Grandma emerged from the kitchen to the living room humming along to the Christmas carol playing on the radio. She sat in her favourite armchair and resumed her sewing. The satisfied smile playing on her lips was inspired by so many factors. Number one was the fact that the chicken she had popped into the oven for Christmas eve dinner was cooking nicely and smelled great. She knew for a fact that it would be delicious as well. She was a pro, she had been doing this for years and so far she hadn’t failed; not once. The smile was also inspired by the anticipation of her entire family gathering around the dinner table in a few hours.
She glanced at the clock on the wall and said to herself “Dinner should be ready by 6:30 pm. The entire family should be here by then. Oh, do I love Christmas”
As if on cue, the carollers on the radio sang out; Grandma sang along, “Afe ato h3n ato h3n ato h3n, yeredi no p3p3p3!”; she sang out loud as the song ended on a joyful note.
Another Ghanaian carol started playing as Grandma sighed contentedly and carried on with her sewing.
CHAPTER 2-Harmattan Edition
Akweley hated the fact that she was going out on Christmas Eve; it’s always so crowded on the streets, too much traffic and then this horrid weather. She used to love Christmas but these days she wasn’t so keen about it. And the harmattan made it even worse; she hated harmattan – it never seemed to be able to make up its mind. In the early mornings and evenings, temperatures could drop to sweater weather, which was bearable and then in the afternoon it could rise so much and not mention the humidity and dry whitened faces and cracked lips and heels.
“Ah! I hate this” Akweley grumbled as she came through the front door.
“A merry Christmas to you too my dear!” said Grandma smiling as she looks up from the button she is sewing onto Grandpa’s shirt.
Akweley ignored her mother’s greeting, put her bag on the floor and slumped onto the couch.
“Where’s everyone?” she asked looking around, “I thought I was last to arrive as usual.” She said, rolling her eyes and then shutting them as she lay on the couch.
“Your father is going to pick up Oko and his family from the airport. I’m surprised they’re still not here. I’m sure they’ll be here in a little while.” said Grandma.
“Hmmm” Akweley mutters turning over in the couch.
“Herh, Akweley! Don’t fall asleep just yet; we haven’t even had dinner.” Grandma gently tapped Akweley.
“Oh, Mummy leave me alone please”, Akweley whined. “Allow me to catch some sleep before the noisemakers arrive. Besides, I’m not even hungry.” She said turning over on the couch.
Just then the door opened and Kofi, Grandma’s last child entered holding a box of chocolate for Grandma, who had a notoriously sweet tooth.
“Merry Christmas everyone!!!” he bellowed. Kofi paused for a moment and looked around, puzzled, “HI Mum, where is everyone?” he asked, and then bent to give Grandma a peck on the cheek. “Is that Akweley on the couch?” he asked no one in particular, put the box of chocolate on the centre, knelt down beside the couch and proceeded to tickle her.
“Oooh Kofi,” she groaned, “I’m in no mood for your silly games, can’t you see I’m trying to catch some much-needed sleep here?” Akweley sucked on her teeth, annoyed.
“Don’t be such a bore sis” Kofi said laughing.
“And don’t be such a pain.” Akweley sat up on the couch. “You have no idea how tired I am. Christmas always brings out the worst in me. Always!” she looked as though she might cry. “I don’t mean to be such a grinch, but I actually prayed that Christmas would be cancelled this year.”
Kofi sighed, “That is officially the most depressing prayer I’ve heard all year.”
“That’s because I AM depressed.” Akweley said lying back on the couch.
“Oh don’t sleep” Kofi said. “I have just the song to cheer you up. Is my old guitar still in the cupboard, Mum”?
“Exactly where you left it, Kofi.”
Kofi strode to the cupboard and retrieved an acoustic guitar and then proceeded to tune it.
Akweley groaned “No no no, please, the last thing I want to hear is one of those forcefully cheerful Christmas carols.”
Kofi ignored her, “Will you sing with me Mum?”
“Of course, anytime, anywhere, I’m the all-year-round resident caroller.”
Kofi and Grandma laughed as Akweley covered her head with a cushion.
Kofi strummed a tune on the guitar and he and Grandma sang the words to the Ga carol “Anuonyam y3 nw3n shoshoo oo oo, hejole aka shikpon l3 n). Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
Akweley remained on the couch and pressed the cushion on her head to mute out the sound of singing.
“Bah humbug” she muttered when the song ended.
“Come on Akweley, that was one of your most favourite Christmas carols ever. You used to sing it so beautifully when you were part of the school choir in Primary school; you always used to get the words wrong as well.” Grandma said brightly, too brightly obviously trying to stifle laughter.
“Maybe another fun carol will do the trick?” Kofi said, strumming another chord.
“No no no. No more Christmas carols, I beg you Kofi, please leave me alone.” Akweley begged.
Kofi shook his head and returned the guitar to the cupboard. “I give up!” he said “When’s dinner Mum, I’m starving and I’ve been craving your delicious goat meat light soup and fufu all year.” Kofi sat on the arm of Grandma’s armchair, giving her a squeeze.
“It’s a bit too late for fufu isn’t it, Kofi?” Grandma chuckled. “We’ll have fufu for lunch tomorrow.”
“Hey!!!!! Who’s home?” A voice bellowed from outside amidst choruses of “Grandma! Grandma!!”
“And there goes my sleep.” Akweley grunted, her head still hidden beneath the cushion.
Kofi and Grandma stood and moved towards the door to welcome the approaching “multitude.”
Grandpa came in dragging a suitcase with one hand and held Kwarkor in the other arm; he was really strong for his age. Oko was carrying two heavy looking bags. His American wife, Sue came in behind them with Naa Kwarley and Nii Kwartey who quickly let go and ran to give Grandma a hug. Kwarkor quickly got down and went to give Grandma a hug too.
“Welcome, my darlings.” Grandma laughed, very pleased with her grandchildren planting kisses all over her face and talking loudly over each other.
“I really missed your cooking Grandma”
“I missed your bedtime stories. Will you read us a story tonight?”
“Of course, of course my darlings. I sure will read you a bedtime story tonight and I did miss you a lot too” Grandma said, hugging them all at once.
“Now, children, don’t start bothering Grandma already” said Sue, coming over in the hopes of finding space amidst her children to give Grandma a warm hug. She succeeded, “Merry Christmas, Mum.” she laughed
“Merry Christmas Love”
“I’ll just go upstairs and freshen up.” Sue said, picking up a small bag, she gave Kofi a hug on her way upstairs.
“Hey what’s up bro?!” Kofi said, giving Oko a hug too as he passed him by with a suitcase heading upstairs.
Oko planted a kiss on Grandma’s cheek “You seem to be growing younger every day Mum.”
“Aww…. stop that” Grandma protested, swatting at him playfully secretly pleased. Good thing dark skinned people couldn’t visibly blush.
“A free hug for whoever gets here first.” Kofi said to the children who were running around in the living room, playing tag. Clearly the long trip from Michigan to Accra was not tiring enough.
“Uncle Kofi!!!!” the children shouted in glee and ran to him. He picked them up in turns giving each of them a spin as they squealed joyfully.
“Where’s Auntie Akweley?” asked Naa Kwarley, giggling and out of breath.
“There she is,” Kofi points to the couch “Pretending to be asleep. Shall we go give her some giggles with our tickles?”
“Don’t you dare come near me Kofi,” Akweley suddenly shot up out of the couch.
“Oh, I thought you were fast asleep.” Kofi tried desperately to keep from laughing as the children gathered round their aunt ready to deliver some tickles.
“And you too,” she said, attempting to use the cushion as a shield, but it was too late.
“Auntie! Auntie!!” the children jumped onto the couch.
“Aw. Leave me alone you little rascals” shrieked Akweley. “I’m not in the mood for your silly little games.” she said trying to sound stern but that didn’t seem to be working.
“No, we won’t leave you alone, Auntie. It’s Christmas. Joy to the world!” shouted Naa Kwarley deliberating, ignoring the look on her aunt’s face.
“Well, no joy to me, I’m tired and sad and bored.” Akweley sighed and stood up.
“Why are you sad?” asked Nii Kwartey.
“Well, it’s just that there were so many things I wanted to do by the end of this year, that’s still undone and it’s the end of the year. So many plans and wishes and they just didn’t happen” Akweley said, looking down at her nephew and nieces. “Tell me”, she said, sitting down again. “What do you do when you’re sad.”
“I pray that Jesus will make me feel better.” Nii Kwartey answered promptly
“I simply remember my favourite things.” Kwarkor says.
“Oh no please don’t sing it, no no” laughed Akweley as Kwarkor launched into her favourite song from the famous “Sound of Music” film. Pretending not to hear what her aunt said or rather, ignoring her, Kwarkor sang every single bit of the song – mostly wrong lyrics but of course that didn’t stop the whole Okai family from singing along, she was lucky Kofi didn’t play the guitar this time as he was busy carrying suitcases up the stairs.
“I simply remember my favourite things and then I don’t feel so baaaaaad.“ Kwarkor ended with a big grin on her face. “What are some of your favourite things Aunt?”
“Hmm…… let’s see,” Akweley said, her mood greatly improved. “Usually, I love to see the faces of people light up when someone does something unexpectedly nice for them.” Akweley said smiling. “Also, I love to watch the sunrise from my bedroom window; I think the colours are just wonderful and it takes my breath away every single time. And oh, I love to dance” She got up from the couch and started to waltz by herself. She stopped suddenly and turned to face the children “I used to be part of a dance group when I was in University. I remember the last time we danced together as a group. That was Christmas 15 years ago, oh it was such a delight. We paid a visit to an orphanage and then spent the whole day with them after our performance. It was great.”
“Do you remember the dance steps, can you do it again, please Auntie Akweley.”
“I’m not sure I remember exactly everything but maybe if I heard the song again, maybe it would jog my memory.”
“What’s the song title? We’ll find it on Spotify.” Kofi said, pushing the centre table aside to make room for Akweley. Luckily, he had hidden Grandma’s box of chocolates before anyone else set their sights on it. It had been a while since anyone had seen Akweley dance, and she was really good at it. The whole family was in the living room at this point, eagerly anticipating.
“Please Auntie Akweley, I would really like to see you dance.” Nii Kwartey pleaded. That must have melted Akweley’s heart for she stood up and said, “Alexa! Play 365 days by Nicole C. Mullen”
The song started playing immediately, and as Akweley danced, memories of a dance routine done nearly 15 years prior came back clearly to her, as if it had been done only yesterday. In her mind’s eye, she could see her friends Sylvia, Michelle, Benedicta, Beatrice, Nana Yaa, Kevin, Kweku and Phoebe dancing alongside her and the joy on the faces of the children at the orphanage where they had visited that Christmas.
Akweley was jolted back into the present by her family’s applause as the song came to an end. Akweley took a bow and grinned widely.
“Yaay!! Look who’s in a good mood now?” Kofi laughed as Akweley, Oko and Sue exchanged pleasantries. It was good to see Akweley smile again.
“I’m starving, dinner is taking like forever” Kofi said rubbing his tummy.
“I’ll check on that lovely chicken roasting in the oven.” Grandma said rising, “I’ll be right back.”
“Tell me dinner is ready” Kofi said, still rubbing his tummy, as Grandma returned from the kitchen followed by an amazing aroma that had wafted from the oven that Grandma had opened a few minutes ago to check on the roast chicken.
“Be patient my dear, dinner will be ready in exactly 10 minutes, the table is already set so we should be eating soon.” she turns towards the children “Would you all like to have some cookies as you wait?” she asked, looking around.
“No, we’re good,” Naa Kwarley responded. “We had pizza at the airport with Grandpa because we were really hungry when we arrived. We can wait till dinner”.
“Traitors! And here I was thinking we were all hungry. I guess I’m alone” Kofi said, falling onto the couch, pretending to have collapsed.
Dinner was soon ready as Grandma had promised and soon everyone was chatting happily around the table. Grandma had outdone herself; it was only Christmas eve dinner yet it was so special, perhaps it was also the quality of people present. Akweley was happy she had decided to come after all; it was such a blessing to be surrounded by so many loved ones. She said a silent prayer for all those who weren’t quite as fortunate as her this Christmas to be surrounded by loved ones. It was a joyful affair as everyone shared highlights from the past year. Oko and Sue shared some interesting stories from their trip from America to Ghana. They all had such a good laugh as they each took turns to tell stories. After dinner, everyone trooped into the living room to chat.
“Dinner was delicious, thanks Mum. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s fufu and goat light soup” Kofi said.
“Ebei Kofi,” won’t you even allow tonight’s meal to be digested first?” Tomorrow you will be my assistant in the kitchen, since you are so eager to eat again.” Grandma couldn’t stop laughing.
“What time should I report for duty, Oga Madam?” Kofi mock saluted and stomped his right foot.
“6 am. We’ll start preps before church so that when we get back from church, we’ll just finish everything sharp sharp!” Grandma said.
“Say no more Ma, I’ll be there at 5 am.” Kofi replied.
“If I come and meet you still in bed at 7.30, I’ll pour iced water on you, you’ll see.” Akweley warned.
Related: Note to our Christmas Borgers
While Kofi and Akweley bantered, Grandpa had disappeared into his study and now he reappeared holding his old leather-bound Bible. He sat down in an armchair, propped the massive book on one knee and flipped through it, Kwarkor immediately hopped onto the other knee.
“What are you reading Grandpa?” she asked curiously peering into the open book
“I’m just reminding myself of the reason for this season.”
“And what’s the reason?” Kwarkor asks innocently.
“It’s holidays of course!” Everybody’s tired. We’ve been working all year long.” Oko interrupted laughing out loud.
“That’s true, it’s a much-needed holiday for most people to relax and see family and friends. But how did it all start and why do we celebrate Christmas at all? This book”, he said pointing to the big leather book on his knee “will tell us why.”
“I know what this book is,” Naa Kwarley said, looking closely at the book. “Mom and Dad gave me a pink one for my last birthday.” she said smiling; I like it a lot, it has interesting stories in the Old Testament.
“Well, yes,” Grandpa smiled back at her. “It’s the Bible, it’s a very interesting book, the Greatest book in the world and in it is the Greatest story about why we celebrate this season in the first place. This is a true story from the very first Christmas, the night Jesus Christ, our Lord was born. I’m reading from Luke 2:6 to 14”
Everyone listened attentively as Grandpa read:
6 And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born.
7 She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep.
9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified,
10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.
11 The Saviour- yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!
12 And you will recognise Him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others-the armies of heaven-praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
“Wow, this baby must have been really special. Angels announced his birth.” Nii Kwartey said thoughtfully as though he had never heard this story. The truth was that he had heard it several times but Grandpa had made it sound so different.
“Yes, he was really special. He was the Son of God.” Grandma said quietly from her arm chair in the corner. “And His birth changed everything, because of Him we can also become children of God.”
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
The phrase rang over and over in Akweley’s mind. “Glory to God… and peace on earth.”
“Jesus brings peace on earth, His birth brought us joy and peace and love and goodwill and He wants us to share it with others as well.”
“I love to see the faces of people light up when someone does something unexpectedly nice for them.” The words she had spoken earlier when Naa Kwarley had asked her what makes her happy.
“Ma,” she paused hesitantly, “Do the Ashiteys’ still come to our church?” she finally asked.
“I hear Mr. Ashitey got laid off at work, three months ago.”
“Yes, that’s true; we help him out whenever we can.”
“Can we help them out this Christmas?”
The room was quiet for a moment. Grandpa cleared his throat. “Hmm… with the Ashiteys, it’s a bit tricky. We used to help them with something little every week but I think Mr. Ashitey is a little embarrassed by that and so they haven’t been to church in the past month or so.”
“I have an idea.” Akweley said, reaching for her phone from the table in front of her. “I’m calling Madam Di Dwa.”
“Di Dwa, oh those people who have been doing our weekly shopping from the market, right?” Grandma asked.
“Yes, they’ve got some Christmas packages, I’ll order a few for delivery tomorrow to the Ashiteys.” She looked around the room at her family “Do you know anyone else who might need some help this Christmas? We’ll send them packages; they don’t have to know who it’s from” Akweley asked excitedly.
“Auntie Akweley” Kwarkor said, “you’re a secret Santa.”
“Yes, yes! something like that” Akweley laughed.
“Do you believe in Santa here in Ghana?” Sue asked, surprised.
“Of course not; these days, we have people stuff themselves to look chubby and attach artificial white beards, but it’s not really our thing.” Kofi laughed at the look on Sue’s face as she glanced at her children.
“Don’t worry Mom, we know he’s not real. Everyone knows.” Nii Kwartey joined in the laughter.
“Even Kwarkor?” Sue asked, she looked genuinely surprised.
“Especially Kwarkor.” chuckled Oko. “Honey, our kids are not as ignorant as you think.”
“And mummy, I know the true reason for Christmas now. He’s the real secret Santa, except what He did is not supposed to be a secret.” Kwarkor observed wisely.
“Herh, how old did you say you are again?” Kofi asked Kwarkor
“I’ll be 8 in January, Uncle Kofi.” she grinned
“Pardon,” Kofi cupped his ear and leaned forward in her direction.”Did you say 8 or 80?”
“8 not 80 Uncle Kofi.0 1-2-3-4-5-6-7–8” she counted on her fingers.
After about 3 minutes of non-stop laughter, as the room quietened down, Akweley turned to Grandpa.
“Daddy, there’s more to the story, isn’t there?”
“Yes. Would you like to continue from here?” Grandpa asked Akweley
“I would love to.” Then turning to Naa Kwarley she asked, “Kwarley, would you like to read the rest of the story from your pink Bible?”
“Yes,” Naa Kwarley jumped up excitedly, “I’ll go and fetch it now.” She ran up the stairs and returned a few minutes later, pink Bible securely in hand.
“I’m here now.” she said sitting down, unable to hide the smile on her face.
“Good,” Akweley, “do we all remember where we stopped when Grandpa read the story?”
“Yes, the angels sang.” Nii Kwartey spoke up
“Great, Naa Kwarley, can you please continue from Luke 2:15-18” Akweley gently instructed.
“Ok Auntie. Luke 2:15-18 reads.” she went on:
15 “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child
18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”
“Thanks, Naa Kwarley.” Akweley said when the reading was through. “You know what, I think we should be like the shepherds. After the angels told them the Good News, they went to check for themselves and after they had encountered Jesus, they told everyone about him.” she went on “you see the Good News of Jesus is just too wonderful for us to keep to ourselves. We need to tell others but sometimes the people we tell the story have other needs and by helping them out, it’s like saying God cares in a language that makes sense to them. When Jesus came to the world, he was kind and loving and compassionate and sometimes it is just not enough to say we love Him when our actions don’t say the same.”
For a moment, the room was really quiet. Suddenly, Naa Kwarley said, “I want to be like the shepherds too, Auntie.”
“Can we dance with the people in the orphanage like you and your friends did many years ago?” Kwarkor stood up and took Akweley by the arm, attempting to pull her from her seat. “Can you teach us the dance you did earlier?”
“What?” Akweley laughed. “Are you sure you can learn the entire routine tonight?”
“Yes I can, and Uncle Kofi can also play his guitar so we sing some songs with them as well.” Kwarkor kept talking. “So we’ll have a choir and a praise dance group.” she smiled widely.
Everyone was up the next day by 4 in the morning. One reason was everyone – especially the children, were so excited about the day ahead and their excitement was so contagious. The other reason was that there was just so much to do now. Their fufu and goat meat soup lunch plans had developed into so much more than a simple family event. After a few calls, even though it was really late, Di Dwa had come through for them.
That afternoon, they would be sending the Ashiteys’ and a few other families, groceries and a few other gifts to ensure they could also have a good day. Grandma’s cousin who also ran an orphanage a few hundred kilometres from where they lived had agreed that they could come over to stage their Christmas spectacular.
Last night, they had brainstormed on what gifts each of them could give as gifts to the children in the orphanage. The kids had given up their toys and snacks and sweets. The adults were going to run to the big department store in the mall today, in hopes that some of them would be open today and they could find some gifts. Fortunately, Grandma’s cousin’s orphanage was not that big, so they were certain every child would get a gift and lots of love and prayer.
This morning, someone was playing music from a Spotify Christmas playlist. Presently, Michael Buble’s baritone started singing “I am dreaming of a white Christmas.”
“Who’s dreaming of a white Christmas in Ghana?” Kofi chuckled.
“Have you looked out the window though, it is indeed a white Christmas, it’s harmattan.”
“What is harmattan?” Nii Kwartey asked rubbing his eyes to stay awake.
“It is one of the seasons in Ghana. It gets very dry and there’s a lot of dust in the air. And you have to keep your skin very moisturised so it doesn’t crack.” Kofi said, laughing at the look of horror on the children’s faces. “It’s not that bad but it doesn’t feel or look very good.”
“So I guess it’s a harmattan Christmas then, judging from the fog this morning.” said Sue peering out the window. “It looks very white out there by the way.”
Kwarkor hopped onto a chair beside her mother to look outside the window too.
“Yes, it’s a very harmattan Christmas.”
Akweley looked at her parents, siblings, nephew and nieces; she smiled to herself, and was indeed blessed. Plus she was really looking forward to the day, hopefully this wouldn’t be a one -off thing but would become a lifestyle – this lifestyle of giving.
This was no doubt going to be her best Christmas yet. She whispered, “Glory to God, peace on earth and a very harmattan Christmas.”