I am utterly amazed when I travel how traditions for holidays have traveled around the globe. Traditions that we as Americans think of as uniquely ours may not necessarily be ‘ours’. Many of our traditions actually came to America from our European ancestors. And depending on which culture our ancestors came from, depends on the traditions our families have. But when you are in Africa in 80 degree F weather in December and there are Icicle lights decorating the malls and Christmas trees decorated with bows and balls, you know that those traditions did NOT originate here. I am sure I will come to learn many more traditions that are uniquely Kenyan, and I am looking forward to those.
Thanksgiving in Kijabe!
Because I teach at an American run school, we celebrate all the American holidays as well as all the Kenyan holidays, so we end up with more days off from school than I would have back in the states. Thanksgiving week we did go to school Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and we were off on Thursday and Friday. We, I and 3 other new teachers, decided to take the opportunity to see some of the beautiful country we live in. We were invited to spend Thanksgiving in a small township called Kijabe, which overlooks Mount Longonot (a dormant volcano). There is a hospital there as well as a Bible college, so there is a large missionary community there. An American friend of my housemate was staying there after the birth of her baby and so we decided to join her to celebrate our American tradition of Thanksgiving. We each decided to contribute a traditional item that we would have at home. We did have a little trouble getting a turkey as the one that was ordered didn’t come. Fortunately, the shop owner was able to get one brought from Nairobi. Disaster avoided! I made sweet potato casserole with a new recipe which adds mangos and it was sooooooo good!!!! I put a pecan topping on it and it was more like dessert than a vegetable. However the pecans were outrageously expensive. We paid over $15 for a little more than 2 cups of pecans. I think I have explained before that for most items, you can find it somewhere, but if that item is not locally grown or made, then it is going to be very expensive. Items like that may be double, triple or even quadruple the price as in the states and since I make ¼ of the salary I had back in the states, it feels even more expensive. We had all kinds of other yummy food like sausage dressing, green beans, mashed potatoes and gravy, pecan pie and of course turkey. I had made lots of homemade southern style buttermilk biscuits for breakfast so we had some of those for dinner too. It was truly wonderful to have those familiar foods and celebrate our traditions with friends that have become our family away from home. Since moving to this country, I have become VERY thankful for the blessings I have been given by living in the U.S. I have also become very thankful for the Lord’s provision of a solid roof over my head and food on the table. There are so many needy people in this country that it truly makes one realize the blessings, the government services, and the freedoms that we have been given as Americans. Next time you sit down to a meal, thank God for that provision, for everyday people die of starvation. According to the organization Bread for the World “Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes. That’s one child every five seconds.” (http://www.bread.org/hunger/global/). Be very, very thankful for the food you eat each day. I am.
Click on the link to see some of the wonderful views in Kijabe and Mount Longonot (dormant volcano).
Christmas in Kenya
As I already mentioned, the commercialization of Christmas is here in Kenya, just like back in the states. The malls put up decorations and have events to draw in consumers. They even have Santa Claus come in his red suit (I can’t imagine how hot that suit is with no air conditioning). I had the unfortunate experience of trying to go pick up a few items in the mall at the same time that Santa was arriving for the first time. It was time for Santa’s big entrance and I and about 100 other cars were trying to find a parking place in an already full parking lot. My quick trip to the mall took a little longer than expected. If I had realized that it was the day of Santa’s big entrance, I would have walked to the mall, since it is fairly close to where I live. Next year I will definitely pay closer attention to the day of Santa’s arrival and NOT go anywhere near the mall. Plus the new addition to the mall should be open by then and I do not want to see what parking will be like when it does, especially at Christmas.
Kenyan’s Christmas share many of the same traditions with having a Christmas tree and decorations, if they can afford it (many can’t). They do have big family gatherings with lots of food (food items differ based on tribe and tradition), but it is more about the family than about presents, simply because they don’t have money for lots of gifts. My pastor at my church told us stories about when he was a boy always getting new clothes for Christmas and few if any toys. I imagine in many households today, that is still the case. They also celebrate Boxing Day, which is the day after Christmas. I got a couple different explanations of this day so I looked it up and apparently it has morphed in its traditions. As near as I could figure out, it originated in England with wealthy people who had servants. Since their servants worked on Christmas day, they were given the day after Christmas off. This is also the day that their employers gave them their boxes of gifts and sent them off to spend the day with their families. But apparently it is now celebrated differently in different places. For some, that is the traditional day to open presents. For others that is the day when they box up all their Christmas decorations. Another said it is the day that they box up all the unwanted items in their house and donate it to charity.
So I’ve talked a lot about food today, but isn’t that what many of us think about or look forward to when the holidays come around???? We look forward to stuffing ourselves full of all our favorite comfort foods and then spending the rest of the evening with family, maybe watching the football game on TV. So what did I have for Christmas??? Well, on Christmas Eve we joined some of the other teachers in their tradition of having Chinese food on Christmas Eve. It was at a local Chinese restaurant with a wonderful outdoor patio, with a warm breeze blowing. We even got visited by Santa Clause and Mrs. Claus. I think I might just have to make Chinese food on Christmas Eve a new tradition.
After dinner, some of the single ladies from my school, met at one of their apartments and watched Christmas movies till late, then some of us slept over. In the morning, we got up fixed a big breakfast with bacon, biscuits and gravy, and special French toast. We also had fake cheese grits, made out of Ugali, which is made out of corn but doesn’t taste like grits at all. In the absence of family, it was awesome to spend time with friends and celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. After breakfast, a few of us went to church (not the one I usually attend). This church is very international with people from many backgrounds and nationalities. The congregation is so diverse that they sing songs in three different languages…English, Swahili, and Indian dialects. I can sight read Swahili even if I have no clue what I am singing but I had a little more trouble with the Indian. There was also a special group of visitors there to sing, who were from Congo. They sang a few songs in Congolese for us and I am always awed by their enthusiasm. Africans I have found will clap and dance and truly express their joy in worship. Some who know me are probably thinking that I fit right in. I have to say, that I enjoy that freedom immensely!
After church, it was time to finishing cooking for Christmas dinner with my school family. I had put together my dish on Christmas Eve and all I had to do was the finishing touches and bake it. I had previously decided to make my sweet potato/mango casserole again, but I decided instead to make my baked beans. That was easier thought than done, because I didn’t quite have all the ingredients. So I substituted the closest things I could find. I found canned baked beans similar to Van Camps pork and beans. I used beef bacon instead of pork since it is leaner and I would waste less of it picking the fat off. I had to use dark brown sugar instead of light, since I couldn’t find any (I have bought it before here, just couldn’t find it). The ketchup here is different even though I did use Heinz (still not the same). Then I had other seasonings in as well, but I was thrilled when one of the other missionaries had Liquid Smoke that she had brought from the states and let me borrow. Without that one ingredient, they just aren’t anywhere close to the same. I had recently purchased some thermos bowls that keep things hot for hours to put them in after cooking. I have never seen these in the states, but they are awesome. They are built like a thermos, so you can preheat them with water, but you don’t have too. Then put in your hot item, seal the lid and it really does stay hot for hours and hours. This is a really nice item for Kenyan’s to have since they may only have one burner to cook on (or a wood burning jika), so they can keep the items warm while cooking the rest of the meal. Or even keep it warm for multiple meals, since they may not have refrigerators or easy means of reheating.
So at 4:00 we went over to our friend’s house along with about 25 others for Christmas dinner. There was so much food, that I felt guilty about it, knowing that others in the country were going hungry. But it was really good and I enjoyed it a lot. We had turkey and ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, homemade macaroni and cheese, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes with apples, baked beans, yeast rolls, and salad. And of course there were desserts! We had cheese cake, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, cookies, and candy, and a banana something or other that our Australian teacher brought. There was so much food that even with that many people, I still have plenty of baked beans left. It was a really nice time just hanging around and talking and celebrating. Overall it was a great day.
Then there was church on Sunday and it was almost empty. Why you may ask? Well, it is because many people in the city, go ‘up country’ during the holidays, to their ancestral villages or homesteads with their tribes. They travel mostly by bus and train and sometimes matatus to get to their family homes. I mentioned that they don’t bring presents, but that is not strictly true, they just don’t bring the type of presents that we usually think of as a present. They bring food staples instead….flour, cornmeal, sugar, salt, rice, cooking fat, and other non perishable items. The stores here even have premade boxes in a bucket or other plastic carrier (good for toting water) that can be purchased to give as gifts or even donate to organizations that provide food for needy families. I wonder how that would go over in the U.S. compared to the food drop offs in the grocery stores??? Would you buy a box of staple food items for $25 to $30 and then donate it???? It is easy here to give staples, simply because most people cook from scratch. They don’t cook from a box or kit, and they know how to make use of these items. I am not entirely sure needy families in the U.S. would have the same response to these same items. I can say that I eat much healthier here than I did in the states, and I have even lost weight without really trying (don’t ask me how much as I don’t have a scale but it is at least one pant size).
I am truly amazed at the resourcefulness and ingenuity of Kenyans. Many have so little but they make the most of what they have. And they are not wasteful. They tend to repair and reuse or repurpose items instead of throwing them away. They seem content with what they have and are thankful for it. I truly have yet to hear them complain about the things they lack. That is not to say they aren’t aware, because they will ask for help or money or favors when a need arises. The philosophy is that it can’t hurt to ask, but they don’t complain. It is hard for me to say no, but I have to most of time because I just don’t have enough money to give it away. I have just enough to make ends meet with my salary and the few donations I get to my missions effort. I could do more for them if the funds were there, but I would still have to be very careful as I truly believe that a handout does not help as much as a hand-up. I would prefer to help them to use their own talents to provide an income for themselves than to simply give them a onetime gift of cash. Or teach them to grow their own food and provide for their families (my environmental science class will make this part of their ministry). If you would like to help me in this please see my ‘How you can help’ page (tab at the top).
Prayer Request: Please pray for our water situation to be resolved. We found out today that a recent construction dug a borehole into the same well we use and now we have no water coming from our borehole. City water only runs to our complex once a week, maybe twice but our reserve tank isn’t big enough to last. We had to have water delivered by truck and lets just say it was expensive and not the cleanest water. We are taking all measures to conserve and reuse water, not to mention treating and boiling it.
I hope that you are enjoying and learning from my blog. Please use the comment section to make comments or ask questions that I will try my best to answer them.
May God bless you in all your endeavors and give you all the provision you need. Hope you had a Merry Christmas and have a Happy and Prosperous New Year.
In Christ, Pam
PS: blog coming soon Amazing Animals on Safari.