MY sitting room Christmas tree this year is quite small.
It wasn’t a deliberate choice on my part, and when we finished decorating it a couple of weeks ago and sat under the glow of its lights for a while, I started practising justifications to give to the children in case they took issue with its size.
I had planned for the tree to be much bigger, having told everybody last year how disagreeable it was for any resident of Uganda to buy plastic imported trees when we could simply chop a few branches of our local Christmas firs and fully enjoy the nostalgic tinge of warmth it brings.
At the start of the year, I put aside space in a garden upcountry to plant a few trees of my own so that in November I’d have a small harvest to sell to like-minded persons keen on decreasing on our imports of finished goods and maintaining our childhood traditions.
After that, it took me three months to give up on that approach and instead turn to a gardener at a roadside nursery and seedlings centre in Kampala. After many discussions he finally understood my needs, though it took another two months for him to actually act on them even though I had paid for the seedlings.
This not being my day job, I could not spend enough time on the ground supervising the growth of trees. Even if it wouldn’t have helped the objective of the project, the gardener contracted to do the job did not share my horror and disappointment, one day not too long ago, at finding that the seedlings had grown to just a couple more feet than when I had last seen them months before.
When he eventually absorbed the reason for my irritation, he turned the blame squarely onto his employees – two old ladies who do the actual tending of his plants. Apparently, they kept trimming the prickly branches of the trees because that made it easier for them to weed around the base.
Of course, I told him, they would do that because: a) their protective clothing consisted entirely of one torn, bedraggled lesu each and; b) they did not have sufficient information about the project and therefore should not have been left unsupervised to raise a large, luscious Christmas tree – especially since even he, the owner and manager, had not understood what type of proper Christmas tree I wanted until I had taken him through seminars.
His sheepish apologies failed to result in a voluntary offer of a refund, and I found myself ferrying the trees – two by two – out of his custody and to my home, where I spent a few weeks sprucing them up myself and working at their enhanced growth.
I even had the pots ready for them and had commenced, together with my children, with their decoration in readiness for a magnificent display that would certainly result in happy sales.
This did not happen.
Instead, I have the best of the lot standing proudly in the corner of my sitting room, adorned by decorations and lights, attracting our attention every evening as Christmas music plays in the background.
I am happy with my tree because it is not a large, massive one going right up to the ceiling and weighed down with baubles and trinkets, then surrounded by piles of gifts like one’s imagination would create.
My life is not like that.
It is modest yet a proud statement of achievement, however little, of a goal I set out on and scored in some measure. But it’s compromised size is a direct result of the frustrations we face doing ordinary business with ordinary people who don’t pay attention to small details.
More importantly, it represents a promise that next year we will have a bigger, brighter, more luscious tree, as it will continue to grow even after we take it out of the room.
Plus, it will take more gardening effort of our own – which work I am looking forward to in months to come, along with the full batch of trees.
The same will apply to many things for us – from natural beauty, to bank balances, to the size of business opportunities and even basic knowledge as my children are still in school.
Actually, even if the children don’t take issue and ask me, I’m going to give them the more lengthy version of the justification for how small our Christmas Tree is this year – explaining how much bigger it will be next year and the year after that.