaining about how there was nothing on tv. I have missed when I could call up a friend and ask if they wanted to get Thai food and watch Netflix. One day I’ll be able to do something similar here in Uganda, but friendships like that have proven difficult for me to cultivate so far. So I have found myself missing my friends and family back home so much. I miss those relationships that came so easily, without cultural or language barrier and I am so so grateful for the two weeks I will have with them, praying it will somehow be enough time.
  • Bailey: I have three dogs on the compound I am now living on. But none of them are even close to being as great as Bailey. I cannot even wait to snuggle up with that furry log of a puppy when I get home. She is the greatest dog companion and I have no idea how I’ve lived seven months of this year without her.
  • Running Water: Maybe you would think that living in the city I wouldn’t have problems with water, but you would be wrong. It’s hard to explain the defeated emotion that comes when you have to wash your feet after walking home from work barefoot through mud, but when you turn on the tap in the bathtub, absolutely nothing comes out. My whole life I absolutely took running water for granted. Now I’m thankful for rain water that I can use to fill my toilet and public showers at my job. I didn’t notice how much my life had truly changed until I realized how I excited I was to go home to America to have the promise of a hot shower.
  • My Cello: I am so grateful to my job for purchasing a cello for me to play and teach on. This year I’ve learned a lot about how much of my identity I put into a piece of wood rather than the actual person God made me to be, but I know how much of a blessing it is to have that part of my life back. However playing on a student cello after spending years crafting my talent on a beautiful, fine instrument, proves to be difficult. I now have to work twice as hard to play while trying to keep the cello from squeaking. I can’t wait to play just anything on the glorious chunk of wood I left in the States. I might even practice scales just out of sheer joy.
  • My Car: I had access to a car here in Uganda for one week while my friend Sally was out of town, and it was crazy. Because of the British influence on Ugandan culture, nearly all of their cars are set up the English way. That means everything is on the opposite side. And I mean everything. I spent that whole week in Sally’s car turning on the windshield wipers every time I was intending to switch on a turn signal. And driving in Uganda is STRESSFUL. So along with missing my car, let me add in, driving on the right side of the road, roads that don’t have a million pot holes, roads that don’t disintegrate every time it rains, cows not in the road. Maybe you get the picture. It’s possible I could be going back home to driving on ice (though not likely with the record breaking weather you’re having), but let me tell you, driving on mud is EXACTLY the same.
  • Snacks: It’s not so much in Ugandan culture to snack, the portion sizes of their meals are usually pretty large and starchy, so they’re filling. I know it’s not the greatest part of American culture, but I miss my snacks during the day. I don’t miss the super unhealthy stuff, but I have been known to eat three granola bars throughout the day at home, which is not the case here seeing as granola is not so easy to come by. In America we definitely take for granted the access we have to choice. Here, I’ve been eating the same brand of digestive biscuits for a snack every day since August.
  • American Terminology: I live with four British neighbors and work in a British school. I feel like I’m learning two languages at once: Luganda and British English. I’ve lived next to these people for four months now and still struggle to understand each of their unique accents and word choices. It took me so long to adjust to the British school system and what everything is called. I miss people understanding my accent (which I don’t feel like I have) and understanding what people are saying around me, even when they’re speaking English.
  • Water Pressure: This goes along with running water, but when I am lucky enough to have water at my house, often it’s very little. It takes me about five minutes to get all of my hair wet in the shower. Oh, how I’m looking forward to showering in America. I might just do it three times a day. Not kidding, I have completely missed things people have said to me at work because I was honest to goodness, day dreaming about a hot shower with proper water pressure. How sad is that?
  • Washing Machine and Dryer: Even when I lived in the village in Uganda earlier this year, I was spoiled. Oh the luxury of a washing machine…Yes, now I do my laundry by hand, and sometimes come away with embarrassing scabs on my hands afterwards, displaying my weak skin. True I could hire a maid to do it for me but I just never got comfortable with the idea of some random woman having a key to my house and coming in and organizing my house and cleaning my clothes while I’m at work. However, I am lucky to have friends that have given up their time to teach me to wash my clothes by hand. I wouldn’t say I’m great at it, but I’m getting better. I’m sure I’ve been wearing at least partially dirty clothes for the past few months. But if you’ve never tried it, you should. It’s a very humbling experience.
  • Not Standing Out: I can sit in a taxi and know everyone there is talking about me, but have no idea what they’re saying. I hear “muzungu” a handful of times and hear snickers and I know something is being said about me. And I can’t go anywhere without getting the price jacked up for whatever it is that I need, just because I’m white and they assume I don’t know what it should be. I draw attention wherever I go, and really, I’m just looking forward to fitting in again.
  • CHEESE!: Good cheese is such a rare commodity in Uganda, and not a normal part of the diet at all. I normally only eat cheese when I order pizza or a burger at a restaurant, so I’m missing mac and cheese, string cheese, parmesan, cheese ravioli, and tons of other things that I can’t even think of because it’s been so long since I’ve had cheese! Ah!
  • Unlimited Data: I am so so grateful to have data on my smart phone, two luxuries I did not have when I was last here in Uganda. But now that I’m spoiled having data on my phone, I miss not having to worry about how much I’m using. And I hate kicking myself when I accidentally leave my data or internet on over night. Seriously, we’re way too blessed in America.
  • Microbrew Beer: I don’t drink very much at all, but I sure do miss the variety. We are so blessed in Michigan-nearly every city has its own microbrewery with its own signature beers. In Uganda we have about five kinds. So sad. I’m looking forward to getting some tastes of the flavors I’ve missed.
  • Being Clean: I am seriously never clean. The shower head in my house is shorter than I am (I would love to have a talk with whoever designed that) so it’s difficult to clean myself. Seriously, I find an ant on me around 2 times a week; I have no idea where they come from! And my feet get so dirty just walking around my house, it’s insane. When I get back, one of the first things I’m doing is taking a very long, very hot shower. On a daily basis I’m no where as dirty as I was when I lived in the village during he dry season but it’s still pretty bad for a teacher who spends most of her days in a classroom.
  • Going to Biggby with my mom: Oh how I miss those excursions. Tea is plentiful in Uganda but Iced Chai Lattes are not. I somehow managed to get one once after doing a lot of explaining, but it wasn’t easy. I’m sure when I’m back, several Biggby trips will happen. Gotta love those buy one get one free coupons.
  • All my friends being in one place: This will be my first Christmas season after most all of my friends have finished college and made a life for themselves. With Alyssa in Asia, Megan in Miami and other friends scattered around the midwest, this will be my first holiday season without everyone by my side. Feels a lot like growing up.

 

This list may sound sad but’s it’s not because in 24 hours I will be reunited with most all of these things (except Alyssa, boo) for two glorious weeks!

So a Merry Christmas to all of you! See you soon!

Sekukulu enungi!