21 December 2012

Uganda: Can I Have My Christmas Back?


A s far as I remember, I have always been told that I was lucky to be born on December 24. "Wow, just before Christmas!" I do not know how many times I heard that. Some guys even go further and say my parents must have been aiming for a Christmas birth, but missed it by one day.

But to a kid, having one's birthday the day before Christmas is probably the worst possible thing to happen. To the rest of the kids born earlier during the year, their birthdays were always a big thing, all the attention was on the birthday baby and, of course, birthday gifts were on the card.

That does not happen when your birthday is the day before Christmas because everybody's attention is focused on what will happen on the 25th. It got so bad at one time that you had to wait until Christmas Day to open your gifts.

"But you're celebrating your birthday with Jesus", did not wash down very well when all the other kids are getting presents twice in the year, and you only once.

I have a few friends that were actually born on Christmas day and one of them always wonders what it is like to have a 'normal birthday', although she is happy everybody remembers her birthday. That means there are probably millions of people out there who have never had a 'normal birthday'.

But I always enjoyed Christmas as a kid, that little bit about the gifts and parties notwithstanding. Christmas was always a magical time, even when the troubles in the country started and very often even the very basics of life were missing.

Of course, at one time things were so bad the gifts stopped coming, because there was nowhere to buy anything. But still the magic was there and we believed wholeheartedly in the spirit of goodwill and peace to all mankind. We even liked to believe that the Amin boys and the NASA guys did not kill anybody during Christmas.

But as we got older, things started changing, and we realised that peace was not an easy thing to come about, and that mankind was busy looking for ways to screw us over. Somehow that good feeling slowly disappeared, and Christmas became just an excuse to have a good time. But it was still special, given that it became a day when the family all got together and had a very big meal.

During the 1990s, after that big meal and when everybody had gone back to their homes, we guys who lived in Makerere found it quite lonely. It was holiday time and all the thousands of students had gone home. Many of the staff had gone to their villages, so campus was quite empty and quiet.

One Christmas Day I met a girl in Wandegeya who seemed to be also lonely so we got together, had a few drinks, and afterwards I escorted her home on West Road. She promised she wouldn't be long, but would be out through the back door in an instant. So I waited, and waited. I must have waited for almost two hours, after which I gave up and left, cursing Christmas all the time.

Along the road I came across a pack of mongrel dogs from the nearby slums of Kikoni, usually a real menace to anybody walking about at night. But I was so mad at everything I took it out on them, removed my belt and whipped and chased them all the way to the Faculty of Agriculture, where they disappeared, yelping and crying at this crazy guy whipping them on Christmas Day.

Eventually I ended up in Wandegeya, where I found the Kirunda boys (Sam and Peter), who were also coming from their own big family meal and did not know what to do with themselves, so we sat in a small bar on Biashara Road and saw off that Christmas.

Many years later, my friend Paul decided he would have his Christmas party on the 24th, which just happened to be my birthday and that became my unofficial birthday party. This was a different kind of party from the ones we had as kids and almost nobody mentioned Christmas at all, but everybody wished me a happy birthday.

So, did it feel like I had got one up back on Jesus for taking my birthdays away from me when I was a child? Didn't feel like it, especially when it felt like the 'Walk to Work' guys were all over my head the next morning, and I had to somehow force down that big family meal later on during the day when the family gathers, as it has done all these years.

When the years pile on, birthdays do not matter as much as they did when young, and I do miss that 'goodwill and peace to all mankind' thing. Okay, Jesus, I concede birthdays, you can have all of mine; now can I have my Christmas back?

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