This year’s Halloween was uneventful. We bought candy at about 6:30pm, gave some away to a few groups of cute kids who knocked on the door, and then gave more away to obnoxiously old teenagers sans costumes. Then we turned the lights off.
But, 10 years ago, I had a very unique Halloween.
I had been living in my new home — Tokoye Bungou Sud — for about a month and a half. I didn’t yet speak more than a few words in Hausa, and while the villagers were very welcoming and kind, it would be a while before I really started making friends. So there I was on Halloween 1999, sitting outside my mud hut with my usual entourage of curious children, feeling very far away from America. It was harvest time in the village, and someone brought me an enormous squash. At that point in my life, I wasn’t a fan of many vegetables (the rarity of anything non-carb in Niger would quickly create a desire for tasty produce) and I knew almost nothing about cooking. But, I did know how to carve a pumpkin!
So, with a bit of naivete about the fact that the squash was actually a valuable food source, I decided to make a Halloween squash-o-lantern! I carved in a pretty standard jack-o-lantern face, but then added some traditional facial markings common in the village. That night, I lit a candle and stuck it in the squash. Kids and adults were rather perplexed by the “squash head,” and I’m quite certain that my attempts at an explanation were insufficient. But, they’d already determined that I was unusual, so they were just happy that I was passing out candy! And I was happy to have that small connection with home.
Balkissa & the Halloween Squash
(By the way, I did try to dry out the squash to preserve it for food. But, I underestimated the humidity factor and the whole thing became a moldy mess!)
The Squash-0-Lantern was not my only Halloween memory from that night. Once the sun had fully set, I pulled a chair to the middle of my yard and sat under the moonlight enjoying the cool evening air. A young girl, Hajara, from the chief’s family would bring me dinner every night, but I hadn’t yet learned that I could go join their evening gathering and share the meal with the women. So I sat alone. Enjoying the calm.
Then there was a rustling noise in the woven grass mat that served as my bathroom wall. I shined the flashlight to where I heard the noise and out emerged a horrible creature — a disgustingly creepy scorpion! The first one I’d seen in Niger. The first one I’d seen EVER! What to do? I was alone in the moonlight on Halloween with a scorpion charging towards me! So I grabbed the garden hoe a neighbor had loaned me for weeding my yard. It was an iron spade attached to a wooden handle the length of a rake. Plenty of distance to keep me safely away from the monster. So I whacked it a couple of times with the flat end of the spade, and that only served to piss off the scorpion and make him (yes, it was definitely a him) run faster towards me with that nasty little stinger ready to strike. Quickly, I learned the best use of my weapon — strike with the blade. So, I guillotined the sucker, and he went flying in two separate pieces across the yard.
And I felt very proud that I’d not only found a way to celebrate the fun parts of Halloween all alone in my African village, but I’d killed the scary monster too.