Christmas Surprise

December 1st, 2009
by Alfonso Ebanks

[private] v7-12-Our IslandsThe sun had passed the zenith as our driver brought the pitpan to shore on one of the few patches of white beach that we had seen along the course of this fast flowing river. This was a semi-official military mission, but there were no military personnel on board our outboard-powered dugout. The coronel back at home base had heard rumors of the discovery of gold in some of the villages in the foot-hills along the upper reaches of the river and had decided to send old Joe to investigate. Old Joe was an employee of the army and served as scout, tracker, and adviser in affairs of the natives. Old Joe was a foreigner, but had been living among the native Miskito Indians for decades. He served the army well because he was the only person who had the complete trust of all the natives of all the tribes in the whole area. No one bought, sold, or traded anything without the consent of old Joe. So, if there was gold in them there hills old Joe was the man that could find out where it was. Old Joe and I had became friends and many afternoons we would sit under the big wild almond tree at the landing close to his house and we would chat in English for hours; Old Joe was from Boca Del Toro, an English speaking town in the republic of Panama. One afternoon he asked me if I wanted to take a little trip up river, he said we would be gone for about three or four days. After I queried him on the dangers and health risks and what not, I made arrangements with my partner to do my shift at the weather bureau for a few days. The next morning, at an ungodly hour, he roused me and off we went. I had packed a few items I thought I might need like extra socks, canned corned beef, insect repellent (army Issue), a flash light with extra batteries, and a Colt .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol with extra rounds. I also carried a water-tight tin can of pineapple cookies my mother had sent me on the last boat that came from down home.

The confining space of the long but very narrow boat was distressing, and the din of the little ten horse power motor seemed to slow the hands of my Timex watch. We had been going for about nine hours and during this time we had not stopped for anything, so I was very relieved when I heard the sound of the motor boat slowing and then the sound of gravel and sand crunching under the elongated bow of the pitpan. I believed this was the end of the line, but this was only as far as we could go by boat. The rest of the way we were to go on foot. The coronel had given us a few packages of US Army K rations so we had some chicken stew, or something very similar to chicken stew for lunch. After finishing our lunch we started the trek up the mountain. The walking was hard, but time went by pretty fast as I stopped looking at my watch and stared looking into the jungle for jaguars, poisonous snakes, and wild boar which I had been told abounded in these hills, but I never saw any. We saw the smoke rising up ahead and heard sounds that seemed like people singing. As we walked into the clearing of the village we were all surprised to find the natives in full holiday costumes and wearing their finest go-to-town clothing. Here it was the middle of the afternoon and all the villagers were dancing and drinking Misla.

We were invited to join the festivities and without as much as asking what they were celebrating we joined right in and soon we were dancing and singing as loud as the rest of the villagers. There was plenty of food and that was good because those K-rations weren’t all that great. The drink of the day was misla and I had not tried it before, but I found it pleasant to drink and I had some even with my food. Misla is an alcoholic concoction made from cane juice and corn or rice, and you should not be fooled by its sweet taste, it is much more potent than regular beer. Soon after that I noticed that I was singing in English. Later that night I told old Joe to ask the man in charge what it was were celebrating and all four members of our little expedition were very surprised when the chief said they were celebrating Kritmes.

Christmas? Today was the 15 day of January. The chief must be drunk or grossly mistaken, so I prompted old Joe to ask him why he thought today was Christmas and the chief elaborated: The people of this village never had a fixed day for Christmas so they celebrated the whole week. He was then told that Christmas had been celebrated in the rest of world 20 days ago. The chief said that we must be in error because the Flor de Pascuas (poinsettias) had not blossomed until about three days ago, so it had to be Christmas time. We agreed with him and I gave him my tin can of pine-apple cookies and my flashlight as Christmas gifts and we danced into the night. The next day as we set about leaving the village we were bid farewell by the chief, he had a new name for me; it was Pasa Kaikaya (sky gazer) and I assumed that old Joe had told him about my work in the Meteorological Station. The chief told me that I had given him the most delicious and useful gifts he had ever gotten and that this would be a Christmas that he would never forget. We were leaving with no gold, but we had made a lot of new friends and that slight headache told us that maybe we had celebrated our best Christmas ever, in the month of January. [/private]

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