Most everyone who has read Africa’s Child knows why I love Christmas so much—and why I lovingly decorate practically every surface of my house with all my Christmas treasures. My tree glows with the handmade beaded decorations I find in Africa. They remind me of the shops in Tanzania where I purchased them and the Maasai villagers who make the wonderful beaded ornaments, based on tourist’s request and descriptions.
The story behind my “famous” Ebony Nativity set goes like this. My dear friend Fatima told me that she knew the best ebony wood carver in Tanzania who lived in Dar, but was Muslim. I gave her a picture of a Christian manger scene and explained everything to her. She commissioned her carver and couldn’t wait for me to see his work. Imagine my surprise when I saw the beautifully carved set with over fifty pieces! He had added chickens, goats, monkeys, snakes, and cats to the usual Christian ox, ass, lamb and camel array. He couldn’t understand why other animals were not included in the Nativity scene.
When I left the additional animals in Africa, Fatima was quite upset. She told me that no one knew for sure exactly which animals or how many were there at the manger around Baby Jesus, and anyway, it was “not fair” to deny other animals their privilege of welcoming strangers – especially with a new baby. Spoken only like Fatima! We often discussed this and she continued to believe that “it was really not fair” to the animals. All the animals that Africans see every day should have been included, she insisted, adding that, in her opinion, their exclusion was due to “international discrimination” against Africans and African customs! She suggested that I should include all the animals carved by the artist, since I was African. She did not think it was funny at all—like I did!
My beloved friend Fatima, passed away this year. She has always been and will always remain part of why this Nativity set means so much to me and my family.