Sunday, December 17, 2006

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an american christmas in kampala

the u.s. ambassador - steven a browning - hosted his annual christmas open house for american citizens on friday night (dec 15th). we went with no expectations except to not know anyone. i should've known better. not more than 10 yeards into the gate and i'd already seen a large handful of people i work with plus those that overlap into our ultimate community. kampala is a very small world and i'm struggling with the nonexistant division between my work life and personal life, but that's a topic for another time. back to the ambassador's christmas party...

security was present but not strict. entry required a u.s. passport or embassy badge, but if you made the metal detector beep no one stopped you. somewhat refreshing considering the suffocating flavor of international u.s. security these days. despite all the people, food, and drinks being in the expansive yard, we made a beeline for the house wanting to see how the ambassador and his family lived. we walked into the house and we could've easily been walking into any upperclass home in america...just like that and we were no longer in africa. we decided we'd wander thru the house until someone stopped us. nobody did, so we kept wandering. some observations of note: (1) the ambassador is texan, as evidenced by his "have a merry texan christmas!" tree ornament, (2) the candlesticks in the china cabinet aren't real silver, (3) the christmas cookie spread rivaled any i've seen.

it's a week before christmas and friday night was the first and only time it's felt like christmas to me. we ate christmas cookies, there was an american style christmas tree, santa claus made a visit, and we sang christmas carols. subtract out those couple hours of christmassy socializing, and i'd say it was still the middle of july. living on the equator means there are no seasons to track the passage of time - to me we've been here for a summer and the christmas season is still months away. the air needs to cool, the leaves need to change colors and drop, the snow needs to come before it's christmas. i thought i would really miss christmas living here, but it's hard to when there's none of the traditional signs of christmas, like snow. what's christmas without snow? if it's christmas, i should be knitting by the fire at the cabin chatting with my mom and sister watching the snow fall outside getting ready for our annual anderson family christmas hockey game on the lake. it's not christmas when i can walk outside my door to sunny skies, 75 degree weather, and sit by our pool sunbathing and reading a book. not that that isn't nice (because it is), it's just that it's not christmas.

ugandans say that christmas is a big holiday here and i believe them. uganda is a heavily christian country, so a big christmas is logical. what's interesting to me is the influence of westernized christmas chintz on uganda's holiday season. the street peddlers on kampala road sell fake christmas trees with garlands, retail store employees dress up in red velvet santa costumes, music kiosks play metallic-sounding versions of traditional christmas carols. christmas is coming earlier and earlier in the u.s., for sure by thanksgiving time. i was surprised to see the same in kampala. the first christmas retail influx i remember seeing here was the end of october. october?! i was hoping to see some unique ugandan christmas traditions, but so far i've seen more of the same from home and the stuff i have seen doesn't fit at all - christmas tree ornaments with fake snow in uganda? doesn't make sense.

christmas is a big holiday for my family and, although it's been easy leading up to the holiday, i know it's going to be hard to be away from them on the actual day. good thing that my brother tait and sister-in-law estela are coming to visit us in a week. plan is to go to rwanda to see the gorillas. if you can't be at home, the next best thing is to be with the gorillas on christmas day.

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