Tag Archives: travel

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…

IJM Staff Retreat over the Nile


The day after I arrived, the IJM team loaded a bus to Jinja for an annual staff retreat.  (I know—I arrived just in time, right?)  We stayed two nights in cottages overlooking the Nile River.  There was a constant roar of the rapids below which lulled me to sleep behind the mosquito net.  It was indescribably gorgeous.  Our church and community relations coordinator, Josh, worked his magic and got us an incredible deal.

It was a perfect opportunity for me to meet and learn names and personalities of my coworkers for the next year.  And the staff was able to rest, build community, worship, play soccer, and learn about David, the Warrior Worshipper.  We played a super-competitive game of dominoes Thursday night until midnight.  Was I jet lagging?  Yes.  But I had to make Grandma proud.

Our staff is intelligent, articulate, open and genuine.  They work tirelessly for our clients, commited to seeking justice.  They know, love and worship the Living God with an authenticity and depth that I feel like I rarely see.  And oh do they sing!  Our times of singing were not distracted with instruments but were simple, incredible multi-part harmonies.  It brought tears to my eyes the first night, I was so moved.  I am here. 

Saturday morning communications fellow, Scott, and two Ugandan staff (Diana, lawyer and my cottage-mate, and Ida, veritable movie star and office administrator) went bungee jumping over the Nile.  Ain’t no thang.  We watched from a sweet, rustic open bar above the Nile filled with Brits and Australians watching rugby.

ME! - No, this is Scott. Great form!

Mary and I stayed in Jinja an extra day and ventured to Bujugali Falls where we slipped our feet into the Nile! and accepted a boat ride from a friendly guide.   He tied us into life jackets and we took a river cruise and a hike on a small island.  We met a native of Jinja named Jeremiah whom we befriended.

Me, Mary and Jeremiah on an island on the Nile next to an abandoned witchdoctor's hut

We ate lunch together overlooking the Nile.  While waiting for us to drop any crumbs from our lunch, a monkey in a tree above our table relieved himself on Mary’s arm.  Yep!  A monkey!  On Mary!

Monkeys over our lunch table give Mary a treat

We took a boda (motorcycle for hire) into Jinja and walked along Main Street before hiring another boda to take us to “the Source of the Nile”.

Sweet shades of boda driver

After some comical mishaps including being told by our driver to “Get off” so he could make it up a hill, being followed up the hill by goats, and then running out of gas (Mary and I tried so hard not to laugh at the absurdity of it all, me trying to push off the ground to give it some help), we made it and it was quite underwhelming.

The source of the Nile is just where Lake Victoria begins emptying into the river, winding north to the Mediterranean, a trip which takes 3 months.  I mean, the Nile from any point is gorgeous.  But no need to go searching for “the source.”

The Nile at Sunset

We met up with our friend Jeremiah to watch the Uganda-Kenya football game.  HUGE DEAL.  It ended in a tie which was also underwhelming.

Mary and I grabbed dinner (chicken, greens and matoke (mashed and steamed plantain—a Ugandan specialty)) before getting into a “taxi,” a passenger van squeezed with about 15 other Ugandans, to get back to Kampala.  It takes three hours and costs about $2.  It is a crowded, dusty, bumpy ride… but totally legit.

And that was my first three days.