Our American family in Uganda for Christmas 2010
Christmas began just after midnight when Craig, Donny and Jordan arrived at the house here in Kampala, Uganda. They had spent three days “stranded” in London, poor things, they had to see the Tower of London, take a river cruise on the Thames and shop at Harrods. On Friday they managed to get three seats on a flight to Entebbe. Their arrival alone was my Christmas gift. To spend our first day in Uganda together as a family and have it also be Christmas day was more than this little mama could ever hope to enjoy.
Craig and I awoke early to share our coffee talk, and re-connect after several weeks apart. Emily found her happy place in the kitchen making pancakes with maple syrup for everyone to enjoy for breakfast while the Christmas music played in the kitchen. Kira joined us early. We decided the boys couldn’t be allowed to sleep in on Christmas morning so we rapped on their door to summon their presence at the morning party.
Donny and Jordan took turns marveling at Kira’s sweetness. It was the perfect Christmas gift to meet their sister for the first time, and the powerful love they felt flood their hearts for her overwhelmed them. They kept shaking their heads in disbelief as if they needed to pinch their own arm to believe it was all really true, they had a sister.
A lively scene took place at the kitchen table as my four boys and Emily reunited with loud boisterous chatter and happy fun. All the food was devoured, and I knew it would only be a short time before they’d come searching for more. My boys were home. And for this Christmas, home is Uganda.
There are other children in the house who are in process of being adopted. This is their first Christmas also so we were happy to include them into our big family fun. While they ate their first pancake breakfast ever I sat a bottle of bubbles in front of their plates and showed them with my bottle what it was. Their faces lit up brightly and they looked at their new daddy for permission to go outside to experiment with this new toy. So for a couple hours they learned to blow bubbles. The magic of these little globes entranced them with such joy it was a gift to me to see children appreciate something as sweet and simple as blowing bubbles. I was convinced at this moment that giving is far more enjoyable than receiving. Really there is no better feeling than giving a child something they never could have imagined possible and then to relish their joy in discovering the fun of it. A bottle of bubbles provided this, can you believe it?
Craig also brought Julie a gift for her kitchen. I asked him to pick up a stack of a dozen kitchen towels from Sam’s because hers are thread bare. When I gave them to her she shined as she gazed at them, she hugged them repeatedly and told me how beautiful they are. She inspected them and said, “the quality in your country is so good”. I think she was fighting back the tears as she looked at us and said, “I think God brought your family here just for me, thank you so much.” Seriously, she treasured these towels like I would receive a new piece of jewelry. It was very humbling for me to see such appreciation for something so simple. I think if I gave someone a stack of kitchen towels in America as a gift they would be offended. I am beginning to have a strong desire to spend every Christmas in Uganda.
The thunder roared and the rain came down, but for this day there were no storms coinciding in my heart. The best weather couldn’t match how high I was flying on this morning. We were planning to spend our morning at the baby home and exchange gifts afterwards, but since walking in the rain on a muddy dirt road wasn’t so enticing, we flip flopped our plan.
Our family gathered around the living room with our stash of presents clutched in our hands and waited our turn to pass out gifts. Several years ago we began to simplify Christmas giving to one gift per person. Usually we all go shopping together and buy our presents in one trip to Target, then we wrap and hide them until we can share the fun of giving. This year my half of the family shopped here in Uganda, and Craig’s half of the family shopped in London. It was quite the international Christmas exchange. It was fun to give the hand carved ebony art to each person. The gifts were enjoyed and appreciated by all as we understood their cultural beauty would always remind us of this special Christmas when we came across the world to receive the big gift: a little sister!! And when more importantly, Kira got a family.
After we cleaned up our Christmas mess, hugged with thanks and marveled over our treasures we cleaned up. The rains ceased so we gathered our fun in our arms and walked together for the first time as a whole family up to Kira’s baby home to celebrate Christmas with her first family.
We sloshed through puddles up the winding road passing Ugandans dressed beautifully for their Christmas church. The primary tradition in Uganda is having a new Christmas outfit to wear, head to toe, for church. They wake up at 4:30 in the morning to begin the cooking, and then they dress up to go to church, then return home with all the family they can possibly gather to feast all day long. Christmas brings no end to the eating they can do in one day. On Christmas eve we saw live chickens being carried in every possible way, on the back of scooters, by the wings, by the feet, in gift bags with the head poking out, in boxes with head poking out of holes, and by the thousands in cages on a truck bed. Everyone looks forward to the chicken for Christmas dinner.
At the baby home we arrived to start the party. We delivered the three foot tree we brought from America with a little golden angel on the top. Emily and the boys had been stringing construction paper chains for a couple days so they attached drapes of it to the ceiling to make the room feel festive. The babies were so happy to see the mzungus, they flocked to us and huddled around us. I handed the littlest baby to Donny who cuddled her and asked, “is this how big Kira was when we first found out she was for us?” Yes. Her story began to roll in for him as he realized all that she has lived through in her short ten months.
I began to pass out the lip gloss to the Aunties who were working on their Christmas morning for the children. I asked Craig to go make-up shopping! How sweet is this man of mine? These young women received the gift of lip gloss by dancing, shrieking, and hugging each other. They rushed one by one to the only mirror in the house above the bathroom sink to apply it. Others put took turns applying it to each other. They modeled their new beauty for us all and hugged us in thanks. I stood by watching this scene enraptured by their precious thrill from the simplicity of pink lip gloss. They began to lead the group in a hymn and we knew that they understood all good gifts come from God.
We gathered the children around in a circle and asked them to sit down. Craig spent one Saturday during our separation shopping in the Christian book store for children books to give to the baby home. Donny and Jordan wrapped them in shiny gold and red paper. When we passed them to the children they were quiet and looked around for instruction. They had never seen such strange toys before. They didn’t know how to unwrap a gift! So we showed them what to do. It wasn’t long before they found the books inside. They spent a long time looking at the books and playing with the rumpled paper. It was such joyous scene.
The aunties began to blow up the long skinny balloons Craig brought. The children took them and played swords with them bopping everyone in the head. Some would pop but no one cried. They just went looking for the next one to be tied in a knot.
It was time for us to return to the house so we could prepare to be picked up by Pastor Robert. Emily left the batch of cookies she had made for the children. We brought a mix from home to make cut out cookies in the shape of trees, and green frosting with sprinkles. No one here had ever seen them and they certainly enjoyed eating them. It was fun to share one little bit of our Christmas traditions with the Ugandans. We participated in their tradition of dressing for Christmas in new clothes, so the boys all wore their new African shirts, and the girls wore our new African dresses. We looked “smart”, as this is the word used her for well dressed.
Pastor Robert and Rose invited us to their home for Christmas dinner. We were so honored to come into their home as guests. We arrived soggy from more rain to a warm and festive place with a table covered with platters of food. They welcomed us, we prayed, and the feasting began! We ate matooke with peanut sauce. Matooke is green banana steamed in banana leaves and mashed. It tastes like potato. It’s delicious with the peanut sauce, and Rose’s sauce is the best I’ve tasted. We had fresh peas, which delighted Kira as she gobbled one at a time while I feasted. My favorite was the chicken, carrots and potatoes with gravy wrapped and steamed in banana leaf bundles. It was so delicious. There was also offering of beef and pork. I haven’t eaten so well since arriving in Uganda. While my family has been enjoying all the new foods for weeks, my allergies restricted me primarily to the fresh fruits, vegetables and rice with beans. Rose’s cooking was wonderful.
After dinner we laughed and talked. They invited a young missionary from America who is currently working in Tanzania to join the celebration. We agreed heartily the Ugandan people are the warmest, friendliest, and most open hearted in all of Africa. Dessert was served, fresh pineapple rings, sliced watermelon, Emily’s cookies: chocolate chip, snicker doodle and the frosted Christmas trees. I broke open the bag of peanut m&m’s, which are extremely difficult to come by here. The eating continued.
Craig gave Pastor Robert a book he wanted to read, and Rose a rice cooker. She saw one three years before in England and hoped for one ever since. It’s quite a luxury for mom to make perfect rice without having to hover and watch it on the stove. After hours of laughing and enjoying our conversation it was time to admit the day was spent. Pastor stood and asked if we would like to share a word to one another of appreciation so we took our turns sharing our hearts. I mentioned how good it was of Kira to give us this opportunity to come to Uganda and spend Christmas with our new friends who have now become family in our hearts. Donny prayed for the group as we stood in a circle in their family room holding hands. We posed for photos in front of the house and hugged goodbye.
As we passed through the early evening sun drenched streets of Kampala people everywhere were strolling in their beautiful clothes, happily celebrating the day when Jesus came to earth as the most important gift to humanity from God the Father. I watched the scenes pass by the window and I could only thank God for giving this gift to us and allowing us to come to Uganda for our baby girl gift. We simultaneously were able to experience how we serve the same God in Uganda as we do in America. This has been a Christmas that supersedes any before, or that will come after it.
I hope you had a wonderful Christmas at home, my friends. Thank you again for taking this journey with us. I promise to post some photos of our Christmas fun later today, but for now I’ve used up all my time writing. Kira is demanding her mama pay some attention to her now. I know you understand as it takes forever to load up a few photos.