"It's a dangerous business, going out your door.
You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet,
there's no knowing where you might be swept off to..."
--J.R.R. Tolkein

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Jolly Somali Christmas

How weird would it be if one were to go through the entire month of December without hearing Christmas music? Or without seeing red and green decorations everywhere? Or working at a school without a Christmas concert?

Well, the Christmas season came and went, sans frills. As the rest of the world celebrated the build-up of the holiday, I scrambled to plan lessons, grade papers, and prepare report cards. Nobody here makes enough money for presents, but we did what we could.

The school set aside some money for a Christmas Eve feast, so we bought a few chickens, some fruits and vegetables, and some cake for desert. My good friends Kyle and Ayu planned out a delicious menu for what we had, and because we had some leftover eggplant, I added stuffed eggplant to the program. Kyle fashioned a grill out of scrap metal because we don’t have an oven.

Meanwhile, Ayu and I furiously cooked the chicken, eggplant, and

various other things we threw together. Stephanie also stopped by and made real Omani kabobs (since she s

pent a semester in Oman), and Mike and Harry made a valiant attempt at mashed potatoes. I also successful

ly made scalloped potatoes (a staple at my family’s feast) on the grill. Eight hours later, we had a decent-looking Christmas feast.

Then something wonderful happened. The father of one of our students knocked on our kitchen door. He was carrying a Styrofoam cooler, which he handed to us. He had been in Berbera and had bought fresh fish for our feast, because he remembered that we would be celebrating Christmas. Fish is a luxury item here, and is not something we could have afforded for the entire staff, but he had brought plenty for all, and then some. As he left, he thanked us for all we had done for his daughter.

I can’t help but think of the ending of A Christmas Carol, when Scrooge buys the poor family a turkey for their Christmas dinner. Likewise, even in the fabulous failed state, where Christmas is not observed nor appreciated, miracles do happen.

After our noticeably enhanced feast, we all filed over to the staff lounge for desert, and were greeted by yet another surprise. Mike and Kenai had hung some lights and had taped a cutout of a Christmas tree on the wall. Meanwhile, Christine had bought a present for everyone, because she believes that everyone should have a present to open.

Then we sat on the floor and ate dessert. Ayu had made yogurt from scratch, and then had turned it into cheesecake. She also had made brownies out of beans and flax seed. You have to admire the ingenuity there!

I have to say that even though I spent Christmas far away from home, in a somewhat hostile environment, but it was one of the nicest Christmases I have ever had. It was wonderful to celebrate with my coworkers, cook for appreciative people, and all pull together to make the holiday special. It goes to show that it doesn’t matter where you are, but whom you are with, and what you are willing to contribute to the experience. Miracles happen if you are willing to make them happen. At the same time, I was touched by the father who remembered us and the fact that we had helped his daughter. She is a hard worker and has shown marked improvement in English (I have her in my Form 1 class). It is so nice that someone noticed the work that we do.

Best. Christmas. Ever.


  1. Nice! Glad to read your blog again..one thing I can learn from this is when everything is lacking, that's the time for people to think creatively...I am looking forward to hearing your story from Ethiopia...



  2. Shared this with your grandparents, we all loved it but it makes us miss you!

  3. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, my dear! I miss you too, and think of you often. :)

    Much Love,