In the past few weeks a lot of blood has been spilt in the country, painting the streets red. Funerals of young people seem to have become a daily occurrence; some of them went missing for days, only to be found in hospitals in dire conditions, their bodies showing signs of having been tortured and abused, before they passed away while a small child, making a living for himself and his family by selling roasted sweet potatoes was shot and killed.
As I was on my way to work, thinking of all this sadness, I noticed large red splashes in the dusty city landscape and for a moment I thought someone had actually taken it upon himself to literally paint the streets red in some form of protest.
A closer look proved me wrong though; it was leading up to 14 February and gift shops had started to display their annual, veritable feast of garishness of pink and red hearts, teddy bears clutching hearts in their paws, heart-shaped chairs and anything that professed profound love.
The little flower kiosks that normally display a few bunches of chrysanthemums and a stray rose or two were filled to the rafters with pre-made bouquets featuring glittering hearts, their wares spilling over on the pavement.
Valentine’s Day is upon us and the holiday seems to have taken a firm foothold here. The women in town are serious about this day from what I can gather from my friends and colleagues; woe betide the man who does not splurge on heart-shaped cupcakes, chocolates, furry synthetic animals or anything red and tasteless really. It is the day to declare undying devotion and it seems that a cheesy present is the accepted way to do so.
Cheesy is one thing, stupid is something very different. A few years ago I entered one of the wildly decorated shops in search of some wrapping paper and watched a puppy in a basket being wrapped in red gauzy fabric, sprayed with hairspray and covered in red glitters.
When I concernedly asked the proud present-giver when he intended to hand over the puppy to his beloved he told me: Tomorrow of course, on Valentine’s Day. It took some doing to convince him that the object of his affection would probably not be pleased to receive a starving puppy in a soiled basket.
It is nice there is a day dedicated to telling the person you are with that you love them, but all the rules and regulations that come with Valentine’s Day make it seem a bit contrived to me. I have to be careful to voice this though, a casual aside in the office saw me accused of being bitter before I could say stuffed animal.
The truth is I am completely indifferent. I grew up in a country where Valentine’s Day did not exist, it was something I would see in movies and it always seemed to involve a lot of pressure and tension for everyone involved, and those who were not pressuring each other into sexy lingerie or present hunting did not take the lack of partner very well.
Numerous websites host sad singles from all over the world where they commiserate their singledom. They offer solace and advice on how to get through the festival of love, ranging from sending yourself flowers to calling in sick and eating lots of ice cream or dispatching a Happy Singles Day card. Yes, with over 50% of the western population living alone, Hallmark was quick to pick up on that trend.
Do not get me wrong, I am all for celebrate and let celebrate and far be it from me to heap scorn on a holiday that is obviously a big deal for many. Valentine’s Day originated as a day to remember Saint Valentine and I could not help but grin a little as I passed two fully veiled girls hovering over a display of pink plastic frames adorned with little red hearts. Would they be as excited if they realised they were keeping a Christian tradition alive?
As the world shrinks we adapt customs from other countries as our own and with all the death and sadness that has been happening around us lately there are some other traditions I think we should import. Justice might be a nice one and human rights would not be so bad either; maybe not so commercially viable but a lot more valuable.