Glen Carbon, Halloween.
teaching. lanugage. travel
Last year Halloween, I missed my chance to dress up as a Pirate of the Caribbean. This year, to redeem myself, I came up with a variety of costume ideas. At first I thought that I could be Robert Mugabe, the Zimbabwean dictator. I gave that up when I realized that I’d need to wear a three piece suit to be close. Then I wanted to be the stupid Nigerian Underwear bomber from last year. To do that, I might need to wear a t-shirt (and maybe a fiery underwear) and look silly. No way. Then I thought I could be Kunta Kinte. Who cares, I thought. Halloween is such a day for the ridiculous anyway. However, Kunta was a short man, and I’d have to look and behave really angrily. I gave that up as well. Then I said I’d be Fela the musician. Then I realized that no one around here really knows who he was to be able to correctly identify me. Then I said maybe I should be Eddie Long. Oh no, I said again. I’m not that desperate to be ridiculous, so I jettisoned that too. I decided to go as myself, in a classy Yoruba dashiki vest.
Nothing more needs to be said except that it was thick enough to keep the cold out when I’m outside, and colourful enough to be a Halloween costume in America. When I was asked who I was supposed to be, I said I was an African president from the Congo – not minding that the clothing material is not even worn in the Congo. When I went to the parade at downtown Edwardsville yesterday, I wore it again, and I got a few interesting glances. It’s Halloween, geddit? Let’s see what happens when I wear it to the department sometime. A student from Ghana saw me and said it is called fugu in Ghana, and is worn mostly by the Hausas in the Northern part of the country. All I know is that Wole Soyinka wore it on top of an “English” dress to accept his Nobel Prize in 1986 in Stockholm. Now it all makes sense. The cold in that part of the world is beyond belief.
And so it ends, another season of fun and festivities.
Random: I think it’s unfair that most of America’s fun places are in Missouri rather than in Illinois. Sometimes last week, I went to Grant’s Farm – a spacious fenced plantation ground belonging to the former general and president Ulysses Grant, also in Missouri. The grounds of the farm – now populated with animals of different kinds – was where the president spent much of his time during the civil war and the Mexican war. The state has so much more than has been presently discovered, and I’d be glad to check out as many more as I can discover.
The parade at downtown Edwardsville yesterday night was a jamboree. As early as six o’ clock in a car driving towards the venue of the annual Halloween rally, I had wondered if all of America had decided to converge here after all. The traffic was long, some roads had been closed, there were policemen at every junction, and all visible parking lots were already filled up. On roadsides were people in different costumes in family-size groups. On another side were tents and sheds, and people preparing for the parade.
I eventually made it to a safe place to park, and headed out to the road to await the start of the parade. It was cold, very cold. (You don’t have to take my word for it. I’m Nigerian. But remember that by this time last year, I’d already bought gloves.) Between six thirty and six forty-five the first group marched by. They were a band of firefighters from the city with musical instruments and a matching costume. They were followed by a bunch of school children also in costumes, and musical instruments. It soon became clear that the parade was going to follow a similar pattern. From then until about eight thirty when I have had enough, there were trains of people, cars, politicians, little children and uniformed employees who had come out to celebrate the season the way they’d done so for years.
There was plenty sweets (or candy) to go around, as any of the kids on the side of the roads watching the parade and catching them as they are flung would admit. Maybe for them, it would be enough to justify their coming out in such a cold weather. On the other hand, maybe it’s not that cold or the event would have taken place in the early fall or summer. But then, doesn’t the Mardi Gras take place in February when it’s the coldest? The other way to look at it is that this is one time during the year when whole families come out for a common purpose that is neither political nor polarizing. I saw three year olds, and I saw seventy-year olds, and a town suddenly made alive in a hopeful celebration of optimism and the fact that life always goes on.
I’m glad I went. I was a good chance to breath the fresh air of the outdoors, though I’d have preferred if it was just a little less cold.
The Halloween weekend went without incident, mostly because I later found out that it was seen mostly as a holiday for children and not for serious adults. I noticed this kind of indifference early enough in my apartment from my flatmates who had promised not to leave the front light on – a sign for the roaming kids that the house was closed for trick-or-treating. On Friday, I had gone into town late in the evening with a friend, and noticed how creatively many houses decorated their front porches with skeletons, ghouls and other scary stuff, including carved pumpkins with lights in them. There were kids on the road going to different houses in little plastic bags searching for candy. On their heels were parents and older ones who, as I was told, were there to keep their wards/siblings safe from prowling pranksters or children kidnappers. According to my friend, it wasn’t always like this. “Growing up in the 70s, there was not much in the news about kidnappings and the likes like we have today, and it wasn’t because the country was any safer, but because the news circuit was not as paranoid.” She said. “We went out at night trick-or-treating, and came back at dawn, alone and without our parents, and it was much more fun.”
At her own house, where she lives with her mother, a professor from the University, the front porch light was also turned off, and the only glow outside were two carved lighted pumpkins. We rang the doorbell and she went to hide behind one of the shrubs while I put up the shrillest imitation of children as soon as her mother approached the door from inside the house, and said “trick-or-treat!” If she was amused by our prank as soon as she opened the door, I couldn’t notice it as much as I saw her urgency to return to the basement where she was working on the computer. In short, I could say that for many people with even a modicum of maturity, especially those without preteen children, Halloween has become nothing but just a weekend of lights and irritating kids.
On Saturday was the Halloween parade at downtown Edwardsville, arguably the biggest celebration for the day. According to legend, it features a parade of the craziest costumes in the area. I had put the parade in my plans since earlier in the week, but when the time came, nature played it tricks-or-treat on my ailing flesh. I did not treat myself to a good sleep for hours preceding the parade, and my body tricked me into sleep. But wait, that was not why I didn’t go. Here is a better excuse: It was cold, and I couldn’t ride downtown in the inclement weather. Ben could have driven us there, Mafoya and I (who had made the plan together), but Ben himself was at St. Louis at the time, so we had no choice but to stay indoors and wait for news from those who went.
In the end, the news wasn’t so enticing anyway. The parade started late, the costumes were not so spectacular, and it was too dark to take good pictures. So there. The only pictures I will boast of from the All Saints Weekend were the ones I took some days before then, while messing around with an old mask. And of course with the large witch hat that I tried on while at Prof Rudy’s house on Sunday. His wife had worn it in the house during their bridge-playing session, and was gracious enough to lend me for a few seconds photo opportunity. She looked better in it though, and I wish I could put up her picture instead of mine. But without her permission, how could I? I think the main reason why I didn’t eventually dress up as a Pirate of the Carribbean was because I didn’t do my shopping early enough. And by the time I got to Khol’s on Friday, all they had were children’s costumes, and the workers looked at me strangely when I asked them if they had anything for adults to wear on Halloween. Oh well, I’m not a kid anymore. Or am I?
This is the flip side of the monthly argument that started here. I suggest that you read it first.
10. Food. When you think about it, there is really nothing so spectacular about Nigerian food that one can’t do without it for a year. Yea, you can call it a case of sour grapes conditioned by inevitability, but this is my story and I’m sticking to it. Give me panini with potato pudding and chicken sauce. On a more serious note, the American continent is filled with a diverse list of amazing cuisines, and I’m glad to share in them.
9. Books. I like the ease with which I can buy books here. It doesn’t make me a fan of paper books over electronic ones, but there are so many paperbacks that are always keepsake materials.
8. People. There is something beautiful in being able to maintain a personal space, individuality, and not worry about a certain crowdiness that is characteristics of so many streets I know. It is a sense of violation from the piercing stares of strangers. I have not had much of that here. There is no pressure to speak to anyone one meets on the road, or share a bus stop with.
7. NEPA. No further comments. #lightupNigeria.
5. Family. So many people have gone to great lengths to make me feel so much at home here, and I will definitely miss their warmth and support when it’s time for me to say goodbye.
4. Love. No comments. See #5 above.
3. New Experiences. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Valentine, Winter, Spring, Kwanzaa, Martin Luther King’s Birthday… etc. There are definitely many things to look forward to.
2. Friends. See 5 above. Plus, it seems that I am closer to many of my Nigerian friends now than when I was back home.
1. Well, it’s called a “home”, not a “house”. Home is in the heart, and it goes where the heart is.
PS: Much of this list is tongue-in-cheek anyway. Next month, I’ll tell you a few hostile experiences that I’ve had in Edwardsville that reminded me of how similar people are all over the world, both in goodness and in not-so-goodness. Happy Halloween. See you in November.
(Picture credits: The Cougar Lake “Lantern”, taken from a photo exhibition of sights of SIUE.)