Written January 4, 2011
Ever since I was little Dolly Parton’s Christmas anthem ‘Hard Candy Christmas’ has been one of my fav songs of the season. I’m not sure why as many think it’s depressing. Maybe it’s Dolly’s way of rhyming ‘candy’ and ‘dandy’? Or maybe her refusal to ‘let sorrow bring me way down’? Either way I was quite surprised when only a couple of years ago is actually from her movie about whore house being closed at Christmas time.
Anyway, I knew this Christmas would be rough as it’s my favorite time of year and first to spend away from home. But my curiosity and excitement to see Christmas in Africa kept away the initial home sickness. My area of Tanzania is primarily Christmas, and I knew they observed Christmas from a community calendar I had to make with them when I first arrived.
Then I returned back to my village from a training about a week before Christmas. None of my Christmas packages from the US had arrived. Worst of all my two cats I recently adopted from another volunteer had died while I was away. I had left a neighbor in charge of feeding them, but she did not know what had gone wrong. The whole situation was really frustrating because Tanzanians in general do not understand the concept of pets, and she could not understand why I was so upset. Needless to say, I was not feeling the Christmas spirit.
After a few days of feeling good and sorry for myself, a huge rain came. It was the kind of heavy rain that lasts hours and has enough power to wash dishes and shampoo your hair. After doing both of these and listening to 'Hard Candy Christmas', I remembered at the least I came to Africa wanting an adventure. An adventure is definitely what I am getting!
I had turned down invitations to travel over the holiday because I wanted to experience Christmas in the village. But when another volunteer in my region called on Christmas Eve morning, I realized I also needed to be around American friends. So I joined up with her and two others spending the holiday in her village. This way I was able to get a bit of both American and Tanzanian Christmas.
That night we had a Mexican feast complete with home-made tortillas, beans and guacamole. All while enjoying a strand of solar-powered lights my grandmother had sent! We also got to watch the current season of Glee which had been brought back from another volunteer’s recent trip to the US.
On Christmas morning, we baked mango and banana breads as gifts for the two families who had invited us to eat. At both houses, we were given huge servings of pilau (seasoned rice) and chicken, two special occasion dishes.
With poverty being a part of life here, Christmas is celebrated with much less fluff than in America. For the most part, gifts are not exchanged and decorations are sparse. Instead, the focus is placed more on the gathering of friends and family.
Returning to my friend’s house we noticed how brilliant the stars glowed and immediately launched into another of my favorite Christmas hymns ‘Silent Night’. After a day spent basking in the open warmth of Tanzanian hospitality, Christmas could not have ended more perfectly.