Thanks for the Christmas greetings and wishes I have rec’d over these past days…I appreciate being remembered by so many back home and it’s been great to hear about the celebrations and gatherings many have been having there!
Indeed, the recent days have been a very different time for me and I have enjoyed (for the most part…!) witnessing and participating in what Christmas means to many here!
I guess the festivities began on the 22’nd for me. I was invited to a ‘Christmas Eve‘ celebration ‘for the orphans’ on the ACIO land where the temporary building has now been roofed (the mud walls are soon to follow). When I arrived at the property I could see several hundred people gathered, many of them children standing about and over 100 adults seated inside the temporary building. Filling the air was lots of that high pitched ‘lalalala’ sound traditional women make when they are happy, excited, welcoming someone etc…A woman took my arm, there was music, we danced our way along, many people were smiling, waving, ‘Welcome, You are welcome’ was being called out over and over.
I was led around a fenced area, through an archway covered in blue tulle and down a red ‘carpet’ that lay on top of the dirt, to the ‘door’ of the building. Inside, everyone clapped to welcome me as I was led to the front and taken to a chair beside Vincent, the ACIO Director. There was much merry making, smiling and waving until someone with a microphone started in with the program. It was within a few moments that I was announced as…oh…no…really?…the ‘Guest Of Honor’! (As I continue my time here I am aware of and choose to sidestep connections and gatherings that seek to reinforce the historical, ingrained understanding that ‘white one’s’ are to be ‘revered and fussed over’ because they can/will provide all the solutions (including $$$’s) to the issues facing people. In my experience, one is not made the ‘Guest Of Honor’ here without connotation or expectation attached…then I remembered… Everything being in Perfect and Divine Order…’go with the flow’ Catherine 🙂
True to Ugandan fashion, the event was filled with speeches, including a required one from me (during which I offered my gratitude and Love and then spoke briefly to the empowerment of the community and its shared goals as it continues moving toward realization through inspiration and self determination)… there was entertainment, singing, dancing, a testimonial from a child about what it is like to be a ‘total orphan’, and ended with a meal of rice, posho, and small pieces of chicken, pork (I think) and a soda!
The ‘Merry Christmas’ cake I brought along for the children was cut up in little square-inch-pieces and shared by the adults…more ‘flow’..! (in the photo some children are enjoying crumbs that had been left on the serving plates) and the 200 suckers and 250 balloons I had brought were given out to the very happy, almost ‘beyond excited’ orphan children! I had thought that I’d be able to share some pretty and colorful photos with you, envisioning balloons would be bouncing in the air etc… haha, another lesson for me!
After they were given out I almost never saw any of the balloons again. Except for a few, most were tucked carefully into pockets or held within little tight fists…those balloons were of course THE gift most of those children would receive now and for who knows how long into the future. The balloons were treasures to them…very valuable treasures that the children would want to play with, sleep with, blow up and let the air out of as many times as possible for as many days as possible. As for the suckers…well, once distributed, all I saw of them were sticks sticking out of mouths beneath happy, smiling eyes!
After all the adult stuff was over I was able to do what I Love to do the most…to play with the little ones….we marched and danced around, were silly together, took lots of photos, and every now and then I’d call out ‘MERRY’….and a gleeful reply would come booming back to me ‘CREEZZMAAASSSS’!!! That was the most wonderful and happy part of the whole day, perhaps of all of these days, for me! (…except for the moment when I heard the sound of my brother, his wife and their children calling to me through the phone on the evening of Christmas Day…!!! Ahhhh…Thank you SO much! )
The next evening I was in the garden at the nearby resort enjoying some rest and relaxation after the busy and tiring day before. 2 little boys were hovering so I invited them over and soon they were sitting with me sharing their stories. The oldest, Moses, 11 yrs old, spoke for them both, told of living with his grandmother, of being a total orphan, not knowing either of his parents or ‘even where they are buried’. He was unsure what Christmas day would hold for them, he wasn’t sure if they would ‘even eat’. Not knowing if he was really saying it as it is (some children have a ‘story’ down and have been taught by adults here to reveal it quickly to any muzungu they see…) it was about that moment that I decided to order some food for us all and we would pretend that it was our Christmas dinner! Over meat samosas and chips, salad and sodas, we shared gratitude and laughs and dreamed dreams of the future when his friend and he would grow up to be pilots and travel to far away places like ‘Canada, the US, the UK, China, Japan and Australia’! (I did learn later on that Moses, rescued first as a baby and then once again as a street child has been through lots in his life including rehab. Currently he is in very good care, and yes, he was up to one of his former tricks of survival when he sat and shared ‘Christmas dinner’ with me…’flow…flow’..!)
December 25th morning I was warmly welcomed for breakfast with the family who live in a second home here on the property where I stay. The meal was lovely…fresh fish battered and deep fried, boiled irish potatoes, some sautéed greens and chapati’s. After some time and a rest, we all got dressed up and went to the resort where I treated them all to brunch and a day of music, partaking in the festivities there. It was a busy and fun day, many people were about, adults sporting new clothes and shoes, the only ‘gift’ they would have bought for themselves. I showed the 4 teenagers in the family how to use my camera and then lent it to them for the day to have some fun with…by the time we were heading home they had filled my memory card with over 200 photos and about a dozen video’s! Everyone was happy and very grateful… they called it their ‘BIG Christmas Day 2007’!
I have observed…Here Christmas seems to be based without distraction or sidebar on the remembrance and celebration by Christians ( many ‘Born Again’) of the birth of ‘Jesus, The Christ’. When greeting one another I overheard many people say ‘Thank God we were protected through the night to receive this wonderful day’. I have seen no decorations or wrapped presents in homes, there has been almost no mention of Santa, (I did overhear one person say that Santa was being tracked on TV and was somewhere over Spain at that moment…but of course around 90% of the population here have no power, so no TV either) maybe some children receive a ‘sweet’, like a sucker or candy, maybe a soda. Boxing day is a rest day, there are no sales, most stores are not open. The days are for ‘going to pray’ for some, and for family sharing time, not necessarily doing anything special, just being together at home, sitting on the grass in the shade of a tree, eating, relaxing, visiting. I seem to have found it refreshing in it’s simple and uncluttered way.
During this week we are now in, most people are continuing to visit with family, to rest, eat and prepare together for the next big celebration of New Year’s Eve. Management at the nearby resort has told me that there will be many people present there on the 31st to watch 10 minutes of fire works, the resort being one of the 3 places in town that have been approved to set them off.
I think I may take to the mountains for a few days tomorrow…we’ll see! Wherever I am, I will be reflecting on this year of 2007 with deep Gratitude for the many Blessings showered upon me! As we begin a ‘New Year’ I will be holding you and all of the beloved orphan children in Africa in my heart, envisioning Endless Uplifting and Love Filled Possibilities for us ALL throughout 2008!
Heartfelt wishes for Blessed Peace, Joy and Love Love Love to be with you…!