Monday, December 24, 2012

Cameroonian Christmas

So, Christmas at Mbingo. It doesn’t feel like Christmas in the typical, American sense. It’s 80 degrees, the Christmas carols have not been going since Thanksgiving, I haven’t bought a single gift in the past month. And yet there are a couple of things that remind me of “home” this Christmas.

I asked Ben, the guy who works in most of the gardens around here, if he could get me a couple sticks of evergreen off of one of the trees. I was just going to stick them in a vase for my “Christmas tree”. But here came Ben, dragging the entire top of an evergreen. Now it’s no Frasier Fir or Cedar, in fact it has thorns all up and down the branches, but it is green and works well for a Christmas tree look-alike. Since I’ve nothing to put it in (aka – tree stand), I keep it propped up against the wall in an old oatmeal can to keep its water in. I also have no ornaments or lights to decorate with. I considered making a popcorn strand, but then thought that it may draw rodents. So, it is just a naked tree, but it stands (or leans as the case may be) as a reminder of Christmas to me.

The next thing is Christmas carols. They’ve been doing carols in the chapel in the mornings, but I am always rounding during that time and so have not been involved in that. However, last night the missionaries all got together to sing. And this evening, the plan is to carol in the patient wards. That is kind of fun.

Leg after leg coming out of that door - how many legs can a cow have?

But otherwise, Christmas celebrating is just a bit different. Take feasting for instance, it happens all over the world, but this is unlike any Christmas dinner preparation I have ever done. The first thing is the Christmas slaughtering of cows. Some of the hospital cows are butchered and sold. This meat is better than the ordinary beef you can find. Each ward sends around a sign up sheet to tell how much meat you want and which cut (cut meaning first cut, second cut, etc – not like you can order T-bones or ribeyes). Then you go stand in line on your assigned day during the days before Chrstmas. Everyone is gathered and pushing in on one another. They carry the very, very fresh cut meat from the slaughter site over to the next door down, the selling site. There are small piles of meat, with little papers saying who has ordered them. Turns out, you are supposed to bring your own bag. But how was I to know this? So, they were gracious and squeezed a big bunch of meat into a tiny, thin little bag for me. As I walked back toward the house, I cradled the meat to keep the bag from breaking. The blood squished into my shirt.
Now that is fresh meat

Next animal to be killed was the pig. There’s no bacon for sale in Cameroon. No one knows what bacon is. So, when they said they were slaughtering a pig, I thought, “hey, that pigs gotta have some bacon part somewhere on it”. So, I turned in my order, 2 kilograms of bacon. We looked up a diagram of pork parts, and I had to show the man where the bacon part comes from on a diagram. I am learning so much about livestock during all this Christmas celebration.

Now the gross part of this picture is the pig head. The interesting thing is that the man who bought and is now carrying it is a doctor, complete with white coat and stethescope.

And lastly, the chicken. As tomorrow is Christmas Day, I am the supplier of the main course for the missionary dinner. So, a chicken had to die today. I have been wanting to learn to kill one. I mean, you can’t live in Africa and be too wimpy to kill a chicken. So, I asked Ben (the above tree-provider) if he would show me. He agreed. So this morning, we went to the chicken coop, he rounded up a good fat one, and brought it out of the cage. He showed me how you have to hold the feet under your one foot and the wings under the other so that you can use your hands to slice the neck. As he held the chicken down, he started to pray. I found this odd, wondering why in the world he was praying, and wondering if it was for sure to the same God I knew (I’ve seen chickens sacrificed in witchcraft before). So, a bit later I asked him. “Why were you praying before we killed the chicken?” He replied with what I thought was hilarious, “The same reason that you pray before you operate”. That took my mind in a thousand funny places. I’m not hoping for a successful kill with my patients, I’m actually praying for a good outcome. But it made total sense to him. Anyhow, he helped hold the chicken, while I slit its throat. He explained how you must keep holding it down after you kill it so that it doesn’t sling blood all over the yard. I thought that was a good tip. Then came the boiling water. You’ve gotta pour it on the chicken before plucking it to make the feathers come out easily. Then pluck, and pluck, and pluck. Rinse and pluck any small feathers you missed before. Then cut off the head and feet, eviscerate it, and voila – just like a chicken that comes from the grocery store!

Pluck, pluck, pluck
Ready for the oven

So, feasting is part of Christmas in both American and Cameroonian culture. I may be missing out on eggnog and cheesecake and stuffed mushrooms, but as a perk I’m eating the freshest, most hormone-free meat I think I’ve ever had. There are so many differences all around the world in the way we celebrate. But no matter what the celebration looks like, from near and far, we join as God’s children to celebrate His amazing gift of Christ Jesus.  

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