• Monday, July 22, 2024
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Christmas carols at Stella’s

Christmas carols

There is something about Christmas that always stirs the soul.

And in the past few years, the evening of Christmas Carols at your friend Stella’s ritzy residence in Parkview has become the staple to usher in your Christmas season.

As a child, you could recall how your heart used to leap as the end of the year approached. There would be ‘Egungun Calabar’ with a headmask of cloth and raffia, and a straggling group of barefoot children joining them in an ever increasing band as they travelled about, delighting neighbours with their drumming and dancing.

Some of your classmates in the last days before your Primary School broke up spoke in exciting terms of their adventures on previous Christmas holidays, with visits to the ‘Fada Christmas’, and to the Bar Beach. Their narrations sounded wonderfully exotic, and you would stay up in your bed at night, imagining yourself into the scenarios.

Your first encounter with ’Fada Christmas’ would stay permanently etched in your memory, not because of the visit itself, but because of the sheer excitement of the journey. Mama Feyi, the matriarch of the next-door family was taking her children Feyi, Tosin and Dupe to Kingsway, Marina, to see the strange and bearded ’alien’ who had come from a strange and faraway place, and you requested to tag along.

There was a huge press at the Idiaraba bus stop, where the Teaching hospital would spring up in the future. As you boarded the LMTS bus, Mama Feyi motioned to you to squeeze under her seat so she would not have to pay your fare. The conductor came by and collected money from those on the seats, rolling out the tickets from the machine which she hung around her neck.

As the bus chugged along, turning into Ojuelegba and then Yaba, before approaching Carter Bridge, you could hear all the gay conversation of the children and adults around you. You were not in the least bit discomfited, and the blood was drumming in your ears due to sheer anticipation. You were going to Kingsway. That was adventure in itself. You were going to see ‘Fada Christmas.’

Unfortunately one of the things you have lived to witness in Lagos, and in much of Nigeria, is the gradual de-mystification of the Christmas experience. ‘Fada Christmas’, over-flogged, trivialised, has become not a mysterious bushy-bearded being from Lapland – wherever that is, but the scrawny figure of the office-cleaner whom even the children could recognize and laugh at in front of his wretched beard. The Christmas run-up has become a frantic search for rice in the crowded markets. Virtually everything has taken on a hard commercial edge, with tawdry caps and decorations from China flooding the street-markets. All the conversation seems to be about the prices of commodities. Bar Beach has become Eko Atlantic City, fenced off from the proletarian access of persons such as Mama Feyi and her brood. There are decorations here and there. Is it your eye, or is there a distinct lack of soul and cheer even in those? Lagos, the centrepiece of all that is Nigerian, is overcrowded and rapidly approaching becoming ‘unlivable’. In the ’Livable City‘ International Conference the city hosted in the last days of BRF, it was concluded that the city – the only one internationally classed in Nigeria, was near the bottom of the international pile on ‘Livability’. To start to move up the scale and become again a congenial experience for its people, it would need to rehumanise its neighbourhoods and recreate a sense of local community, apart from securing their lives and easing their movements.

But this is about Carols at Christmas, and Stella’s place, not old memories.

A sprinking of the great the good of Industry are gathered in the big room, and the Lagos City Chorale, led by indefatigable Sir Alex Nwokedi is in full voice. It is a cultural, not a ’religious’, occasion – champagne is flowing, and in the air you can pick a whiff of the slap-up dinner to come.

‘…Joy to the world the Lord is come

Let earth receive her king…’

As you sing, and sip the bubbly,  you can see Stella in a lovely dress with the red tint she favours. She has just built a world-class factory in Shagamu to complement the one in Lagos, and is expanding her range of pharmaceutical products and getting WHO certification, which would be a first in this part of the world. Over in the corner is Ndidi, slight of frame, forever with a smile. Social entrepreneur par excellence, Trustee of Rockefeller Foundation, Founder of LEAP Africa, among other accomplishments.

You all rise to sing:

‘Once in royal David’s city

Stood a lowly cattle shed…’

It makes you feel good to suddenly remember that you had once been a pilgrim in the self-same cattle shed in Bethlehem.

Other familiar faces hover in the penumbra of your vision.

After the lusty rendition of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, ’Sir Bishop‘ jokingly asks the conductor to explain what all that business of doves and turtles and partridges is about. Everybody laughs.

‘O little town of Bethlehem…’

At length there is the Halleluyah Chorus, from Handel.

It is easy to picture for a few minutes a world where, here and everywhere, man is at peace with his fellow man. There are no Boko Haram, no suicide bombers, and no one wants to forcibly ‘convert’ or expropriate his fellow man.

Enjoying the feeling, you know it would only last as far as Stella’s front door.

In one corner, tall gangling  Ernest, Chairman of MTN Nigeria, is jokingly suggesting that we, the regulars at Stella’s soirees, should consider forming an Alumni Association.

As you emerge into the too-warm Lagos night, you reflect that Christmas is here, and deserves to be embraced, even in a troubled world.



Femi Olugbile