demark!

Christmas in the Congo

In Uncategorized on December 26, 2011 at 1:29 pm

Where I’m at: in Brazza, but thankfully in front of my home computer rather than my work one

What I’m doing: struggling to see through my right eye (see below)

Why I’m posting: to share our holiday cheer!

__________

Merry Christmas and happy holiday season to everyone! Despite what a number of Congolese folks have told us here – that Christmas is just for kids – where I’m from, then, everyone is a kid. It’s my absolutely favorite time to be with family. Unfortunately, Congress and the State Department felt that it was better that I spend this Christmas in Congo. And despite what the AFN commercials and even a lot of family and friends might believe, I’m here to serve!

But right now, I’m here to share some stories of our Christmas with everyone! In many ways, Christmas here was just like it would have been at home. We went to Christmas parties, wore funny hats/ties/sweaters, ate turkey and stuffing, played in the snow, and exchanged gifts with our family. See some pictures below.

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(Photos: WP excited for Christmas; In a winter wonderland; the family tears into the gifts under the tree; DeMark shows off his new duds all at the same time, continuing a family tradition)

The difference in Congo, I guess, is that the Christmas parties were at an Ambassador’s house and featured Sapeurs, it was really too hot to wear ugly sweaters, turkey breasts cost an arm and a leg (the grocery store was selling turkeys for around $600!), the snow came in the mail….and everything here is trying to kill us!

I’ll explain the last part. It’s Christmas Eve and Colleen, Whiskey Peat, and I are dozing while watching the late football games. Because we’re 6 hours ahead of EST, the games run past midnight. I look up, see it’s now Christmas – WP’s first and our first in Congo – and wish our small family a Merry Christmas and suggest we go to bed. As usual, the dog needs to go out before we put him to sleep. But that night, he found a surprise in the yard. We already knew about the poisonous snakes in the yard. Unfortunately, you can apparently add poisonous toads to the list because WP found one. Playful as he is, he pounced on it a couple times before trying to eat it. A few moments later, he started stumbling around and then started having seizures and couldn’t move. After we were able to calm him (and Colleen) down to slow his heart and get him to drink some water, he started to come to and we put away the big syringe (thankfully, because this one isn’t epidermal! Use your imagination). What a way to have your first Christmas start!

Then it was my turn. About a week ago now, we snuck one present out from under the tree and opened it: a food dehydrator (thanks mom!). The side of the box had the product’s name on it, so it wouldn’t have been a big surprise in any case. But we wanted to open it early so that we could use it to dry some of the many mangoes the tree in our yard produces and give them to some of the embassy’s guards. Our system for picking the mangoes was simple: Colleen stood on a ladder with a stick and knocked the fruit out of the tree to me, who caught them so that they wouldn’t split open on the ground. Unfortunately, I forgot about how toxic the mango sap is, which was by the end of the exercise covering my face and arms. And while I remembered to wash my sticky clothes right away, I didn’t do the same for my skin. As a result, as one holiday party evening led to the next, a very painful and itchy rash began to develop up and down my arms, under my right eye (see? we got to it!), and on my ears. The good news is that it’s not contagious. The bad news: internet dermatology sites are telling me that I can expect this rash to stick around for a couple weeks! Yikes! Merry Christmas indeed!

But Christmas, of course, isn’t just about presents, rashes, or being forced to “attend” the open-air evangelical services across the street all weekend because they drown out your own holiday music. It’s about giving, and our embassy folks did a lot of that. We were lucky enough to go to one such food/gift-giving event at a local school for deaf children. It was just amazing to see the faces of the kids as they drank Capri Suns, ate Skittles and home-made chocolate chip cookies, (went into diabetic shocks) and opened gifts that most American kids their ages would have thrown to the side and wondered aloud where their iPad was. A truly beautiful and touching experience. But also a painful reminder that this is still a poor country, whatever the numbers show.

One of the kids was a 14-year old boy who was about the most polite teenager I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, the program ends for him next year and there are no high schools for deaf children here. He happened to also be an orphan (or at least abandoned), so his prospects are basically to try to sell stuff in the street for the rest of his life or…well, those are his prospects. If he were the only kid here facing such a dilemma, it would be less heart-breaking. And while I can’t use this forum as a soapbox to discuss government accountability, I will say that I’m thankful for all that our government – national, state, local – has helped to do for us throughout our history, and even more thankful for the private citizens that pushed that government and also acted through countless private organizations to make sure that there’s a social safety net, even one with holes in it.

Anyway, I hope this post isn’t a downer around Christmas, but rather a reminder to be thankful for everything that we have and everyone that has helped that happen for us. I’m thankful to all of my friends and family and the many others in my life, who though miles away, are always in my heart.

Merry Christmas to all and to all, good after-Christmas sales shopping!

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  1. I’ m glad you all survived Christmas in the Congo. Miss you guys!

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