We spent this Christmas in a small town in the Usambara Mountains called Loshoto. We chose this location because of its high elevation and therefore, cool climate, compared to our current home on the coast. The hostel where we stayed is at a Catholic convent, called St Eugene’s, which also houses a clinic and a Montessori teacher’s college.
Our room was clean and comfortable with hot water, a balcony with a view, and hand-embroidered sheets. Every morning, we ate breakfast at St. Eugene’s, which included hot tea, local cheese, milk (most likely straight from the cow which freely grazed around the hostel), mulberry jam (made by the sisters), and eggs. Heather discovered that her favorite way to order eggs in Kiswahili was to request “jicho la ng’ombe,” or eye of the cow (fried egg).
On Christmas Eve, we bundled up and headed out to a church in Loshoto. We were hungry for some festive sights and signs of Christmas because in town they were virtually nonexistent. As we walked through the doors of the church, we were rewarded with a dazzling Christmas scene. Multi-colored flags weaved back and forth over the auditorium, and four giant pine trees spread their branches in the front of the church. The trees drooped under the weight of the thousands of multi-colored lights, which flashed incongruently with the solemn crucifix that hung above.
As we took in the dazzling sight, the sound of harmonizing human voices traveled to our ears. At first, the sound was so faint that I imagined I was hearing things, but slowly the sound got louder and louder. The choir, lead by the alter boys dressed in festive red, entered the front of the church and began to walk down the isle, gently swaying. The sound was almost angelic, the words in Kiswahili I could barely make out, and I felt like lifting my hands to the sky. But the people, as they filed past, looked normal, were dressed in the mismatched clothes of everyday Africa.
When we woke up on Christmas day, S. Claus had visited St. Eugine’s room number tisa (9). He provided a Christmas tree (which Ross had rented from a store in the market). Above, we have included pictures of the booty: Heather got a bright yellow dera (Swahili style dress), and Ross got subscriptions to a few theological magazines (I guess S. Claus knows his clients).
That day, Ross had arranged a duck dinner for Heather. He paid a local woman we had previously met, named Flora, to make the meal, and we ate with Flora in her home in the mountains. Where did Ross get the duck for this meal? He made friends (surprised?) with a local pikipiki (motorcycle) driver who took Ross up to his farm where Ross selected the duck.
This Christmas will be remembered as a precious and joyful day because of the way Ross and I took care of each other by using our limited Kiswahili to the max and thinking creatively in an unfamiliar environment. No matter what our situation in life is, Christmas will always be a reason to rejoice and to give to each other out of love because of the night when God gave himself to the world in the form of a vulnerable infant. From our prayer book on Christmas day: “May our hearts be filled with gratitude for the great gift you bestow on us tonight, and may we always welcome you into our lives, God-with-us. Amen.”