Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Matooke Christmas




(Not our tree, but you get the idea)



Christmas is now past and New Year’s is right around the corner. When I decided to stay in Uganda for Christmas I knew that it would be nothing if not memorable. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but a wanted to take the chance to experience as close as I could to a traditional Ugandan Christmas. I don’t know whether I got that or not, but it was definitely a Christmas I’ll remember for a long time.

The lead up to Christmas I covered in the last couple posts, the important part is basically that the week leading up to Christmas was awesome and the week before that was pretty awful. I woke up on the 23rd to an email in my inbox from my Dad, which is always great. He was letting me know that I got a little visit from Santa (luckily my Pops had my forwarding address), and my family decided to all chip in and finance me to screw around in Africa for a few more months. How could the day get any better? Candy, that’s how. An hour or so later my roommates came home from the post office with a package from my Mom. Packages from Mom = American candy, American candy makes my week/month/year.

My friend Eddie and then hopped in a matatu to head out to the village to see his Mom and wish her a Happy Christmas, and meet with some village community groups we may start working with soon. The village is always really interesting and fun, and Eddie’s village always means eating his Mom’s amazing cooking until I’m way beyond stuffed. The village meetings went great; hanging out with Eddie’s family was great. Up to this point, it was a really really great day. But as is often the case around here, just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any better, they got a lot worse.

On the matatu ride home, Eddie took a dramatic turn and became really sick. He was shivering and had a fever and was passing out all over the place. It was really shocking, within maybe 30 minutes he went from normal and playing around to too weak to even take a shower. We canceled our plan for the night, which was to go to a Christmas benefit concert to support my roommates’ young women’s empowerment project. I took him to the hospital, where we were told he needed to be admitted and put on an IV immediately. So, we spent the next two nights in the hospital. It was pretty scary, both his condition and the hospital itself. There is something tragically ironic about sitting on the mosquito net-less hospital bed next to your friend who’s being treated for malaria and watching a steady stream of bugs pour in through the open window. Although it was kind of cool to lay in bed and watch the fireflies circle over my head. Four IVs later, he was released in time for Christmas breakfast.
(I reallly need a camera)

From there things got more normal. My roommate Rachel took it upon herself to bring an American Christmas to Africa, so we had reasonably close approximations of all the necessities. We had a nice little tree, stockings, and some decorations, very homey. We then all exchanged little gifts we bought at the local market, I bought gifts for my 5 roommates at a total cost of like $10. I myself hauled in a sweet secondhand Mauritius t-shirt, some cheap Chinese sunglasses, whiskey, rockin’ local sandals, and a nice collection of candy. Plus, during the course of my shopping I found a season of The Simpsons on dvd after nine months of looking. The Simpsons for me is like home in a box, I probably watched it at least a few times a week my entire life from when I graduated from Disney movies until I left for Africa. It is really extremely comforting and utterly utterly awesome to sit together with my roommates in a rain storm and watch these old episodes that we all know line for line. Oh plus Rachel brought Champagne home from Kampala, so we day-faded with Mimosas. Not too bad.

Christmas lunch is the big thing around here, and we got a zillion invitations to go have dinner with people we barely knew. I don’t know what memo we missed, but we definitely didn’t grasp the cultural nuances of what a Ugandan Christmas entails. Over the course of the morning we got like three random people telling us that they had thought we would be coming to their house for Christmas and had already gone to all these lengths to prepare it just for us, even though they apparently forgot to extend the invitation or something. Our neighbor who I had never even met told us they had bought a turkey just for us and invited their entire family. It was kind of hectic (the mimosas certainly didn’t help), but we made it through. We had lunch with the family who we share our compound with, which I think was the right thing to do because our lives are very interwoven and they are like family at this point. The food was bomb, the company was great, and we learned that Paul (the very unassuming Dad of the family) has a very surprising life story that I never would have pegged him for. I’m not going to blast his private life over the internet, but suffice it to say witchcraft, religious moments of clarity and multiple wives were involved. Wow.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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