Thursday, 22 December 2011

Tis the season of improv

Christmas time!!!!!!!!!! I’m amidst the preparation of my first Katesh Christmas. And it’s wonderful. It’s included decorating Justin’s house, making stockings, wrapping presents, making cards, and finger painting the shape of a xmas tree and “Merry Christmas” on huge pieces of paper. Being from the “Second City” I’m accustomed to improvisation, but being in Tanzania for the holidays has taken that idea to a different level.
Being in Africa for Christmas was a bit intimidating to think about at first. Perhaps to understand how the idea would be incomprehendable you’d first have to know how we usually celebrate xmas in Libertyville. Since all of my extended family lives at least 13 hrs away via car ride (and usually more…), it’s almost always just the 5 of us. Which I actually have really come to appreciate and love. We have had a lot of time and freedom to celebrate the holidays how we wanted and as a result of that, we’ve shaped our own (what I’d consider) unique traditions that I love repeating. Some of them aren’t all that unique and have persisted since who knows when such are going to Christmas mass the night before and on the way home going completely out of the way and driving around random neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights. We always have our favorite neighborhoods to visit and have watched how some houses have evolved or devolved their decorating techiniques. Then, after xmas mass and lights, we open our first present of the season, our own xmas ornament which my mom picks out each year. Sometimes we get lucky and she can’t decide between two really great ones and we’ll get two. We put them on the tree before bed and, when we were kids, would then leave out the plate of cookies and milk for Santa. One tradition that started quite recently due to my acquisition of the idea after reading some xmas magazine is that of the pickle ornament. I bought an ornament shaped like a pickle and you hide it on the tree and then xmas morning the first person to find the ornament gets the extra gift that I picked out. I loved doing that each year despite the fact that finding gender neutral gifts is quite challenging. Another tradition that I started as a pre-teen was that of hiding everyone’s presents (the one’s from me at least) and then giving them clues in order to find them. This usually took a good hour of our morning and I loved seeing people circling the house as they dashed from clue to clue. Recently, I’ve abandoned this tradition and my sister happily and, albeit, more successfully, picked it up, constructing riddles and clues with much more ingenuity than I ever could muster. She’d even adapt them to each person’s strengths, like my Dad’s would be math based since is a computer engineer and I guess that means that he’s good at logic puzzles. A completely correct assumption.
While contemplating how to celebrate xmas here, I did a lot of reflecting on my favorite xmas traditions, including the ones listed above. And, I came to realize that my favorite was the one upon waking xmas morning. Me and my brother (before Mish was old enough) would wake up before our parents, sneak down stairs, empty our stockings and scour the
So, all that being said, I was wondering how to substitute my usual Christmas doings with African equivalents so that it still felt like the holidays. I was, at first, going to go down south and be with a large portion of my friends in country. At IST I was still set on this idea but after being around all those people for so long and traveling so much, the thing that I realized would mean the most for me, was being somewhere that felt like home. And the place that I feel the most at home in Tanzania is Katesh. So, after my adventures in the East and South, I trekked back to Katesh and knocked on Justin’s door. He’s been really generous in letting me taking over his home for the holidays and decorate incessantly. I went back to my site for a half a day as well to drop off some stuff, pick up supplies and visit my neighbors. My closest neighbor came to say hello and had me over for tea and I caught up with her and her kids. They really do feel like family. When I told her that my birthday was after xmas, she said that I needed to come home then and she’d cook me my favorite dish, nyama choma, which is like roasted meat. It’s delish. And she makes it with fresh ginger and, oh, just heaven. Unfortunately, we were thinking of climbing Mt. Hanang the day before my birthday and then camping up there and waking up and seeing the sunset on my birthday. We’ll see how the weather pans out since it’s been raining a lot and it’s not the smartest to climb the mountain while it’s so muddy.
So, back to my adventures decorating. The girls that live by Justin have been over the last couple days and we’ve made a xmas tree drawing out of finger paint, a construction paper chain of red, green and white, a hand print wreath, a huge “Happy Holidays” drawing that they colored in with crayons, green and red balloons and, my favorite accomplishment thus far, hand sewn stockings. I went to two fundi’s (tailors) and got scraps from the suits and dresses that they’d made and pieced them together to make stockings and embroidered our names on the top in xmas colors. I also made wrapping paper by decorating some extra paper I’d found at my house and using it to wrap up presents for Lauren, Uma and Justin, the three people that I’ll be celebrating xmas with. Our plans for the holidays are as follows:

23rd: xmas dinner and small gift exchange at the missionaries in Katesh
24th: go to Lauren’s for a xmas eve dinner of tortellini and tomato sauce and sleep there (she lives like an hour dala ride away)
25th: breakfast at Lauren’s and then come back to katesh for lunch at Antonio’s with his family. Afterwards me and Justin will come home to make mulled wine, chocolate pudding and open presents. I can’t wait : ) Hopefully this will also include a phone call from my family from the States.
26th: relax
27th-28th: attempt to climb Mt. Hanang
So, alas, this is how my holiday season is progressing thus far and I couldn’t be happier. I hoping that we can decorate xmas cookies and finish some of the cards before we leave for Lauren’s on Saturday but we’ll see. Lots of love for the holiday season! <3

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