These past few weeks have been extremely busy! We are finally seeing our hotel humming along with more than 30 guests last night and tomorrow, and from all over the world. Aside from the hotel keeping me busy, a very good friend of mine, Amanda made her first visit to Tanzania. This gave me the “excuse” to do some of the sightseeing that I don’t normally get to do and hadn’t done since my first time to Tanzania. Together we went on a two day safari that turned into a three day safari (one of our tour operators Paul Shayo gave us a safari day for free), saw all parts of Moshi, stayed in all sorts of budget hotels (full of bats and a couple without air conditioning in the middle of an African summer), spent time with my family here and even found time to travel to the coast to swim in the ocean. What I found most enjoyable about all of these experiences was not only sharing Tanzania, the children, the people and the culture, but also seeing someone experience everything here for her first time. It reminded me how taken we all are by the beauty of this country, and most of all the people. I was reminded of all the small things that I take for granted that are so different and also so beautiful. We loved watching lions hunt in the Ngorongoro Crater and swimming in the Indian Ocean, but the greatest moments were shared with the children and families here. After everything was over Amanda said the greatest part was being together with my girl Catherine’s new family. To be a part of another family, to be welcomed and to share Christmas together with them, so that is what I am going to write about.
|Amanda watching her first goat "preparation"|
Christmas in Tanzania was quite a bit different than my previous Christmas in America. We woke up in the morning and then set out with a few Stella Maris staff members to buy a goat. For Chaga tribe members, it is common to celebrate big occasions such as holidays, weddings or send offs with “mbuzi choma”. Mbuzi choma is a goat roast, so just picture a pig roast with a goat in place of the pig. We spent all morning walking through small Kibosho villages from hut to hut looking for the perfect goat. This was quite a process because we needed to find one big enough to feed at least 30 people. After finding the perfect goat, we argued, negotiated the price and then tied it up. We then put him in the back of our car and drove it home. I will spare everyone the details and pictures of what happened next, but Amanda and I bonded with Masai, Jordan and Innocent (three of our male employees at Stella) as we prepared and slaughtered the goat. Amanda and I kind of just stood off to the side and watched, horrified, as the boys prepared the goat. I have taken part in this process multiple times and even drank the blood (a masai tradition) but truthfully I am glad I didn’t grow up on a farm. This of course reminded us both of where meat actually comes from and left us a bit queasy.
For lunch we joined Catherine’s new family as well as about 10 children and parents from 5 families for a big meal that we organized and shopped for (4 families are other Stella Maris School families). What is so special about celebrations here is that they are never exclusive or in any way limited to one family. Neighbors dropped in, shared food and drinks and just laughed together. Amanda and I spent our time with the children mostly but also enjoyed seeing the parents and grandparents of other families. Of course they do not have any grand dining tables or dining rooms, so we enjoyed our meal on the lawn and front porch of their home. We sat in plastic furniture and ate off of plastic tables, it was so simple but so unique. Neighbors would walk by, see us all together, greet us and then wander in to join us. We enjoyed banana stew, rice, cabbage and other Tanzanian foods. It was not exactly a typical Christmas meal of my childhood, but the food was delicious. Most importantly, we had families together. Families enjoying each other’s company and spending the day together.
Later on the evening was time for the Stella Maris Family feast. For the first time, we all sat together for food, the receptionists, security guards, cleaning staff, waitresses and chefs. With our goat roasted, French fries, fried bananas and vegetables we had more than enough food, which was good because our meal was more than the Stella Maris Family. We sat together with the staff of the hotel, Catherine and her family, Amanda, Adam and 10 Romanian guests to share in our Christmas meal. Though our Christmas was different and not spent with our families from home, it was definitely filled with love and happiness. Everyone enjoyed the food, but also the uniqueness of the experience. Repeatedly throughout the day we were thanked for organizing and providing the food and for sharing the holiday together. It repeatedly caught me off guard, because I truthfully I couldn’t imagine any other way of spending the holiday. We were so grateful to be able to be with family.
That evening we gave the children some presents that my family, the Schiffs (Amanda’s family) and my friends back home had sent. They sent Barbies, new clothes, toy cars and a few other presents. The presents were simple and understated by many standards. There were no video games or other fancy/expensive toys. But I had been holding on to Catherine’s Christmas list in my head for 3 months. It was simple, she said that for Christmas she wanted a red dress. That was it. One red dress. I remember my lists when I was younger and I am certain I never had a list that was less than 10 things. Stivin said he wanted cars and Lilian and Irene said they would like new clothes for church. Through the generosity of our families and all of my friends back home the children all received all those gifts for Christmas which happened to be their only Christmas gifts.
The one strongest memory I will take from this holiday time is how humbled I felt. Seeing the children so happy and seeing how big Catherine smiled with her new red dress. How much I have always taken for granted, assumed about the holidays and although I always said “I know I am lucky”, I truly never understood how lucky I was. Not only lucky in the sense we have so much, so much of everything food, our home and just stuff but also because of family. I saw a girl’s first Christmas that was filled with family and love. She had loving grandparents, sisters, a brother, a guy trying to be a dad and her first Christmas presents to make her feel like the luckiest girl. How despite its simplicity, her Christmas taught me so much. And this morning when I saw her she showed me where she put all of her new clothes and toys, gave me a big hug and said “thank you”. So I want to pass that thank you along to all of you that helped me make her Christmas special and those of you that supported me to be here to share in a very special Christmas. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, Thank You and God Bless.