A Harmattan Christmas

by Harriet E. Michael

Nigeria, where I grew up,  is a country on the coast of West Africa just beneath the Sahara Desert. Christmas in Nigeria comes in the middle of the dry season–a special part of the dry season known as Harmattan.

Wikipedia defines Harmattan like this: The Harmattan is a dry and dusty West African trade wind. It blows south from the Sahara into the Gulf of Guinea between the end of November and the middle of March. Humidity can drop to as low as 15 percent. In some countries in West Africa, the heavy amount of dust in the air can severely limit visibility and block the sun for several days, comparable to a heavy fog.

harmattan

Against this backdrop, we celebrated Christmas. My father used to say he liked the fact that Christmas came in the middle of Harmattan. In America everything would have been stark, cold, and dreary, with the trees bare and the air full of winter’s chill. And in the middle of this otherwise dreary time, Christians celebrate the birth of the Savior with ornamented and brightly-lit trees, gifts, good food, and Christmas cheer. Likewise in Nigeria, when the world was dry and dusty, all the leaves and grass a dreary brown, Christians celebrate the joyous birth of their Savior with songs and good cheer.

tree-lightsI loved the Christmases of my childhood! They were unique and wonderful. We used a small casuarina tree for our Christmas tree and decorated it with whatever we could find. Many of us had brought those old-fashioned large bulb tree lights and we had electricity, albeit somewhat unreliable.

This is not me, but my hair looked a lot like the girl in this picture!

This is not me, but my hair looked a lot like the girl’s in this picture!

On a humorous note, when I was a baby, I had very thin wispy blonde hair. During the Harmattan season the static electricity from the dry blowing air caused my hair to stand on end most of the time and my family fondly called me “Harriet the Harmattan cat” because my hair looked like the hair on the back of cats when they arch in fear or anger.


Writing Prompt: Have you ever spent Christmas away from home? If so, describe your experience, if not, write a fictional Christmas away from home story.

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Meet Newest Crew Member-Harriet E. Michael

IMG_5245Today we give a big shout out to our newest Crew Member, Harriet E. Michael!

(1)  Welcome to the Writing Prompts Crew. Tell us a little about yourself.

Harriet: God blessed me with an interesting life. I was born in the jungles of Africa, in the eastern part of Nigeria, near the Niger River Delta, where my parents served as foreign missionaries. I went from Africa to quintessential America when my parents came back to the states and settled in the mountain town of Bluefield, West Virginia. Graduating high school in the 1970’s gave me a taste of classic small-town American life including being a cheerleader for a state championship football team.

I met my husband at church one day and married him less than a year later. We have now been married for going on 37 yrs, have three grown sons, a grown daughter, and one grandchild (my daughter’s child.) One of my sons and his wife just announced they are starting the process to adopt so I will soon have another grandchild and I am so excited! My first grandchild has my heart wrapped around his little finger and I am sure my next one will too.

(2)  How did you become interested in being a writer?

Harriet: I always loved writing but had so much trouble with spelling and punctuation that I never saw myself as a writer. In high school I would receive two grades on every paper; an A+ for content and a C for writing mechanics. Tired of all the red marks, I majored in nursing in college. But a few years ago, in 2003, to be exact, a loved one suffered a trauma. Her situation drove me to a personal search of prayer as it is explained and portrayed in the Bible. This study took four years and I recorded my findings along the way. At the end of the four years, I had a manuscript written and had caught the writing bug.

I attended a writer’s conference in 2009 where I learned about freelancing small pieces so I came home and tried my hand at it. I sent my first submission in July of 2009 and had my first contract in November of the same year. I fell in love with freelancing nonfiction pieces—articles, short stories, and devotions—and just kept doing it. Today I have hundreds of published pieces and now speak at writer’s conferences about freelancing and devotional writing. I also speak at women’s conferences on the topic of prayer. I am hoping to expand my speaking ministry in the days to come as well as my writing ministry.

I currently have two books available on Amazon. One is a seasonal devotional I co-wrote with a childhood MK (missionary kid) friend, and the other is the manuscript on prayer. Released by Pix N Pens Publishing, it is titled, Prayer: It’s Not About You. I am working on my first fiction book which I hope will be out by the end of 2016. It has a “Call to Missions” theme and is a fictionalized version of my parent’s story.

(3)  Can you tell us three unique things about you that we may not know?

Harriet: I lived through a war when I was a child—the Biafran war, I have a bachelors in nursing, work as a substitute teacher at a Christian school, but my passion is writing. And my family is interracial. I have a Nigerian brother and sister-in-law who are now US citizens. Their daughter married a Caucasian a few years ago and just gave birth to a beautiful biracial child, who will be good company for my precious grandson, who is also biracial.


Born in Nigeria, West Africa, as the daughter of missionaries, Harriet E. Michael is a writer, gardener, substitute teacher, wife of over 36 years, mother of four, grandmother of one and soon-to-be grandmother of two.

She holds a BS in nursing from West Virginia University but has discovered her passion for writing. Since her first published article in 2010, she now has over a hundred and fifty published articles and devotions. Her work has appeared in publications by Lifeway, Focus on the Family, David C. Cook Company, Bethany House, Standard Publishing Company, Judson Press, and more.

Harriet is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Louisville Christian Writers. She has authored two nonfiction books and is working on more—both nonfiction and fiction.

A Different Kind of Homeschool

Long ago, in a far away land…

All magical stories start out that way, don’t they? Well, the story of my childhood is magical and it too happened long ago in a far away land.

AfricaPolaroidI was born in the jungles of Africa, in the country of Nigeria, quite a long time ago. After a year at the remote jungle station, my family moved to a less remote place for language school, and then on to Ogbomoso, a city that contained one of the largest mission stations.

Ogbomoso had both a seminary and a hospital. All together, there were roughly a dozen missionary families and single missionaries, depending on who was on furlough at any given time. And all of these families had children in need of an education. So the mission we served came up with a solution—home school them until the fifth grade and then pool the resources into a boarding school established and run by the mission.

In most homes, this meant the parents homeschooled their own children. But since Ogbomoso had so many families in one place, we formed a school…sort of.

For several years, one brave woman accepted the job of teacher to all MK’s (missionary kids) in Ogbomoso. I fondly remember her as “Aunt Lil”, since we MK’s called all the missionaries aunt or uncle.

Aunt Lil held a teaching certificate and had experience as an elementary teacher. But I imagine teaching a room full of students who were all in the same grade and who studied the same curriculum, was a walk in the park compared to teaching ten or more students in four grades, four different curriculums, all in the same room—which happened to be her garage.

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Original drawing by Harriet Michael

It was magical indeed. She clumped the desks of the various classes together and walked around the garage overseeing all of her students’ work. I had a large class with three to four depending on who was gone on furlough. Some classes only had one student and his or her desk would sit off by itself.

Aunt Lil decorated her room brightly. The front, which was actually the back of the garage, had a chalk board. The two side walls each had a small window and a bulletin board, and the back of the school had two large garage doors that stayed open.

autumn-922378_1920She decorated the bulletin boards and changed them regularly. Sometimes they had letters or numbers but other times they had seasonal items. She also placed bright educational or decorative items and boarders on the walls around the bulletin boards. I can still remember the magic of watching the seasons change on the walls around me. The decorations went from bright fall leaves, pumpkins, black cats, harvest moons, and hay stacks to lacy snowflakes, snow covered scenes, stockings hung by a roaring fireplace, to spring tulips, baskets, fields of daffodils, bunnies, and colored eggs.

These really did feel magical to me and the other students because Nigeria only had two seasons—rainy and dry. Our world went from lush green, full of abundant fruit to dry brown with dust so thick sometimes it looked like a fog.

Education in her one-room garage school was fun. Nothing quite compares to sitting at a desk, surrounded by friends, with paper, pencil, scissors and glue strewn on the floor for use in the project you are eagerly working on. And then looking up at pilgrims and orange pumpkins, while your mind wanders off to a land you only barely remember where leaves turn colors and frost crunches beneath your feet. A place where you need to bundle up in mittens and a coat or come inside to warm yourself by an inside fire…and just as you are lost in your thoughts, a gecko scampers across the bulletin board on its way out the open window and you feel a tropical breeze across your face.

My garage school only had class from eight o’clock until noon with one snack break and recess in the middle of the morning. At recess we all scattered around Aunt Lil’s yard climbing trees, chasing lizards, or playing on the swing set next to the house.

soccer-434343_1920Once as a child, my family took a trip to the much larger city of Lagos. We stayed in the hostel there. My room had a window, which overlooked a Nigerian Grammar school play yard. From my chair near the second story window, I saw the children come out to recess. There were so many of them, all in the same uniform—blue pants and shirts or blue pinafore type dresses. They walked in single-file behind their teacher out the door until they reached the center of the large play yard where they broke into free play. But when their teacher blew her whistle, they all single-filed quietly back inside.

…I thought their school was so strange.

Writing prompt*:  Martha inhaled the tantalizing aroma of simmering soup. It was almost ready. Good thing, too. She had a roomful of hungry schoolchildren to feed. She never dreamed her first teaching position would also require culinary skills. She glanced around the room at her students, varying in age from six to eighteen. Some were engrossed in their work, others squirmed and fidgeted. Her satisfied mood changed to alarm when… (Finish the story and post as a comment). *Writing prompt by Betty Owens

A bit about Harriet Michael –  Harriet’s writing journey began in 2004 during a difficult time in the life of someone close to her. She started a journal and personal Scripture-search on the topic of prayer. Four years later, she had a manuscript written, and a love of writing. She began freelancing small pieces in 2009. Today, she has a growing list of published credits, including articles, devotions, and stories. Her work has appeared in publications by LifeWay, Focus on the Family, Bethany House, David C. Cook Company, Standard Publishing, American Life League, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Judson Press, The Pentecostal Publishing House, Smyth & Helwys, The Upper Room, and more.

A book by Harriet E. Michael and Shirley Crowder:

Glimpses_HarrietMichaelIn early November, we get busy preparing for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year, and we often forget the real meanings behind these celebrations. We can guard against this by preparing our hearts to seek Him as we focus on God’s Word, and by remembering that Thanksgiving is a time to give God thanks; Christmas is the celebration of the Savior’s birth; the New Year brings new beginnings. Then, as we go about doing the things the Lord has called us to do where He has called us to do them, we catch Glimpses of the Savior and biblical truth in the things we experience and observe. These devotionals are based on memories of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year celebrations in Africa and America. May the Holy Spirit work through these meditations to help readers recognize Glimpses of the Savior in the things they observe, and become skilled at finding Jesus among the celebrations and decorations.

♥ Available at Amazon ♥