Prisoner in my own home

Part of assimilating into a new country is to learn how to speak their language (check), adapt to their cultural code of conduct (check), and respect their holidays…ermm not quite. Let me explain.

Eventhough I live in Toronto, I show my dedication to the entire North American continent by celebrating holidays in the respective countries. I celebrate Canada day on July 1st and Independence day on July 4th, I celebrate 2 Thanksgiving days; the Canadian one in October, and Black friday in the US . There is only one holiday I seem hesitant to celebrate - Halloween. Why? because it is tedious and requires that you walk in the cold. In the month of October when people fuss over whether they are going to dress up as villains or strippers, I know for sure that I will be donning my annual 'prisoner in my own home' costume. No mask is required for this costume, you just have to turn off all the lights in your house and not respond to the door bell.   

This year I promised I was going to change. I planned to show some love to the neighbourhood kids who chase after balls under a moving car and don't even greet adults.  My sister, as if she read my mind, bought a bag of chocolates 3 weeks before Halloween. The bag boasted about 94 delicious treats including Crispy Coffee my favourite, and good ole Smarties.  On the night of Halloween, I called my Nigerian neighbour to invite her children to come trick or treating. No, she said, they are going to church for Hallelujah night. No Halloween night for her babies. Evidently like some Africans, she believes Halloween is a devil worshipping holiday. Where we are from, we take witches seriously, you can be burnt or stoned for calling yourself a witch. We certainly don't entertain ghosts and make graveyards out of our lawns. Our cemeteries are feared. If you don't believe me, visit an African cemetery, and you will find it to be the least littered place on the whole continent. But maybe Africa should adopt Halloween. In Canada alone, Halloween generated about 6 billion dollars in 2009. When you add up the amount spent on candy, adult's costumes, children's costumes, pet costumes you realize that Halloween is a big economic deal. If Africa became as enthusiastic about Halloween as we are about Christmas, Valentine's Day, or Mother's day, it could be the economic boost we have been searching for. Imagine you go to your Nairobi neighbourhood and tell the family next door that on October 31st, you will be a witch and you will be hanging ghosts on trees… You won't be laughing when the local Pastor, sprays your house with holy water and slams some exorcistic slaps on your forehead.

But I digress.  I was not about to be discouraged by my Hallelujah Nigerian neighbour, I was going to celebrate Halloween. I dashed into my cupboard, reached for the bag of chocolates and found an empty box.  What? Had a ghost visited my cupboard and inhaled 88 out of the 94 chocolates? There goes my plan to finally participate in Halloween. I turn off the lights, insert the ear plugs and hope the blasted bell will stop ringing. 

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  1. What happened to the chocolate don't tell me you ate them Amma? Becasue I know your kid cannot eat that many chocolates by herself. Ok Yeah I am definitely one of the Africans that do not believe in celebrating halloween so you can say the W and I wrote the book on "Prisoner in my home" i used to wonder why they will think there is anyone home with the lights off. I admit that one of my goals is to attend Halloween Horror nights.

  2. "If Africa became as enthusiastic about Halloween as we are about Christmas, Valentine's Day, or Mother's day, it could be the economic boost we have been searching for."
    I'm inclined to disagree with the above statement on two bases. First, halloween is just one day out of the year. African's are enthusiastic not only about Christmas, Valentine's Day, or Mother's Day. As far as economics go, we're also very enthusiastic about Independence Days, World Cups, African cups, other national holidays, etc. From a business standpoint, I don't think adopting halloween alone will be enough to shoot our economic outputs several percentage points higher. Looking at manufacturing trends across Africa, we're net importers of almost every manufactured good we consume. So you can believe almost all costumes, candies, and other products consumed on halloween night will be imported. There will be no real impact on job creation, save the few extra street hawkers who will attempt to sell these items. Well, that and maybe some fashion designers (I refuse call them seamstresses or tailors because really, what they do is equivalent to what all the other known "fashion houses" do - make clothes from available fabrics) who would attempt to take a stab at creating halloween constumes out of African prints. I would not be surprised if some of these designers were so adventurous as to make "kakai" (scary) costumes out of real animal hides. Can you imagine… Nah, that's another story…
    Second, I think Africans haven't embraced halloween precisely because of our belief that it is a celebration of all this devilish, which is the antithesis to the cultural and spiritual beliefs of many of us. Cultural identity is a crucial aspect of development. There are two risks associated with cultural globalization - homogenization and eventual disintegration. Homogenization happens when people of one culture forgo their own practices or beliefs in favor of another. In this case, it will be the acceptance of halloween. Mind you that blind, wholesale acceptance of other cultural practices deprive people of really understanding what they're doing. Think of the current wave of classic-thick rimmed-faux reading-glasses-wearing young Ghanaians in Ghana. What are they trying to do? Look cool? To who? Based on whose definition of cool? Anyway, cultural disintegration occurs in the space where an alien culture has been accepted in place of local culture, but due to the lack of proper understanding concerning the practice and the fact that practice didn't originate from them, there is disorientation with that new practice. It's akin to a zombie mindlessly towing a path. I'm just not convinced economic gains are strong enough a stimulus to let go of one's cultural and/or spiritual beliefs, especially when the "real" gains are uncertain.
    Sorry for this long response. I'm just that passionate about Africans maintaining and remaining proud of our unique cultural identity. As it stands, we've already made huge compromises on that front.

  3. Nanasei, I love the passionate and indepth response. Although the statment was a tongue in cheek assertion, I wholeheartedly agree with you on the issue that we Africans LOVE to adopt western ideals. If we put aside the frivolous holidays, we are faced with a bigger issue on how to grow the manufacturing side of the economy. You know we have a problem when even african print cloths are made in China. Thank you for your response. You got me thinking

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