by John Moehl (Cameroon 1974-80)
Beneath palm tree and mango sit I,
thinking of pleasant times done by.
Times of laughter, times of zest —
but best of all: the time of Christmas.
Sun birds search out palm nut’s soft meat;
through the rustling fronds their chirping sounds sweet.
Yet, how distant it is from Winter’s fine grace,
as snow flake and icicle bedeck Nature’s face.
Dry season starts, skies filled with Earth’s red dust;
a far-away voice fills my soul with forgotten lust.
The marvelous sounds of metal runners on ice,
a burning cold that is the Northland’s own spice.
Down ermine cloaked streets, shoppers do glide;
examining each doll and train with professional pride.
With a holiday pageant that puts the North Pole to shame,
into each shopkeeper’s window comes Santa’s own name.
Eves and shutters, windows and sash —
all have donned their festive splash.
from beside warm hearth, through night’s frosted glass,
they create a phantasmagoria too beautiful to last.
Around the great tree, adorned with the most wondrous of things,
family and friends will gather with warm greetings.
On the Victrola, Cosby’s voice sounds clear,
as all enjoy punch, cookies and Yule-time cheer.
From the kitchen seeps the most tantalizing of smells,
as plum pudding, cranberries and turkey line the shelves.
And, all too soon, that mystic night —
when each and every heart possesses such delight.
But, as the palm trees sway and the weaver bird calls,
my thoughts are brought back from holly-decked halls.
This Christmas will be void of street-corner Santa’s doleful peal,
nonetheless……………… it will be just as real.
No time for tinsel, no glitter, no brightly wrapped gift;
no Christmas Tree hunting through forest and drift.
Here, banana trees swelter in a hot, heavy sun,
as school children skinny-dip in those streams that still run.
In mud-block houses, men sample morning’s palm wine,
while in a dark corner, week-old puppies whimper and whine.
Strong women, with babes secure on their back,
tend taro and manioc in soil rich and black.
Marketplace shops, cluttered and small,
offer enough to fill any king’s hall.
A stranger in need, under the keeper’s sharp eye,
will pay top price — least the stars fall from the sky.
Market Day people, selling this thing and that,
have Herod’s own ring and Isaac’s old hat.
Men from the North, long robes, heads held proud,
they too will join the Market Day crowd.
The market does bustle with people of all sorts:
Mama’s selling yams and bearded vendors selling old shorts.
Bush man and city man, from tribes beyond count,
all come to the market to see and to shout.
The air is filled with the smoke from lorry and pipe,
passing the gutters — those too are ripe.
Community garbage pile ferments in the heat
as cats and dogs gather for something to eat.
Bars are filled with lines of men drinking beer,
soon there will be music too loud to hear.
Chop house pots, blackened and weak at the seams,
serve out portion upon portion of rice and beans.
And yet a short distance from town
there is another realm with wonders to be found.
Among steep hills rising on emerald clouds;
there are places far, far from the screaming crowds.
Here crow and kingfisher, palm tree and stream
join in a symphony so grand as a dream.
And from hilltop to view the valleys below
is to make one feel a deep inner glow.
Verdant slopes, terraced and hoed,
provide a foreground for a panorama too fine to behold.
Rock-faced rims go off into space,
inspiring beauty of such an ethereal place.
A land of such scope it frustrates the mind;
where forest and desert by chance are combined.
A land of such peoples — variety unsurpassed,
Black Man, Arab and White Man at last.
Now, this is the place where I spend Christmas Day;
with no Santa and with no sleigh.
With no snow, with no tree;
with no old friends or family.
Here I’ll be, 9,000 miles away,
as all open presents on that fine day.
But, indeed you see, I have dear friends here,
together we will welcome yet a new year.
And, ten years from now, when viewed from behind,
Christmas in Africa will have been an invaluable find.
New experiences replete with sorrow and joy
will have played an unknown part in changing a man from a boy.
And, thus it is, filled with sadness and glee,
that I wish a Merry Christmas to those very close to me.
May your New Year be free of turmoil and gloom
and heartfelt greetings from Cameroun.
John Moehl (Cameroon 1974-80) was an inland fisheries volunteer in Cameroon. After leaving the Peace Corps in ’80 he worked for FAO in Kenya before taking a job with a US agribusiness company in Nigeria. Later he worked for USAID Rwanda, then entered graduate school at Auburn. After graduating and teaching at Virginia State University, he rejoined FAO. Since retirement he has been working on various aquaculture matters in Oregon.