Tag Archives: holiday

A Zanzibar Christmas


Some Christmas you may wake up beneath a mosquito net which did a poor job protecting you the previous night, already sweating and marveling that the hair you washed 12 hours ago is still not dry due to hanging humidity.  The basic room you are sharing has a gaudy orange linoleum tile and the formula for flushing the toilet has not yet been achieved.  But, it is on the beach.  In Zanzibar off the mainland of Tanzania.  In the insanely beautiful Indian Ocean.  It’s postcard perfect.

Christmas Eve we cooked a meal in a filthy kitchen battling man-eating spiders, cockroaches, and even a snake which hopped into Ted’s backpack.  The girls were mostly severely sunburned and homesick but calmed as we read the familiar Christ stories and sang the old carols (and passed around the eggnog and wine).
Mary and I were fighting colds, my ankles had mysteriously swollen to the size of a woman’s twice my size, and we had been traveling without sleep for over two days.  We tried to make the most of our 16 hour layover exploring Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and slept on benches outside of the Dar Es Salaam airport, waking up sticky, bitten, fatigued, and sore.  Several taxis and a ferry ride to Zanzibar later we realized we were not sufficiently prepped with how to locate our friends once we arrived on the island.  This led to hours of stressful scavenger-hunt style detective work to locate our friends-acting-as-family on Christmas Eve–when all I wanted was to shower the sweat and grime away and lay down for the first time in two days.
Our group is good, actually quite good, despite crankiness and wanting to be at home with our families which leaves us feeling guilty because we are spending the holiday in such a beautiful, exotic place.  There are seven incredible, intelligent, well-read, thinking, independent, beautiful, ambitious girls–and our dear brother, Ted, who has been a good sport 🙂  It is a joy to be in a group of women so accepting, edifying, feminine, yet also living their passions unapologetically in Africa and staying calm when a rat appears in the bathroom at 5am (TRUE STORY).
How much of Christmas’ identity for me is wrapped in snow, fireplaces, ugly sweater parties, movies, and holiday rush with a Christmas soundtrack on repeat?  Without a Western calendar ticking away in the background, I would have had little reminder that Christmas was approaching.  Christmas Eve I sat sweating on a mattress on our rented porch overlooking the beach with six other American “orphaned” twentysomethings-in-Africa reading the Luke Christmas story, passing around the Bible and eggnog by flashlight.  I identified with the holy family’s struggle, dirt, loneliness, foreign-ness.  The actual first Christmas seems closer to life in Africa than the cozy, clean comforts of home.  I bet Joseph probably killed a few snakes and spiders in that stable, and was it really winter time?  Maybe they were sweaty and sunburned and I bet Mary’s feet swelled even more than mine.
While searching for our friends, Mary and I commented that we felt like Mary and Joseph facing no rooms in the inn, just dying to bathe and lay down after a multi-day journey.  The dirt and my lack of comfort make my pine for the dear, familiar three-bedroom ranch of my childhood with roaring fire, cozy bed, and ‘perfectly sized’ Christmas tree as the backdrop to my loved ones’ perennial jokes, movies, games, and the only day all year that we spend the entire day at home just the four of us.
Christ entered into a mean world of discomfort, poverty, young parents wringing their hands at what to do to protect their son and I am sure they just wanted sleep as an unusual crowd of characters walked in off the streets.  It wasn’t cozy or clean or sanitary–and imagine the blood and the smell.  Childbirth is one thing.  With a clumsy husband, no mom or midwife.  Was she scared?  Did she have any more signs or communication that this was a special baby?  Maybe she was beginning to doubt the angel’s proclamation that this was actually good news.  Certainly the Favored of the Most High wouldn’t have to give birth to God in such conditions.  Certainly God’s son wouldn’t transcend to His creation in such a humiliating way.  The will of God can seem meandering, confusing, and meaningless as you wander through miserable circumstances.  Give us faith to trust You, even when it seems we have lost Your guiding path.  “Surely God’s will wouldn’t look like this.  Surely I am supposed to be healthy, happy, wise, and comfortable… surely…surely…



Today was the rainiest day yet.  I think we are officially in the dreary midst of the rainy season here.  I think it may have rained about twenty out of the last twenty-four hours.  I took advantage of a break in the rain this morning to flag a boda.  About halfway to the office (yes, we work on Thanksgiving- gasp!) it began to rain… harder and harder… another few minutes my driver and I were just laughing because of what a soaking mess we were.

Bless the rains down in Africa…

Does everyone knows that Toto song?  Please download it and dance around your kitchen like Mary and I do.

Here are a few snaps of life…

On our last office holiday for Eid we took bodas through town up to one of the seven hills in Kampala to the Baha’i Temple.  A crew of mzungus on bodas usually creates a stir.  You can see me make a cameo in the side mirror!


Did you know each continent only has one Baha’i Temple?  Africa’s is located on a hill in Kampala.  The gardens are beautiful–worth returning for quiet respite from the city.

This is Jason (Church & Community Relations intern from New Jersey), Jennie (Communications Intern in IJM’s Nairobi office from New Zealand), me (your Structural Transformation Fellow from St. Louay!), Scott (Communications fellow from Virginia), and Mary (Executive Assistant also repping St. Louie, home of Nelly and Toasted Ravs!)


Ruth, Jennie (from the Kenya field office) and I went white water rafting on the River Nile.  I have no pictures from the actual experience because of the wild nature of the activity, but it was wonderful.

The best part was after lunch when the skies got dark and we prepared for our daily rainstorm.  As we hit the first rapid the skies opened up and unleashed pelting rain.  It.  Was.  Awesome.  The whole rafting experience seemed so much more dangerous and dramatic!!  In the tame sections between rapids we jumped in and just floated downstream.  I was laying on my back surrounded by unblemished, lush scenery staring at an endless sky in the Nile River.  I couldn’t think of anything to sum it up except repeating “Extravagant, extravagant, O Lord You have been with me.”

Here we are before we begin:


Last weekend Mary and I were so excited to learn about a Christmas Rummage sale at the American Recreation Association (ARA– or a country club that Americans can join.  We are not members).  We spent an hour wading through piles of clothes sitting on tarps on the ground.  We literally kicked off our shoes and sat down in the clothes.  I walked away with two shirts and a dress for 24,000 shillings or about $8.00.

We also me this young man who referred to himself as “Gorilla Santa Man.”


This is a picture of some of the buildings in our complex of tenements… err apartments.  It must have been laundry day for a family:


Finally, this is a little guy that scampered across the wall nearly scaring the crap out of me before I realized it was just a salamander type friend.  Regardless how harmless, I hoped that my mosquito net would also keep him out of my bed that night.


I have shared twice today in two different groups one important thing that I am thankful for.  This morning in office devotions Florence, our aftercare specialist, talked about cultivating a thankful heart and we each named one thing we were thankful for.  And then at our Thanksgiving dinner with about 30 Americans and one guy from Wales, we each also shared.  And both times I said “I am thankful for my family’s support though I know it makes them sad that I am not with them today.”

I was thinking about them all day, wishing I were watching the parade with grandma, sitting in front of the gourd bearing my name at the beautiful, overflowing table, tossing around a football or watching National Lampoon Christmas Vacation.  It doesn’t seem right to be so far away from you.  But I’m thankful for your love and I am thankful for our brief Skype chat.

To all my network– you!: I am thankful.  I am thankful for the effort that you put in to keeping connected and sharing about your life and listening and praying for mine.  It means so much.  And to those of you who have supported me emotionally, financially, prayerfully– thank you.

The rains are still falling and I’m off to bed.  Love~*natalie