Chapter 8: My November Christmas

Brisk knocks on my door awoke me. I agonizingly rolled over to see it was
only 7:47 am on a Saturday morning. At the sound of another series of sharp
knocks, I rolled out of bed, opened my door, and went to go draw water to
wash the coffee cups for breakfast. Sitting on the basan in my yaay’s room
sleepily chewing my baguette, my little sister passed me my brother’s
untouched cup of well sugared coffee as the boys ran off to go their
Grandmother’s house. My heavy eyelids lifted with each sip of the first
good omen of the day.

After breakfast, I sat in my yaay’s room watching her pack a small bag with
a change of clothes and some money while my sister stood in front of me as
I zipped up the back of her best hand tailored dress. November 19th marks
the start of Gomou, another major religious celebration centered in a town
over. Of course, GCY prohibits fellows from attending due to the supposed
dangers that arise when a bunch of people gather in a small place. My yaay,
however, decided to go, taking Assé with her and sending the boys to her
mother’s. I was left to stay behind in the compound with the rest of the
extended family.

When my yaay and sister finished dawning their good clothes and saying
their goodbyes, I returned to my room to relax and do some writing.

Hearing some commotion outside my window, I ventured out, grabbed a stool,
and took my place with everyone else to help cook. I alternated between
peeling and chopping onions and holding the cutest baby girl Asou while
listening to my aunts and cousins chat and laugh, even joining in with the
joking. Everyone had their job. Preparing the chicken, cutting vegetables,
cooking over the open fire. It was one of those beautiful communal moments
where everyone is simply enjoying eachother’s company working in unison
toward the simple goal of cooking a meal. Maybe it was all the dopine
flooding my system as Asou gurggled and grabbed at my glasses, but I felt a
special mood that day. Happiness, cheer, calmness, a holiday spirit of some

After a delicious lunch of rice and meat, I was about to head out for my
afternoon run when Mame Anta called me over to share in with the special
treats of fruit drinks and watermelon. The sticky watermelon juice dribbled
on the stools as I helped open a drink for Sergine Bane. When I finally
left, they were sure to inquire about where I was going, when I was to be
back, and to continually tell me it was too hot despite my insistances.

I returned from my run to the sound of laughter. Following the noise, I
found my family hanging out and talking animatedly as my one cousin made
attaya, another sol, and the kids ran around in blissful chaos, coming over
to jump on my back and show me what they had in their sticky hands.

It was a picture perfect scene, and I soon found myself taking group family
photos to everyone’s glee.

When the attaya leaves had finally been boiled out of all their flavor, my
cousins sat me down and surrounded me in a tight circle to do up my hair in
braids. There was no point in protesting. We sat chatting and singing for
nearly an hour as my cousin obsessed over getting the hairdo perfect.

Then, it was decided that we all should put on makeup and get dressed up.
At first I assumed we were going somewhere, but it turned out we were
getting dressed up just for the sake of it. People traveled from room to
room hyping people up, taking photos, and exclaiming how beautiful everyone

We ate a special dinner out in the courtyard area. There was plenty of food
to go around. My aunt and grandmother insisted that I eat until I was
bursting, passing me chicken in a continual flow.

The best part of the night came after dinner. It was chilly, so everyone
had on a sweatshirt as we huddled around the gas stove where my cousins
were making a special holiday milk. Fatou, a normally hyperactive child sat
snuggled in my lap. As the milk warmed, sugar was added, and then mint
candies. The smell of peppermint wafted around our nostrils as we sat,
talked, and joked in the night air.

When the peppermint milk finally touched my lips, I was transported to
sitting on the black leather couches back home with my family sipping the
candy cane milk shakes my dad makes for us around the holidays.

As I laid down for bed, unconsciously the thought “That was a wonderful
Christmas” popped into my head. My brain and I did a double take together.
For one, it isn’t even December. Second, it isn’t definitely Christmas.

But then again, maybe it kind of was. Sure, we weren’t celebrating the
birth of Christ and there wasn’t a decorated pine tree inside. But, the day
surrounded spending time with family, cooking a big special meal to eat
together instead of the normal seperate circles. Just like how my sister
and I would get dressed up and do my hair for the Christmas Eve service, my
cousins did my hair and everyone got dressed up. Sure, there were no
cookies, but there was peppermint milk. And I was given a very significant
present. I was accepted by the people in my host family who didn’t sign up
for the gig. I finally felt that sense of family I have been craving. What
more can you ask for on a November Christmas day?