Once upon a Christmas

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Last December, I was driving through the Beitbridge border post when I saw a man holding a little pink bicycle.

He showed so much love in the way he protected that bike. He squeezed into a car that already sagged at the weight of luggage and people.

I could imagine how uncomfortable he was sitting in the front passenger seat and still having to carry the little bike on his lap.

I also understood what the bicycle meant. I hoped too that the child that would receive this present would have an appreciation of what this father (that was my assumption) had done, the love and determination to give a smile to his own. He reminded me of Christmas in my own childhood. Allow me then, a nostalgic detour.

Once upon a time the Christmas festive mood was rung in by the small matter of the “bonasi” (13th cheque/bonus).

Do you remember the song Wapenga Nayo Bonus in which Jonas blows his money in the pub, buying all and sundry alcohol and playing the jukebox like there was no tomorrow.

In contrast, radio shows would abound with warnings of the forthcoming “January disease” and how school fees needed to be put aside.

Unfortunately, VaMabaudi and company were preaching in the wilderness . . . In fact, revellers would dance to Paul Matavire’s January Disease with verve, the message was not allowed to spoil the fun.

The end of November and early December also meant the office Christmas party. This was an occasion to resolve long-simmering issues with your line manager.

The brandy and the malt helped your cause. The next morning you would go in search of a doctor’s letter and try hard to pretend to have a severe case of amnesia.

Drinks at this time of the year could be quite unique, Bols brandy mixed with Coke and milk (was this our version of Amarula before Amarula)?

For those on an economy budget, sorghum beer mixed with fresh cream. The outcome of these potent drinks was all too visible.

Mike Tyson would have been proud of the brawls that erupted at the slightest provocation such as stepping on someone’s foot.

No wonder one pub at the Terreskane Hotel, in Harare’s Avenues, was nicknamed Pint and Fight (it was actually Pint and Bite).

For lucky children, the bonus largesse translated into two essential items: new clothes and an overdose of food.

When your mother bought you new clothes she gave a very stern warning: don’t show those clothes to anyone before the big day.

The minute she hopped over the fence to chat with her friend next door you raided the closet.

You put on the clothes, called your friends to the window and did exactly what you had been told not to do: show off.

Then came Christmas Day and the Motley Crew (your whole weird clan) would converge at your house. This would include your uncle with his “come-down-the-pawpaw-tree” platform shoes matched by his maroon bell-bottom trousers that hugged his waist as if he was a wasp.

He would carefully move his head to avoid disturbing his Richard-Jon-Smith-uses-Brylcreem-only Afro.
The aunt walked in her white the-higher-you-go-the-cooler-it-becomes shoes, showing off her Coca-Cola legs that sat in contrast to the Fanta-face (the magnificent outcome of Ambi skin-lightening cream).

When all had gathered the feasting began. You started off your breakfast with bread galore, scones and slices of cake.

You may wonder at the bread matter here. Dear Reader, the bread would be in large quantities and there was no rationing on the number of slices you could have.

You also overdid on the spreads, Stork margarine, Sun jam and peanut butter, all at once.

The rice, chicken and goat meat would follow early afternoon (in between it would be biscuits and Coca-Cola – every soda was called a Coca-Cola).

Our capacity to eat and drink was amazing. In 1980 we visited the Umtali (Mutare) Bottling Company on a school trip.

A boy called Liberty drank THIRTEEN 300ml bottles of Fanta Grape (this drink had just been launched). Well, on Christmas Day we tried to outdo Liberty as we downed cases of colourful sodas.

Poet and professor of literature Musaemura Zimunya captures the essence of this season very well in Kisimiso (A Version of Christmas):

Kisimiso means feasting
Dozens of bread loaves, drums of tea, mountains of
Sadza, Rock-size pieces of meat of the he-goat
In lakes of thousand eyed-soup

And, of course, large pots of fizzing frothy beer.

Music? Well, it would be blaring from speakers dragged to the front lawn as you played the latest LP by one of the popular local groups (released just in time for Christmas).

You could also choose to listen to the music elsewhere.

In my neighbourhood you had a clash of Nightshift Disco (Crucial Rex), O’Jays Disco (Greg Maurice) and Dub Chemist (Ras Joe).

In the same ‘hood in the 70s and 80s you also had the various live bands playing at the local hotel.

For instance, the Sound Power fronted by Peter Phiri, RUNN Family with Peter “Cool Dude” Mparutsa and the ever-green Real Sounds of Africa (we called them ma-Zaire when they hit our shores around 1977).

And remember, for most children and young adults that was the only time when they got permission to go to the disco or watch a band without protracted negotiations.

Times may have changed but still have a good one. This is my last column for the year. See you in January. Peace.

Chris Kabwato is the publisher of www.zimbabweinpictures.com

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