28.12.2016 32 °C
Christmas in Arua is different to a picture perfect Christmas scene.
Leaves change colour and fall from some of the trees as though it were autumn, but it is dry season, so instead it is sunny and hot. The land is turning a dusty yellow colour as the plants suffer without rain.
Just before Christmas, I was listening to the local radio station, Arua 1 in the car as the presenters were warning parents to keep a look-out for their children. They were telling parents that many children get lost during the Christmas period as they are left on their own for hours or even days. They are at risk of being defiled, robbed or even killed. The Christmas period is known as a risky time for robberies, people stealing because they also want to enjoy their Christmas period by eating meat or buying new clothes. The Lifestitches manager, Charles, was woken up at 3am last week because his goats and pigs were stolen. He took his dogs and chased the thieves until he was able to recover the animals. Obviously, he came in late for work in the morning.
A crazy WhatsApp message featuring a naked beheaded woman lying on the ground warns people to be careful who they mix with over Christmas. The lady had supposedly been hanging out with her boyfriend who turned out to be a witchdoctor. Weird, and very different to the cute Christmas messages we are used to seeing on adverts and TV.
Frustratingly, people here also have an expectation of being given something at Christmas and ‘Give me my Christmas’ is a phrase I despair to hear. On Christmas Eve at 8am, a charcoal seller called Rose knocked very persistently and loudly at the gate wanting some money for her Christmas because ‘madam Emma is my customer’.
Being out here, we miss the beauty of the town Christmas lights, the diversity of foods, or the cosiness of having a hot chocolate in a café when it is dark and cold outside. It is lovely to be share the festive season with friends and family and enjoy special places like winter wonderland in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh.
But, we don’t miss the pressure and expectation of the season in the UK where it feels like a commercial frenzy. Christmas is synonymous with frenetic shoppers, hectic shops and the pressure to have a ‘magical Christmas’ where the food, the setting and occasion needs to be perfect. It is a highly stressful time and hard to find a sense of ‘peace on earth’.
There is an intensity to the heat, dust and chaos of Christmas here too, but I am sure it is much closer to what the real Christmas story would have been like in the Middle East.
Christmas in Arua is different because it is simple.
We appreciate this as it helps us to concentrate on the true meaning of Christmas. It also helps us teach our children that truth without all the consumerist distractions. We are thankful for the slower pace of this time to be able to have more time to spend with friends. The highlight of the season and the year for ex-pats in Arua is the Christmas carol singing on the compound of a Catholic radio station, Radio Pacis on Christmas Eve and then digging into 25 flavours of ice cream organised and made by Sherry, the American director.
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward all...