Oh my. What a Christmas!
The Thursday before Christmas was the company Christmas party, so the preparations for Christmas actually began that Wednesday (December 20th). I got a much overdue haircut, had my nails done, and gave Lukas his first haircut! His hair was just getting so long above his ears... it had to be done! On Thursday I gave Lukas a bath, chose what we were going to wear, and got the two of us ready. Then it was off to the Christmas party with Tobi (we had to meet everyone in town at 4:30!). The company had chartered a bus to take us to Botlierskop Game Reserve. Everything was very well planned. Upon arrival, they served champagne, and then we headed out on a short hike to see the elephants. After a short introduction, each person was able to feed and touch the elephants. Lukas was even able to feel the trunk of one of the elephants. He seemed to find them quite interesting! They're such beautiful animals. Drinks were free throughout the evening, and dinner, which consisted of 4 courses, followed shortly afterwards. Although it's buffet-style, the food there is quite good, and they offer a variety of typical South African dishes. After desert, it was back to the buses, where we spotted the South African national bird, an extremely beautiful, and relatively tame, Blue Crane. We arrived back in Mossel Bay around 11 PM (Lukas was out like a light by then - but he was on his best behavior throughout the evening, as usual!). People were so enamoured by Lukas' little smile... he's breaking hearts already!
The following day I went to the Butcher with a couple of the other Siemens expats. I had to get meat for 10-15 people, since we were having Rijanah's family over on Sunday, and bringing food to the local Shelter for Abused Women and Children. I found some beef fillets that were pretty affordable, and very lean, and ordered about 10 pounds of that, along with 2 whole chickens. On Saturday we went to the mall in George, searching for a cookie cutter in the shape of a Christmas tree, and a few other odds and ends. Needless to say, it was a pretty short shopping trip, and we got out of there as quickly as possible. I did buy most of my veggies there for the big meal the following day.
Sunday morning I went to Rijanah's church for an hour, which was only half of the Christmas service. I left early both because Lukas was cranky and tired, and because we still had a lot to do before picking everyone up. The short time I was there, however, was ample enough time to remind me that the majority of the people on this planet do not live like us. We are in the minority, and the rest of the world is in desperate need of help. As a mother, my heart just broke as I looked around and saw some of those children, attending church at Christmas-time without their parents, not entirely clean, but on their best behavior.
Back home, Tobi focused on getting the meat ready, and I cleaned up and got the veggie platter ready. Then I headed out to pick everyone up. Because there were so many people, and we're driving a VW Polo, it required us making two trips. The trip itself was an eye-opener. Just being in a ghetto at Christmas-time, a time that I know to be filled with absurd amounts of presents, food, and drinks... but they know to be about sacrifice. Sacrificing toilet paper to buy a small picture frame for your mom, or struggling to find money to buy a meal and presents for your children, because your employer has decided to withold your income until after Christmas (just to be sure that you return). I think everyone should have to drive through a ghetto on Christmas day. Well, after picking them up, we served dinner (or lunch I should say).
Everyone was so thankful and complementary. I think it was something extra special for them. Rijanah's little cousin, Meghan, who's just 8-years-old, but has an extremely neglectful mother, who often leaves her alone at home with strange men, well, Meghan was on Cloud 9. She doesn't speak english yet, but she told Rijanah's sister, Maya, "This will be a day I remember for a long time." She's such a good-natured girl, and if her mom would agree to put her up for adoption, I would consider adopting her in a heartbeat (which Rijanah is also considering). Rijanah made potato salad, and her mom made a truffle, or South African pudding, which has jello, cake mixture, and a whipped topping. Rijanah's other sister brought her husband an 2-year-old little boy along, and Rijanah's friend from Port Elizabeth, also brought her toddler. Because there were two toddlers there, things got a little bit loud throughout the course of the afternoon, so after we dropped the last car-load of people off at home, we collapsed on the couch for a while. We couldn't relax for long, though... as there were a few women at the local shelter who were expecting us to bring by a warm Christmas meal. We threw the second chicken in the oven, and when it was ready, we brough that, along with some rice and my Christmas desert, down to the shelter in the other ghetto. The superviser showed us around, and said that the women were out, but would be returning shortly, and would be so happy to have a warm meal. The women there sleep on bunk beds in a shelter surrounded by barbed wire. Yet another reminder of how blessed we are... and how unfortunate others might be.
As if we hadn't seen enough reminders over the weekend, on Christmas Day, we met an extra special couple at our neighbors house. The woman is Madeleine's sister in law, and in talking to her, I discovered, not only does she have Parkinson's (and she's in her early 40's), but her 13-year-old son went blind at the age of 6. He goes to a special school during the week, returning only on weekends to spend time with his family. They live in Cape Town, but always travel to Mossel Bay for the holidays. That they're able to remain so flexible, despite their many challenges really impresses me. Such a lovely couple. And we were so happy to be able to spend Christmas with such lovely people. Not only do we get along really well with Madeleine and her husband, Emil, but their children are so wonderful, and Lukas just adores all three of them. I spent the remainder of the evening calling family in the U.S., and was able to catch up with a few people before heading off to bed.
Oh, and of course, Christmas morning, before we went over to Madeleine's, Lukas opened presents... but this is really the first Christmas I've ever had that has not centered around presents at all. It's been all about other people. It's been stressful, but I feel like I've learned so much.
On Tuesday, December 26th, we went to Marion and Thomas' house (another family who's here with Siemens) for Raclette (a Swiss dish made by heating meat and cheese on a small plate atop a special tabletop grill) and Fondu. We ate, then visited for a while, heading home around 6 PM for a bit of rest and relaxation.
And that, my friends, was Lukas' first Christmas. A little crazy, but very rewarding... and oh so memorable (for us, at least)! We'll write more in the New Year!
Liz (for Tobi, Lukas & Felix)