Fire on the Mountain
An African Christmas Story
P. E. Adotey Addo
It was the night before Christmas and I was very sad because my family life had been severely disrupted and I was sure that Christmas would never come. There was none of the usual joy and anticipation that I always felt during the Christmas season. I was eight years old but in the past few months I had grown a great deal. Before this year, Christmas in my village came with many things. Christmas had always been for me one of the joyous religious festivals. It was the time for beautiful Christmas music on the streets, on radio, television, and everywhere. Christmas had always been a religious celebration and the church started preparing way back in November. We really felt that we were preparing for the birth of the baby Jesus. Christmas was the time when relatives and friends visited each other so there were people traveling and visiting with great joy from all the different tribes. I always thought all that was what Christmas was.
Oh, how I wished I had some of the traditional food consumed at the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day dinners. But I knew I would not taste the rice, chicken, goat, lamb, and fruits of various kinds. The houses were always decorated with beautiful paper ornaments. The children and the young people loved to make and decorate their homes and schools with colorful crepe paper. And we looked forward to the Christmas Eve Service at our church. After the service there would be a joyous procession through the streets.
Everyone, including the local musicians, would be in a gala mood. Then on Christmas Day we all went back to church to read the scriptures and sing carols to remind us of the meaning of the blessed birth of the baby Jesus. We always thought that these were the things that meant Christmas. After the Christmas service young people received gifts of special chocolate, special cookies, and special crackers. They told us that the gifts come from Father Christmas, and this always meant Christmas for us. We also received new clothes and perhaps new shoes. Meanwhile, throughout the celebration, everyone was greeted with the special greeting word, Afishapa, meaning Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Oh how I wish that those memories were real tonight in order to bring us Christmas. However, this Christmas Eve things were different and I knew Christmas would never come. Everyone was sad and desperate because of what happened last April when the so-called Army of Liberation attacked our village and took the young boys and girls away. Families were separated and some were murdered. We were forced to work and march for many miles without food. There was very little food. The soldiers burned everything in our village and during the forced march we lost all sense of time and place.
Miraculously we were able to get away from the soldiers during one rainy night. After several weeks in the tropical forest we made our way back to our burned-out village. Most of us were sick, exhausted and depressed. Many family members were nowhere to be found. We had no idea what day or time it was. This was the situation until my sick grandmother noticed the reddish and yellow flower we call Fire on the Mountain blooming in the middle of the marketplace where the tree had stood for generations and had bloomed for generations at Christmas time. For some reason it had survived the fire that had engulfed the marketplace. I remembered how the nectar from this beautiful flower had always attracted insects making them drowsy enough to fall to the ground to become food for crows and lizards. We were surprised that the fire the soldiers started to burn the marketplace and the village did not destroy the Fire on the Mountain tree. What a miracle it was! Grandmother told us that it was almost Christmas because the flower was blooming. As far as she could remember this only occurred at Christmas time. My spirits rose for a few minutes as I saw the flower. Soon I became sad again though. How could Christmas come without my parents and my village?
How could this be Christmas time when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace if since April we had not known any peace, only war and suffering? How could we celebrate as grandmother instructed us to do just before she died? Those were the last words she spoke before she died. As I continued to think about past joyous Christmases and the present suffering, we heard the horn of a car and not just one horn but several cars approaching our village. At first we thought they were cars full of men with machine guns so we hid in the forest. But they did not have guns. They were just ordinary travelers. It seemed the bridge over the river near our village had been destroyed last April as the soldiers left. Since it was almost dusk and there were rumors that there were land mines on the roads, they did not want to take any chances. Their detour had led them straight to our village. When they saw us they were shocked and horrified at the suffering and the devastation all around us. Many of these travelers began to cry. They confirmed that tonight was really Christmas Eve.
They were on their way to their villages to celebrate Christmas with families and friends. Now circumstances had brought them to our village on this night before Christmas. They shared the little food they had with us. They even helped us to build a fire in the center of the marketplace to keep us warm. In the middle of all this, my sister became ill and could not stand up. A short time after we returned to our village my grandmother had told me that my oldest sister was expecting a baby. My sister had been in a state of shock and speechless since we had escaped from the soldiers.
I was so afraid for my sister because we did not have any medical supplies and we were not near a hospital. Some of the travelers and the villagers removed their shirts and clothes to make a bed for her to lie near the fire we had made. On that fateful night my sister gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. This called for a celebration, war or no war. Africans have to dance and we celebrated until the rooster crowed at 6 a.m. We sang Christmas songs. Each sang in his or her own language. For the first time all the pain and agony of the past few months left me. When morning finally came my sister was asked, "What are you going to name the baby"? Would you believe for the first time since our village was burned and the young girls and boys were taken away, she spoke. She said, "His name is Gye Nyame," which means: except God I fear none.
And so we celebrated Christmas that night. Christmas really did come to our village that night, but it did not come in the cars or with the travelers. It came in the birth of my nephew in the midst of our suffering. We saw hope in what this little child could do. This birth turned out to be the universal story of how bad things turn into universal hope, the hope we found in the Baby Jesus. A miracle occurred that night before Christmas and all of a sudden I knew we were not alone any more. Now I knew there was hope and I learned that Christmas comes in spite of everything. Christmas is always within us all. Christmas came even to our village that night.
© - 2000 P.E. Adotey Addo
Peter Addo, "Osofo" as his friends call him, was proclaimed a promising poet and story teller in a 1957 symposium of Ghanaian writing called Voices of Ghana. He has traveled and experienced much since his poem about the founding father of Pan Africanism appeared in that publication. He is a man of many talents: poet, short story writer, folklorist, theologian and biologist. His works have been published by The Daily Graphic, in Accra, Ghana,West Africa; The Ghanaian Times, Accra; The Scope, Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana; The Palmetto Leader, Columbia, South Carolina; The Charlotte Poetry Review, Charlotte, North Carolina; and The North Carolina Christian Advocate, Greensboro, North Carolina, to mention a few. The greatest influence on Osofo were the encouraging words of the Founder of the Republic of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, after the publication of his poem on the first anniversary of the Independence of Ghana in 1958. He has authored one anthology of Poems, "Talking Drums", 1999, and two collections of folktales, "Ghana Folktales", 1968 and "How the Spider Became Bald", 1993. and his numerous writings have appeared in several countries and languages. Osofo is an ordained United Methodist Minister and now devotes all of his time visiting schools and colleges for readings and talks. He lives with his family in Greensboro, North Carolina.
© 2000 P. E. Adotey Addo