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''Christmas Time... Sugar, soap and a whine...''

(8 little differences between an Arua Christmas and the West...)

sunny 29 °C

I’m ranting, I mean, writing this in a seeming lull of knocks at our gate… It’s Christmas Eve and our third Christmas time in Arua, and the differences between here and the UK still seem as stark as ever…

1. I’ll start with a positive one: people here are appreciative of very useful, practical gifts, which makes Christmas shopping fairly easy- a kg of sugar, a recycled water bottle of cooking oil, a foot-long bar of ‘’blue soap’’- used for washing clothes, dishes, the body and even hair (haven’t attempted the latter yet).

Rashid (sort of) pleased with his gifts

Rashid (sort of) pleased with his gifts

2. However, when I say people are ‘appreciative’, the response to gifts is so different from the polite ‘thank yous’ and sweet comments I would expect in the UK, instead the gift is usually stuffed in a black plastic bag without being opened or even looked at. A barely perceptible ‘thank you’ or raise of the eyebrows is all the appreciation we get if we’re lucky… (look at Rashid's face!) I have been meaning to ask our language teacher and cultural guru, Eunice, about the typical response to gifts here, but I’ve not seen her for a while…

Christmas parties:

3. We already made a big cultural faux pas for our staff Christmas party this year- we had cookie decorating, pass –the- parcel, and treasure hunt, but no meat… ‘Christmas and meat’ go together here like ‘Santa and Christmas’ in the UK, so I’m not sure how our party rated…

Expecting Meat at any time...

Expecting Meat at any time...

cookie decorating

cookie decorating

Christmas non-meat party

Christmas non-meat party

4. The ORA Christmas party is not complete without a de-worming session and a long preach at all the kids…

De-worming tablets

De-worming tablets

ORA paperchain craft

ORA paperchain craft

Shopping

5. Decorations in town are all about the shinier and kitschier the better, so even the nicer hotels in town are caked in glistening tinsel and random Christmas ornaments tied to the hedges. In the bright sunshine the tinsel sparkles all the more, making it a very um… sparkly… (or tacky) Christmas…

tinselitus

tinselitus

6. Personal shoppers are taken to a new level here: in town the crazy road-works continue, meaning town is a nightmare to drive, so I phoned our Boda (motorbike) friend, jumped on the back and showed him my shopping list… He then took me door-to-door to each place, perching the 6kgs of sugar and oil on the front of his bike whilst I clung on to Amelie.

7. As facebook posts of Winter Wonderland, Ice-skating, Starbucks gingerbread lattes and classic Christmas sweaters appear, the temperature here have been cranking up, whispering in a taunting way it is the start of the dry, hot season where life takes all the more effort…

8. ‘Give me my Christmas’

This horrible and strange sounding phrase is common here- another thing I must ask dear Eunice about- at this time of year, anyone who vaguely knows us, feels they have permission to ask us for some money for Christmas. I find this the hardest difference between here and the UK, as we are not used to being asked so directly and there is the moral balance of not wanting to be scrooge, but also thinking through sustainability, ‘when helping hurts’ and looking after those we choose to rather than being put on the spot. This morning we had planned to have a low-key morning at home but had five separate visitors before midday asking for their ‘Christmas’ which somewhat dampens the Christmas cheer…

9. On a ‘brighter’ note, the stars here are beautiful and clear and with the dry season and no clouds at night, it is easier to imagine the Wise Men searching and following the brightest star many, many moons ago. David is thrilled (and our night watchman is mystified) with an app ‘star searcher’ which shows all the names of the constellations.

Like the stars, there are many aspects to life here that are more similar to the real Christmas story set in Bethlehem than what we experience in the West- the dust, the heat, the rawness and poverty. As I watched our mangy animals scoff their food the other day, I was thinking how manky a manger really is- smelly, germy and dirty, one of the last places on earth to want to place a fragile, vulnerable beautiful newborn, especially the son of God. It reminds us how God wants to meet us in all our grimy issues in life. With many young people ‘marrying’ in their mid-teens and a high rate of early-age pregnancy here, it is also closer to the Biblical story of Mary expecting at a young age.

Much as I miss the sanitised, teatowel-clad, school Nativity plays, the gingerbread houses and those delicious mince pies and spiced lattes, and as much as the differences here can baffle, tire, and frustrate us, there are definitely some beautiful, meaningful aspects for me to glean from an African Christmas.

Happy Christmas from Arua!

Happy Christmas from Arua!

Posted by africraigs 02:59 Archived in Uganda

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Comments

Just approaching 11pm Christmas Eve here so we will take the time to wish you a joyful Christmas and a peaceful New Year. Love and best wishes.
Eve, David and Jonathan

by Eve

Happy Christmas to all the Craigs! And if you haven't yet read it, I highly recommend, "African Friends and Money Matters" by David Maranz. It will truly help you understand why your African friends and colleagues saying, 'Give me my Christmas'! (See: http://www.amazon.co.uk/African-Friends-Money-Matters-Observations/dp/1556711174)

by Jo

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