Wednesday, December 30, 2009

What I Did on My Christmas Vacation

Last Christmas, I was in New York with very close friends, a surrogate family. We had the kind of holiday of which songs are written about – the Rockefeller Centre tree, a fireplace in the Hamptons and mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

This year’s Christmas couldn’t be any more different. I've tried, as much as I can, to summon a festive mood. I've been incessantly playing the two Christmas albums in my iPod (Ella Fitz and Frank S). I've even been going around with my very own portable, collapsible Christmas tree from home.

I haven’t gotten much support. No decorations have been put up. No parties are being held. I have given a few simple gifts but I’m not expecting any in return. There aren’t even gift wrappers being sold in the stores.

On Christmas Eve, I heard mass in a small church lit only by candles. I watched a group of small children in makeshift costumes re-enact the story of the Nativity. I couldn’t understand the words and although the story was familiar, it seemed like it was being told to me the first time. At that point, I realized that the simple setting was more similar to the first Christmas than any elaborate store display could ever hope to be. As the evening’s Responsorial Psalm reminded us – “ A Savior has been born to us, He is Jesus Christ, our Lord”

Seeing the faces of the people in church , I saw such JOY at the telling of the story – untainted by the stress of traffic or shopping or the slight avarice that comes over all of us with the feeding and buying frenzy that the holiday season brings. That night, in church, I felt something familiar start to come over me in this most unfamiliar of places. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, my Christmas spirit is alive and well in Zambia.

Christmas Day found me traveling by rickety minibus (summon your memory of any movie set in Africa, with a character riding a local bus and you get the picture) to a neighboring town to visit my volunteer friends, Kristen and Jacinta. The couple help the local Anglican Church run several programs aimed at assisting disadvantaged children in the area. On the day that I visited, I helped them out in one of their projects - a feeding program for kids up to 15 years old. Most of the kids are orphans, a number have been passed on the HIV virus from their parents, many – even the kids as young as four – already work with the rest of their families in the fields or in stone quarries around the area. This is the one day in the month where they can be kids again and – for most of them – the only opportunity to have a decent, balanced meal .

In the afternoon, we toured Victoria Falls, a National Heritage site and one of the natural wonders of the world before ending the day with dinner and drinks over-looking yet another fantastic Zambian sunset. In spite of a few challenges and frustrations, I know how lucky I am to be here.

I only wish you could be here to share the experience with me but you never know what’s going to happen next so who knows where we might be together Christmas next year, yes?


Renee said...

how simple, yet so profound...yes, i wish i were there to experience what you have experienced, Tarcs. :)

Marisa said...

You are a very deep person, Fermin... thank you for your sharings... very inspiring indeed.