Friday, December 23, 2011

No Crib for His Bed

[It is now nine years since the Catholic Church in Zambia celebrated Christmas by bulldozing houses in Ng'ombe]

No Crib for His Bed

          It’s not every day we can afford lunch, but yesterday we managed a feast of nshima and beans. ‘Aren’t we supposed to have chicken at Christmas?’ moaned Kupela. ‘Last year Aunty Jane brought us a chicken from Petauke.’
‘You were smaller then,’ snapped Jumani. ‘That was a pigeon.’
‘This year Aunty Jane can’t afford the bus fare,’ explained Sara. ‘But don’t fret, we can still celebrate the day by watching Henry Ngalazi’s Christmas Special on TV.’
          So we all settled ourselves in the sitting room in front of the ancient Supersonic, which was persuaded to gradually come back to life. Then slowly into view came Henry, microphone in hand. In the background we could see the Grand Banquet Hall at the Presidential Palace, the long table groaning under the weight of a many roast pigs.
          ‘I have with me here,’ announced Henry, ‘the Honourable Nuisance Dimba, Minister for Gluttony and Vomit, who would like to say a few words about the importance of this occasion to the nation as a whole.’
          ‘Here we see the advantages of privatisation,’ began the Honourable Nuisance. ‘In the bad old days of the Second Republic, Christmas was for everybody. Nobody wanted to work and everybody wanted to feast. Ordinary villagers would feast for seven days at Christmas, and were not be able to work for weeks afterwards.
          ‘That is why your government has privatised Christmas, to conform to the capitalist division of labour between those who produce and those who consume. Last year the entire agricultural surplus amounted to only twenty-six pigs. Behind me you see all our cabinet ministers consuming these on behalf of the nation. This amounts to only one pig per cabinet minister, and not four, as announced by Cycle Mata on Radio Phoenix.’
          ‘Having been given a whole pig,’ ventured Henry nervously, ‘some people are saying that it is unfair for each cabinet minister to also be given a new Mercedes.’
          ‘They’re being most unreasonable,’ growled Nuisance. ‘Do they really think that any normal cabinet minister could possibly squeeze himself into the back of a Toyota Corolla after eating a whole pig?’
          ‘And do you have a Christmas message for the viewers out there?’ asked Henry.
          ‘Yes,’ said the Minister. ‘This year, because of limited resources, viewers have had to watch quite a small feast. But by next year they will be paying TV licence fees, so we hope that, with the funds raised, that we shall be able to show them a much bigger Christmas feast!’
          ‘Marvellous!’ said Henry. ‘I’m sure we’ll all look forward to that!’
          But suddenly the picture changed, to show a dusty shanty town, where an armoured bulldozer was taking another run at a house, knocking down one side, and causing the roof to collapse. People were screaming, picking up their children, and running hither and thither. On the far side, a determined gang of Intifada rained a hail of stones upon the bulldozer.
          ‘My God!’ said Sara. ‘This must be Bethlehem! The Israelis are celebrating Christmas!’
          But it wasn’t Bethlehem, because surprisingly Henry’s head again came into view. ‘We have come here to Ng’ombe to find out how the Catholic Church is helping the good people of Ng’ombe on Christmas Day.’
          ‘Good afternoon Father Kamakama,’ said Henry, as a fat cleric waddled into view, through the rubble and dust.
          ‘Looks like he’s wandered into a wrong place,’ sniggered Kupela. ‘He should have been part of the feast!’
          ‘Perhaps as part of the menu,’ said Jumani.
          ‘Tell me,’ Henry shouted to the holy father, above the noise of screaming and demolition, ‘what do we see happening here?’
          ‘Here,’ said Father Kamakama, ‘we are clearing thirty acres of land which we bought in 1962, in order to build a Catholic Shelter for the Homeless.’
          ‘Are there many homeless here?’
          ‘There weren’t any, but we’re in the process of solving that problem. There should be about twenty thousand homeless by the time we have finished clearing this site!’
          Just then a woman came screaming towards the camera holding the lifeless body of baby, and an angry mob began to surround Father Kamakama, shouting ‘Nimwana wa Maria na Yosefe! Abadwa lelo mawa! Chiwumba chamgwela!’
          ‘What are they saying?’ said the priest, turning to Henry.
          ‘They’re saying the wall fell on the baby!’
          ‘Born on Christmas Day!’ chanted the crowd. ‘Jesus is dead!’
          We sat there shocked and stunned. Nobody said anything. Then Kupela broke softly into a sad Christmas carol:

Away in Ng’ombe
No crib for his bed
The little Lord Jesus
They smashed his sweet head
The bulldozer driver
Looked down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus
Had got in the way

          ‘I wonder,’ said Jumani, ‘how much the Catholic Church paid for those thirty acres of land.’
          ‘Not much,’ said Sara. ‘Just thirty pieces of silver.’

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