With apologies to Clement Clarke Moore
Written in Malongo December 1995
It was the night before Christmas and all through the camp.
It was bucketing rain and all things were damp.
The cicadas and crickets were making such noise.
No kids in this place, just a lot of big boys.
Then a flash and a whoosh, up in the sky.
A bright sleigh and reindeer is passing close by.
The bar had been closed for three hours or more.
While the rain in deluge from the sky it did pour.
The sleigh came in safely, I’m glad to report.
And made a beautiful landing in the heliport.
Not a soul stirred, no one had seen him arrive.
Except the mosquitoes, he was being eaten alive.
Of course it was Santa who’d just found that berth.
And of course it’s Malongo, the end of the earth.
He looked quickly round and thought what a hole.
Come Dacher and Dancer, get us back to the North Pole.
They sped away quickly away from that area.
And after twenty-one days he came down with malaria.
But on that rainy night as they sped away North.
Santa looked back and he issued forth.
This place that you work, it fills me with grief.
I’m sorry my visit of necessity was brief.
But on this Christmas day, with this wish I will go.
Soon you’ll be back with your loved ones I know.
So just for the present make the most of your plight.
And to you all Happy Christmas, and a very good night.
Christmas in Equatorial Africa falls in the middle of the very hottest and wettest time of the year.
And so it was in 1995, when I was working in Malongo, a Chevron oil workers camp near Cabinda, the Angolan enclave, in those days completely surrounded by Zaire, now by the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I had come back to work after six weeks at home in mid December, resigned to having to spend Christmas away from Elaine, Daire and Caoimhe.
I had come bearing the makings of a genuine Irish fry for at least 10 people; vacuum packed by the butchers in the Supervalu, arranged so by Elaine.
It weighed a ton and the sausages sort of burst, but nonetheless it would provide a little bit of home in the workshop on Christmas morning.
We had been sharing our diving boat with a little piglet which had been living outside the accommodation since early November, growing fat on leftovers.
Jake our cookie, had bartered for it the last time we had been in Banana Base in Zaire. When it came on board first it was about the size of a rabbit, but by Christmas week it was as big as a Labrador, fat, sleek and so friendly.
It squeaked its delight upon seeing as every morning, and we spoke to like it was a dog, rubbing it behind its ears while it oinked its pleasure.
We even named it Pig.
Christmas began on Christmas Eve.
Pig was no longer tied up in the scuppers outside the galley, and our days diving, was not spent working, but harvesting Atlantic crayfish, for the traditional Christmas Eve crayfish cookout, at the divers workshop.
We did meet pig again, but this time he had an apple in his mouth, and he tasted delicious.
For Christmas Eve lunch, Jake had done the Christmas dinner to beat all Christmas dinners, there was turkey of course and ham, but pig was the centrepiece, cooked to perfection.
Back in the 90s, before it was determined that drinking beer impaired the senses; the company was keen to sponsor any social events held on the camp, with spot prizes and beer, lots of beer.
So that night we had ice chest upon ice chest of cans of beer and enough crayfish to feed the multitude.
Our boss loved cooking crayfish.
We had a specialised bath sized stainless steel pot which he filled with water, bringing it to the boil with our oxyacetylene torch, before tumbling the dozen cool of crayfish into the boiling liquid.
The large crustaceans gave up the ghost on contact with the boiling water, with a brief pssssst escaping gas.
The Chevron Louisiana ‘good old boys’ at the party, revelled in this lobster feeding frenzy, sucking every last scrap of meat from the tentacles and legs of the beasts.
There was absolutely no need for it because there was ample juicy meat from the bodies, but it seemed to keep them happy.
The beer fuelled singsong after the feast went on well into the night, safe in the knowledge that the following day was the only day off in the entire year.
On Christmas Day, I cooked the fry at 6.30 AM, which warmed our hearts, and those of the visitors who dropped in for a Christmas visit..
There was no beer with breakfast, so I was ready to start the day’s sporting activities with a tennis tournament at 9 AM.
There was beer and more prizes for the tennis, which was played in blazing hot conditions.
I won a ‘Malongo country club’ whiskey glass for third place overall.
It was mid day when the tennis finished, so time for lunch, which was pretty much the same as any Sunday lunch, Caesar salad, the best this side of New York according to the Lebanese cook who made it.
At 1 o’clock in incredibly hot conditions, the Malongo Casuals took on the police in the first of the round-robin football championships.
The police, also known as the ninjas because of their black uniforms, were all young Angolan kids, athletic and habituated to existing in intense heat.
Tactically we had the upper hand, and at half-time we were leading three nil.
However after a few beers and cigarettes at half-time, the heat began to take its toll on us Europeans and the match ended 5-3 to them.
I played centre half, usually a rock solid defender, but I gave away two penalties because I was unable to propel myself off the ground to head the ball clear, and so grabbed it Gaelic style.
The police went on to win the competition.
Following the football there was beer golf, followed by beer cricket and baseball.
Luckily all this frenetic beer fuelled sporting activity ended at four, so there was time for a three and a half hour nap and a shower before Christmas dinner at eight PM.
And what a Christmas dinner, every nationality was catered for, Americans, Brazilians, Europeans, Angolans and Portuguese.
There was wine and beer, but no drunkenness, and a girls’ choir, from Landana a village up the coast from Malongo, entertained us with their beautiful rendition of well-known Christmas carols, conducted by a missionary nun from Cork, who taught at the ramshackle, but only school in the village.
Of course there was not a dry eye in the house.
After dinner there was a concert performed by three Americans and an Irishman who emulated the Eagles and the Silver Bullet band for two hours.
Christmas ended there, St Stephen’s Day was a normal work day, as was every other day until Saturday, 30 December when we had a darts and pool competition in the bar, and more tennis, baseball, cricket and football on Sunday the 31st, New Year’s Eve.
There was another dinner that couldn’t be beaten in the mess hall at 8 o’clock, and another little concert until 10PM, when the prospect of work the following day sent most of us to bed.