See eh, I’m not joking. This phrase can have even the meanest, baddest, biggest girl/boy to come back from Ala Bekee quaking in their boots. Why? I’ll tell you.
In Igboland, December is a time to make money without shame – yes, yes, I know you non-ndi igbo are scratching your heads in confusion and asking “But isn’t the whole year money-making galore in Igboland?” and largely you are right, but December has a special kind of frenzy attached to making money – spending it of course, but mostly making it, amassing huge quantities of it – that is absent throughout the whole year. None so much as among village children.
Village children are known for many things; iwa anya, literally translated as ‘to cut open the eye’ or in pidgin as ‘Tear eye’, ‘icha akwu’, which means ‘To ripen like a palmnut’ – this is harder to explain. It does not mean physical ripening or maturity. (Everyone knows you can never tell a village child’s age and that only a stupid person would try. Footballers have got nothing on these children). It’s more like being sharp. They have a lot of sense.
But the worst bit around Christmas is that village children – babies from six months and upwards included – can already tell a N50 note from a N500 one. (Actually that’s a bit unfair. All Igbo children can do that). And this brings me to the ‘quaking in boots ‘bit. On Christmas Day bands of children ‘terrorise’ households. They come in, all the same size if different ages and they greet you ‘Gi rafun’ (Good afternoon) and say “Anyi bialu ka i gbalu anyi Christmas”. Woe betide you if you don’t have any cash on hand when these children visit because they’ve got all day and they WILL get that money. They’ve got nothing but time and it doesn’t matter how many houses they have gone to before yours on Christmas Day, their stomachs are never full. Your best bet is to feed them, give them money and let them go or your family/visitors will have no food to eat that day (yes, people go round to other people’s on Christmas Day where I’m from). Sometimes they’ll refuse food outright. They’ll tell you they have eaten and all they want is for you to ‘dance Christmas’ for them. They may take a drink or two. They will tell you that they will come back if you don’t have any money now, but please heed my advice. Give them what you have got. When they come back, they come with inflation.
“Well, what happens when you give them nothing?” You ask. It’s similar to a halloween trick but much worse. For you see, in addition to ripening like a palmnut and cutting open their eyes, the village child is a library of insults passed down from grandparents; words that you never knew existed. Also they are possessed of the uncanny ability to zero in on your worst fear or insecurity. And so it was that yours truly, while neither a badass nor a big girl became the recipient of such hits as ‘Onye isi ya ka nke m o’. And I don’t even have a big head. It’s mostly hair. *Sniff Sniff*
To help you, here’s a drawing I have done of a typical village child leader at Christmas:
1) Dark eyebrows created by applying thick lines of black-black eye pencil. The kind that you never see in any form but ‘stubby’.
2) Plastic glasses with fluorescent colours.
3) Tummy-breast buds: Do not try to determine age by looking here, especially if you’re a man. It won’t help you.
4) Bag for collecting money. Usually when the bag is full, the leader will lead her troupe back to their compound (they are usually all related) to empty their receptacles before they hit the road again. Their parents will count and hold the money. The mothers, not the fathers mind. (Side note: Have you ever seen what happens to a parent when they spend a VC’s Christmas money? See: Bakassi Boys)
5) New china blue-white socks, bought two sizes too big and rolled down. They will wear it to other special occasions throughout the year to which they have not been invited. See: The back of your wedding hall).
6) Belt. Tied as tightly as possible so that the skirt of the dress flares attractively. Any dress without a belt is not a dress.
7) Aka kpof-kpof AKA pouffy sleeves. Ditto.
8) Mother’s lipstick, scraped from its barrel with the cover of a Bic pen.
9) Shirley Temple curls. Made with extensions so plastic and shiny that if the sun is a little too hot it can spontaneously combust. The curls give the illusion of thick bouncy hair, and most importantly, cover up the short, natural hair that is the rule in most village school. Sometimes, VC can show up with the ‘Okuku Abuke’ look, which is where they relax the short hair for Christmas resulting in sparse spikes. (See: Wet chickens).
10) Weirdly couloured bit in hair. The extensions for this could be anything from white to fiery red to purple. It has to stand out).
11) Koi-koi shoes, so named for the sound they make.
And I forgot to add a nummber 12, so here it is: The eye-pencil beauty mark/third eye in the middle of forehead. You are not an asa until you have this. Whaaaaaat?
So, you’ve been warned. Don’t be afraid though, just respect yourself, go to the bank on time and all will be well. Make no mistake, Christmas is not Christmas without the village child.