Among some of the new cultures that I had to navigate and somewhat assimilate to upon my moving to the US was the one day that Americans go all out on a visit to Scaryland. As it was explained to me, Halloween also known as Hallowe’en; Allhallowe’en; All Hallows’ Eve; All Saints’ Eve, is a very big celebration observed in a number of countries around the world, at the exception of mine, at least at the time I came. It is observed on October 31, which coincides with the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day.
My first Halloween is one I will never forget. I had just been here for a couple of months, getting accustomed to the American accent, readjusting my wardrobe to fit the demands of the crazy Ohio weather and learning my way to and from the grocery store, blending in so to speak. It was about a week towards Halloween, when I was on my way to my daily activities and boom, one of my neighbors had put up his first Halloween decoration and that one was a full skeleton, made of plastic of course but at that moment I seriously thought it was a real one. You should have seen my face and heard the drums in my heart. I paused, looked around for at least a nod of acknowledgment of the elephant on the street and to my surprise everyone else was going on with their merry way passing by the skeleton like nothing happened. I slowly made my first step backwards, crossed the street, and made the fastest steps away from that house, trying to hold myself not to run in the middle of what seemed like a normal morning to many. You see, up to that point the only place I had seen a skeleton decor was in some African movies where they used them to portray some kind of witchcraft or voodoo going on in the place. Am I living in a voodoo neighborhood? Will the skeleton haunt my dreams that night? Do all these people just tolerate this kind of practice so publicly? There were so many questions running through my mind at that moment but I keep on with my day, concealing the fear and confusion inside me and waiting for someone to mention the odd elephant around the street, and no one seemed to be bothered. That night when I got in my bed with all my questions unanswered due to the fact that I didn’t know anyone well enough at that time to actually ask questions, I prayed so hard not to dream about the voodoo skeleton around the corner. The next few days leading to Halloween were no different, more skeletons were displayed in people’s yards some hanging in their doorways, scarecrows were displayed on people’s porches and the pumpkins started popping up out of nowhere. What’s with the pumpkins anyways? That one hasn’t been answered to this day yet.
I learned to avoid the scary decorations and tried hard to keep on with my life, I mastered the art of sticking to what I knew since everything during that season seemed to revolve around the pumpkins.
Halloween came and children dressed up in their favorite costumes run the streets all excited and fearless about the spooky decorations, they would power through the fake spider webs, brush off the black skeletons and step over the scarecrows. “Trick or treat” they announced their presence at each doorstep, and they would excitedly collect their long awaited candies. I didn’t know you were supposed to hand out candy that day so I didn’t participate that year, my house was the boring one on the street, no décor, no candies, nothing. The festivities were fun to watch though, I would catch myself with a smile on the corner of my lips as I watched the fun of Halloween unfold before my very own curious eyes.
Halloween took me a few years to get accustomed to. It took the kindness of one of my American friends inviting me to join her family for Halloween, I got to carve my first pumpkin, put on my first costume, walk in the parade and really discover the fun around those festivities. Being included and participating, though still apprehensive, lessened my fear around the celebration and helped me understand more about the day. I tried the famous pumpkin spice lattes, the delicious pumpkin cakes and the scary looking baked goods, and of course the Halloween candies that can last you a whole year. My fear of Halloween started to dissipate little by little, I started dressing up lightly and focusing on just taking in the fun of the day, I am still not over the spookiest decor though, you know the animated skeletons that reach out to touch you when you pass by them, those still get me jumping every single time.
Fast forward a few years back, my husband being a very big fan of Halloween, who loves Halloween just as much as I love Christmas, there is a war between Christmas and Halloween décor still going on in our household, he talked me into visiting a Halloween haunted house and man was that what I call facing my fears! I survived all the rooms, and by survive I mean I ran out the exit crying like a little girl after going into it for what I remember to be an eternity, my husband insists it was just ten minutes, but the point is I came out still breathing so, that was a win!
Joining a new culture, I have learned that there will be things I will never fully understand. I remember how low my husband’s jaw dropped when I explained to him about a culture of waiting for 8 days before naming a child in my culture and calling the naming ceremony “Kurya Ubunnyano” which literally translate to eating the new baby’s poop, of course they don’t eat poop that day, they just gather at the new baby’s family and eat good food and kind of welcome the baby in the family, think Rafiki presenting Simba in the lion king, a Rwandan version of that LOL. Or how he learned that at a Rwandan wedding there can be speeches that last hours where elders from both sides sit and, the brides family explains why they are not giving away their daughter, the groom’s side try to convince them, everyone knowing very well that the day will end with the bride being given away. Each culture has a way of including elements that defy the normal of other cultures. But cultures unite people, they set them apart from the rest of the world, they provide participants with a sense of originality and an invisible bond is created from sharing a certain culture, there is a sense of belonging that is attached to cultures, talk bad about buckeye next to an Ohioan, even the one who doesn’t understand American football like me and you will understand what I mean. Since I was living in this new community, I have learned to participate or at least respect their culture which includes Halloween, pumpkin carving and eating and all, well may be still some, of the skeleton décor on my street.