2016 has been an incredible year, and it’s not quite over yet. I’m writing this on Christmas Eve listening to the recording of the Christmas Eve service from King’s College Chapel, Cambridge. A time of reflection pending new beginnings on Christmas Day for those of the Christian faith. On Thursday afternoon I was with a group of Muslim women celebrating the story of Jesus – The Prophet. And on Tuesday at a concert of carols was reminded by one of the singers how pleased she was that although performing in a church, she wasn’t forced to listen to what it was to be a believer.
This has been a particularly poignant Christmas season in many ways which I think reflects the past year. It, the Christmas season, started with a friend asking how Christ featured in Christmas. The ensuing discussion round the traditional Christmas dinner prompted some serious thinking. Going to church was my standard answer, however my paternal grandmother was known for not going to church on Christmas day – she was quite open about giving her seat up ‘for the heathens’ who don’t venture into church the rest of the year. The commercialisation of Christmas seems to have taken over, yet underneath there’s a move to get back to the heart of things. This isn’t just a Christian thing – it was strongly apparent in my discussions with Muslim women and many others this year.
We haven’t put up Christmas decorations this year – we seldom do. We have a baobab tree (a model of one) which is smothered with Christmas decorations all made in Africa out of seeds and other local materials. This remains out all year round fitting in with our general take on anniversaries and other events – why should Valentine’s Day only be once a year? And if one of us forgets our wedding anniversary, it’s something to laugh about – it was my turn this year! (and that’s after 20 years of marriage).
I extend this to Remembrance Day as well – every day in my role as an historian I remember the sacrifice men and women have made to keep us safe and to create what they believed was a better world. Usually, however, I do participate in a service on Remembrance Sunday but this year refused to do so. Thankfully, I was in South Africa which made it slightly easier – it was my protest at how I’ve seen Remembrance Day morph into a Remembrance season: are you wearing a poppy? How big or unique is your poppy? how dare you not wear a poppy! and then there was the Poppy Lottery – I could probably live with the idea except for having seen the adverts: all about what I can win with a passing mention at the end of what it was for.
The British referendum on relations with Europe, the US national election, the South African local elections all played their part in challenging the status quo. After 20 years in the UK I felt an outsider, yet in South Africa for the first time I felt as though there was a genuine sense of equality at grassroots’ level despite what was happening in political circles. I also found myself on uncertain ground as the education project I’ve been involved in for nearly ten years moved from Tanzania (village life) to Rwanda (city life). It was quite fitting that earlier in the year we had visited Iceland and I’d stood with one foot on each of the tectonic plates (thankfully they didn’t move). The outcome of all these experiences was a consolidation of my identity and my values – what I stand for and being true to myself. And if this requires speaking out, so be it. Hence the opening accounts to this post. It’s time we get back to basics and remember that all come into the world in the same way and we all have the same end, it’s what we do in between that matters. If I don’t stand up for what I believe, no-one will. My alter-ego on Facebook – Minority Historian – was chosen for a reason: to bring the minority stories of the Great War in Africa to the fore irrespective of what others believe to be true (I let the documents do the talking).
I’ve met some incredible people this year – all going through similar journeys – a lady (yes, she is one because she carries herself with pride and humility) with alopecia; her husband who came out in public as a transdresser (I can’t see the point why we don’t object to women wearing trousers but we do object to men wearing dresses unless they – the dresses – are of a religious nature), and three authors with learning differences and challenges who have written/created wonderful stories despite all the hurdles placed in their way. Interestingly, where doors have closed in the UK, they have opened in South Africa – completely unexpectedly. Similarly, in my history life, so many people around the world are willing to share information and help get to the truth – their tenacity in doing so continues to astound and inspire me.
And I can’t but be encouraged by three special people – a Jewish friend who fastidiously maintains the Sabbath even when planning a holiday, another who gives up a chunk of her time at this time of the year to work for Crisis helping the homeless of London feel included and valued. The third is a more recent contact/friend whose work I’m waiting to publish – who at the time of writing has been held captive somewhere in Africa for over 4 months with no charges laid against him – from the little I know, a true humanitarian who was using his skills to help make the world a little more bearable for others. He stood his ground despite knowing what c/would happen. May he soon be released and be re-united with his family.
Who knows what next year will bring – but with faith (of whatever kind) and humanity (treat others as you want to be treated) we can face it wherever we are in the world.
May 2017 be all you wish it to be.