Monday, December 26, 2011
Our Twelve Days of Christmas
Merry *belated* Christmas everyone! Although this year our Christmas was very different than any other either of us have ever had, it was a good one! And though we haven’t been celebrating for exactly 12 days, we have managed to pack a lot of holiday spirit in despite our distance from home and everything “traditionally” Christmas!
Our first Christmas package arrived in early November - way to go for my thoughtful mom who plans so far in advance and a surprisingly dependable mail system! So, we decked our house out with Christmas lights, candles, ornaments, and mini stockings the weekend after Thanksgiving. We also started our ipod playing a shuffled Christmas playlist (consisting of Frank Sinatra, James Taylor, Michael Buble, and Sara Groves, among others) and made a schedule for ourselves to watch every Christmas movie we had at our disposal (starting with Elf at the beginning of the month and ending with It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas night)! We were determined to make it feel like Christmas despite the lack of snow!
This year we managed to have both American style celebrations, and some Ugandan ones as well. Although the American ones definitely felt more like what we think of as Christmas, it was good for us to experience both.
For our American Christmas fixes, we had a Christmas cookie baking party at our place the weekend before Christmas and also ate a special Christmas Eve lunch at a fellow PCVs house. Our christmas cookies *slowly* baked in our dutch oven over our charcoal stove (about six hours of baking for about three dozen cookies!) and we had a great time with other volunteers from the area cooking, decorating, talking, listening to Christmas music, and of course eating lots of cookie dough! Then, we had a Christmas eve feast at a nearby volunteer’s house. Her mom was visiting for Christmas and had brought tons of decorations as well as lots of traditional goodies - chocolate chips for cookies, canned green beans for casserole, etc. It was great to have time with our Ugandan family of PCVs and do things that made us feel Christmasy! We also did some traditional family baking - Lefse for Ryan and Wild Rice Soup and Pizza (with EVERYTHING from scratch) for me!
Now, for our Ugandan Christmas....
Christmas is undoubtably the biggest holiday in Uganda, but it manifests itself much differently than Christmas at home! It began for us almost exactly twelve days before Christmas, when we were in Kampala heading home after Camp BUILD. We had stopped by a big supermarket there (Kampala is the only place in the country with supermarkets that feel anything like shopping home!) and were stunned by what we walked into. We felt like we had walked into a Target in December at home - Christmas decorations everywhere, music playing, gift wrap for sale - it was crazy! It was a very strange experience to our senses - experiencing something that felt so much like shopping at home, yet being so far from home! This turned out to be an exclusively Kampala thing though, as no stores near us have had anything even remotely close, but it was fun (and a bit unusual)!
Once we got back to our village, rural Southwest Uganda was much the same as it had been in November. Barely anybody decorates for Christmas and, if they do, it’s done on Christmas eve! (Our favorite duka across the street had a christmas banner and one string of Christmas lights that went up for the day!). The biggest changes in the community start happening about four days before Christmas. All of a sudden, the price of everything skyrockets! When buying tomatoes at our weekly market, the woman gave us four small tomatoes for the price we usually get five large tomatoes for! When I asked why, she just shrugged, “Christmas!” Cost of transportation also goes through the roof. A trip to Kampala from our area that usually costs 20,000 schillings (about ten bucks) jumps up to 70,000 schillings (about $35!) It’s insane! But, it’s a must that everyone in the country goes “to the village,” so people just deal with the crazy week of inflation (with a lot of complaining, that is!) and head to their families and homes nonetheless. Some people even choose to bundle up their small motor cycles with their whole family and belongings and make the trip on the terrible roads cross country that way!
On Christmas eve morning we went out to the main road in front of our site, and were shocked by the bustle of activity. People were selling all sorts of vegetables, and there must have been more than a dozen carcasses of meat hanging around (where usually there are only scraggly parts of one or two cows). There were tables set up with scales for weighing the meat and with intestines and other various parts of the animal displayed for purchase. Everyone looks forward to eating meat at Christmas. For some, it’s the only time all year that they will have it! When I asked a local shopkeeper what he’d be doing to celebrate Christmas, he pointed out of the front of his duka to a goat, tied to a post chewing on some grass - an oblivious Christmas goat to be eaten in celebration. Our neighbor PCV who has a slaughterhouse in her “backyard” told us that over thirty people were in line with their animals there, with more waiting at the other end for their meat. Interestingly enough, the district neighboring ours to the east is having a meatless Christmas this year and everyone is very sad about it - there was an outbreak of anthrax in the livestock a few weeks back and as a result there is a three month ban on selling meat! In conversation about it, people seemed more disappointed about a meatless Christmas than the concern of anthrax in their community.
On Christmas Eve evening, we headed to the home of our college principal to celebrate Christmas with his family. They live in a village about an hour from where we live, and the principal has a small hotel business there. So, we met lots of family, ate lots of traditional food, tried our best to maintain conversations in local language, and practiced our perfection of the Ugandan “art of sitting.” We spent the night in his hotel on Christmas eve - a simple, yet very nice hotel. (The bathroom was outfitted with a sink, hot/cold shower, and a toilet, but no running water as of yet so a number of jerry cans as well!).
On Christmas morning we had breakfast with the family and prepared ourselves for the morning at church. The service supposedly started at 10 am, we left the hotel around 10:30, and it didn’t actually start until after 11. After we took our seats with the family, we were asked to move to a (more visible) spot near the front. We sat with our principal, who everyone in the church and family (including his wife) simply refer to as “The Principal.” Thus began the over four hour service, not a word of it in English! There was lots of singing with drums (none of the traditional songs we are used to at Christmas), lots of offerings (I lost count at the eighth but there were more!), lots of noting and celebrating people’s birthdays and other events, and about eight baptisms. Everyone was dressed to the nines - lots of sequence, plaiting, and flashy shoes! During one of the offerings, not only money, but mushrooms, pumpkins, tomatoes, a live rooster, and a live goat were brought up the aisle to the offering plate! That was a new one for us! The goat and chicken simply hung out on the stage for the remaining hour or so of the service (the whole time of which I was silently praying that they wouldn’t be slaughtered right in front of us!), then at the end of the service the items were auctioned off for the church.
Although we were actually much closer to a large town than we are in Bushenyi, people in the village were very astounded and interested to have Abazungu (white people) with them for Christmas. Although we enjoyed meeting new people and working on our local language, we were called out a lot, stared at a lot, and laughed at a lot. To be honest, it’s the kind of thing we experience almost every day we’re out and about in Uganda, yet it just is not fun on Christmas! The true light skinned American Christmas experience in Uganda....
After church we went to the “village” home of the principal, a nice plot of land with his first house, current house, mother’s house, brothers house, and banana plantation. The principal’s father was a local leader and husband to two wives, so a very respected and “fruitful” man. The principal had inherited the land when his father passed and had made a very nice home there. We ate a huge lunch: spaghetti, karo (a doughy breadish dish made from millet flour), matooke (mashed bananas), eggplant, pumpkin, chapatti (flatbread), rice, sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, chicken, goat, beef, peanut sauce, beans, fruit, and peas with sodas to wash it all down! We had brought avocados from our tree and Lefse (a norwegian treat that Ryan and I successfully attempted with basically none of the tools!) to share. People at first thought the Lefse it was chapatti gone wrong, but once they realized that it was never meant to be chapatti, they really enjoyed it! :-) It was a crazy amount of food. Talking while eating isn’t really culturally acceptable, and each member of the family ate in a different place. So, it was a quiet Christmas lunch, but very nice and clearly a lot of effort to prepare! The principal and his family were very thoughtful hosts, and we really appreciated being able to spend the holiday with them!
After lunch we headed with the family to a party thrown by the family of one of the baptized babies. They had decked out their lawn with tents, ribbons, and (not just for weddings) wedding cakes. (So far we’ve seen the exact same cakes be used for weddings, baptisms, birthdays, and priesthood celebrations!) On the way we inquired when we would be driven back to Bushenyi, as we had been invited for “one” night and were prepared to stay for exactly that. The principal was very surprised, saying he’d planned us to stay another day or more at least. He said we must not have understood that in Uganda “one night” actually means many. So, there was some confusion but we made it home at the end of it!
Having survived our Ugandan Christmas, we ended the evening at home watching It’s A Wonderful Life and drinking hot chocolate! And thus wrapped up our 12ish days of Christmas in Uganda! A Christmas to remember no doubt!
Love and miss you all - especially at Christmas!
PS - We’ve been told that now begins a full week of drinking and “merry making” until new years, at the end of which everyone is so hurting for money that they sell all sorts of stuff. As a result, we’re hoping the next week we’ll be buying six hens (a new adventure we're embarking on that Ryan will have to write a post about soon)! The absurdly loud music into the morning hours started last night, so we’ll keep ya posted on how our resulting Hen acquirement goes! Happy New Years!