Sunday, December 21, 2008

It's Beginning to Look a lot like Christmas...Not!

In the past, I've visited Florida during the holiday season and although it was warm and sunny, it still felt like Christmas. Houses and businesses were aglow with lights, and lawns were strewn with crèches, snowmen and inflatable Santas. Even though the traditional snow was missing, the intensity of the commercialism was a tip-off that something was in the air.

Not in Nairobi. Even though the malls put up decorations at the beginning of November, they are subdued and definitely fall toward the religious end of the spectrum, not the commercial. There are no lights on houses - whether it's due to the high cost of electricity or the fact that power grid regularly goes down, I don't know. On Saturday, I was sitting in the sun at an outdoor cafe at the local mall having lunch when a Salvation Army band marched by. Even so, they were not accompanied by bell-ringing Santas or severely-dressed women collecting money. Instead, there were two men on stilts preceding the band as they went up and down the street.

Everywhere you look on the continent, there are problems in Africa. However, one of the success stories (depending on your perspective) is the proliferation of Christianity. Christian missionaries of every possible denomination have made Africa their mission, and have done it well. When I was working in the office in Uganda, all the colleagues had Jesus Christ screen savers and radio was tuned to religious music. It was similar in Zambia, as well. Because my office in Nairobi is primarily ex-pats, religious preference is less obvious, but among the local employees, Christmas is a holiday for religious celebration and reflection, not over-the-top gift giving.

When I first arrived here, my housekeeper kindly invited me to attend church with her. Just the other night, I was reviewing resumes for an administrative position in the office. I knew that Kenyan employment laws were different and things like age, marital status and religion were standard to be at the top of the page. What did surprise me though was towards the end of the resume where people often list their interests, virtually every one had "listening to religious music" or "reading the Bible." The other two common hobbies were "making friends" and "reading motivational books."

Those last two are fascinating. I have no explanation for how "making friends" qualifies as a hobby, but I do know the market for motivational books - both secular and religious - is huge here. Bookstores are jammed with Tony Roberts and Donald Trump. Just the other day, while stopped at a red light, a street hawker tried to sell me "The Mary Kay Story." There's a real hunger for knowledge and betterment here, and many believe that the more books they read, the more successful they will be. That's probably not a bad starting point, but with so much corruption, it will be an uphill battle.

Holiday traffic outside the mall


Michael said...

Hey Marge, you're getting famous. Your observations about Christmas are interesting, so I shared with the Pastors of my church in Charlestown, RI. Pastor Jim posted a link on HIS blog!
Personally, I think the Africans have it just right.
We have about 8" of snow here. Have a very Merry! -Mike W.

The Life and Times of Donovan said...

The way the economy is going here, we'll all be ready the "Mary Kay" story....Happy Holidays from FLA.

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