Anyi a ya ana uno? Are we going to travel?
The questions usually started in early December and would then evolve to which day we would be travelling and kept evolving until we finally arrived home, at the Villa. Uke.
“Anyi ya ana uno!” We would be travelling home! Was the exciting chant, once my Mum confirmed to us that we would be travelling home for Christmas and the preparations were always elaborate. Oh Lord!
First and early on was the food shopping, and this particular set of food stuffs were stored outside the kitchen, in a part of the hallway between the kitchen, the dining room and the staircase that led upstairs. This was a way of showing that they were destined for the village.
Then the shopping for Christmas clothes, a rite most children must have enjoyed. Our clothes were barely our size, how can? Children grew fast and you wouldn’t want them outgrowing such expensive clothes after Christmas. It wasn’t unusual for me to still be wearing some of my Christmas clothes four years later, albeit as stay-at-home clothes.
And then, all the girls had to go do their hair. Hmmnnn, this wasn’t optional. Not in my Mum’s life. You had to do your hair, she would choose the ‘reigning hairstyle’, “nke umuaka ibe unu na-akpa” or “nke na-ewulu umu agbogho ibe unu“; the one kids our age were making at that time or the one that was popular amongst the young women, depending on our age that particular year.
The most anticipated part of it all was the making of the Chin-Chin snack. This popular snack made from dough by cutting into cubes and deep frying was a delicacy served with Soda in most Nigerian homes during the Christmas period. We made it at home only once a year and that was in December, other times, we bought off the shelves at the store.
The Christmas Chin-Chin was a big deal, the eight of us would gather to make it because we had to produce a lot to fill a bag of salt which weighed like 20kg.
My Mum bought the ingredients and gave the directions, some would break the eggs, some would participate in the mixing of the sugar and butter in the ‘Odo‘ the wooden mortar used for pounding stuff in the kitchen, while some would participate in kneading the flour and other mixture to form the dough.
At the end, we would form four teams. Team 1 would be rolling the dough on flour covered surfaces using washed beer bottles and the singular rolling pin we had, team 2 would be cutting up the dough into long, thick lines while team 3 would cutting the thick lines into cubed sizes and team four would be frying and tasting.
Suffice it to say that my sister Chika was usually in team 4 and in addition to frying the Chin-Chin, she would take out some dough and fry buns (bun) and maybe fish rolls and what other friable stuff she could dream up within that instant. She sometimes stored batter which she would use to bake a Cake on a makeshift firewood oven! We usually all partook in sharing the hot and fried chin-chin and Chika’s extras.
At the end of it all, we would be tired but happy and Mum would carefully pour the cooled chin-chin into the salt bag and take it up to her room. Then the hiding game would start. My brother, Ifeanyi was good at hunting down the Chin-Chin bag and that would be his mission (among other stuff) all through the holiday period. Several times, my Mum would change the location of the bag and act like the Chin-Chin had finished only for a visitor to show up and get a plateful and of course, Ifeanyi would restart his hunt and eventually emerge with Chin-Chin to share. Mum simply changed the location again and on and on till we saw the empty Salt bag.
Later on, after some of us grew and left home, Mum would start ordering Christmas Chin-Chin.
This part of the Christmas tradition was always a treasure. I can still see the pictures of the laughter, the banter, the quarrels and the activities floating out of that kitchen in our Trans-Nkisi home with my Mum at the centre of it all.