The Carol of Nations
I could have sworn that I’d brought them the world. In some ways I did. Although my feet were planted firmly on the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley in Kenya my heart was blended with the universal choirs of the nations.
On my own I would never have spotted the waist high bulge sitting like an upside down teacup hidden in the withered shrubbery. John had doggedly led myself and seven others on this five mile hike up the two thousand foot maze of switchbacks to deliver our “love hampers.” The one hundred degree plus Christmas sunshine sucked me dry like a squeezed lemon given an extra round in a microwave.
I looked down at Jun Kim as she strained to hoist her backpack over the last three foot high earthen step to reach the shelf on which the tea cup huddled in the highlands some nine thousand feet above sea level.
My international team of students wanted a different Christmas than what their families were offering and they were getting it. I looked out over the weary climbers and examined the sky where a lone fish eagle rode the thermals.
The gauzy cirrus clouds drifting quickly over the distant Ngong hills refused to give any hint if this draught would ever end. For an instant my eye detected the shaping of an angelic choir in the clouds but when I looked again only feathery wisps remained.
I hoisted Jun Kim’s burden of flour, sugar and corn meal and set it beside my bundle of tea, coffee and freshly slaughtered beef. The flies honed in on my sack like piranhas on their prey and began to stake their claims. I swatted at the unruly mob of predators with my left hand and hauled Jun Kim over the ledge with my right. I guess even flies need a Christmas.
When the last of us stood upright catching our breath and claiming our “hamper”, John loped easily toward our target. His cry of “Wimwega” was met with a muffled “Turiega” before two figures slowly unfolded themselves from within the tea cup.
The “tea cup” was made up of bent over branches covered in mud and cow dung. Gaps in the circular walls betrayed the desperate workmanship that fell short of what was needed. A single tattered sugar sack curled alone on the dirt floor as the only “furniture” in this home. The two “five foot” stick figures unfolding before me wore traces of burlap sacks cut to cover. The wince of pain lasted only a moment before the smiles unfolded like a noonday sun.
Greetings were exchanged and I worked hard not to crush the brittle bundle of bones that extended in my direction. I watched as John introduced us and left us to present our gifts like the wisemen of old before the Christ child. Standing unsteadily outside their “tea cup home”, Njoroge and Elizabeth may never have heard of Santa’s reindeers with their stuffed sacks of goodies but they sure understood the truth of angels and they sure loved Christmas.
Nine of us from six different countries launched the impossible. Our languages swirled like coffee, sugar and cream in the cup of a single carol. “Joy to the World.” Our voices sounded out in English, Swahili, Kikuyu, Korean, Spanish, German and French and this time I was sure I saw the clouds take on the distinctive shape of an ancient nativity scene – even if just for a moment in time.
When Isaac Watts translated the Psalms of David in 1719 with the words that would become this popular carol, and when the American Lowell Mason added the music in 1839, they would have been stunned to see our motley choir hoisting their composition as a carol of the nations to the nations. But even the words were dim compared to the messages being shouted from the faces of those who stood on that small shelf beside that overturned “tea cup” now filled with a love that was understood in any language.
“Joy to the World” is a carol I will never sing again in the same way.
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