Can you have Christmas without Candy Canes?

In another week, most people around the world will be celebrating Christmas. Some will be with friends, others with family and way too many people will spend the day alone. Probably for most it will be about Santa and gifts, for some it’s the time to remember the birth of Jesus Christ.

There’s always competition on who can have the best lighting show on their house and the most impressive gift given.

house

We have some traditions for Christmas. The tree goes up on the 1st December, followed by the lights. Each year we each go out and choose a decoration for the tree. Sometimes we’re in different countries so it’s nice as a memory of our travels.

This year we will be in Kenya for Christmas. We were here last year too but we were actually meant to be in South Africa. That all fell through at the last minute and so we felt a little lost being in Nairobi. All of our friends had gone away, both local and expat. Nairobi pretty much empties out as this is one of the few times people will travel to go and see their families. We knew we would be here this year so planned for it well.

However, the other day I was looking at the tree that Lizzie put up and really missed seeing the candy canes. I’ve never seen them in Kenya and although there is a lot more Christmassy stuff this year, not a candy cane in sight. We went to church on Sunday and there wasn’t even a Christmas tree up. The only decorations was a small wreath and a couple of red baubles. While there was a lot of people saying ‘Merry Christmas’ it didn’t quite have that feel.

Last weekend we took some friends to Thika Road Mall. TRM has the best decorations in the whole of the city. It’s quite marvelous and has such a Christmassy feel about it. There’s nothing like glitz and glamour to walk through. tree

When we lived in Australia it was often around 30 degrees and our days were spent at the beach having fish and chips. Now we live in Kenya with similar weather conditions but the beach for us is a 9 hour drive away. We brought all of our tree decorations with us from Australia and in 2012 we purchased a fake tree which has kept us going.

We have had to purposely make Christmas a great thing here. This year we decided that it would be no presents, but we would go camping instead. We made up 5 food parcels for people who needed them. We bought some Christmas crackers to take away with us. Every now and then Chrissy music plays through our house.

What we have is limited compared to how we would do things when we have greater family around. While it would be really cool to have candy canes, I think we can do without them. We’ve made a decision to make the most of it even if we don’t have much.

The one thing I have learned from living in Africa is that it’s not about the trimmings or gifts, it’s about getting together with family and giving kids what they so desperately want and need – TIME.

christmas-girls-5

Ruining Christmas

I couldn’t believe it when at the beginning of November, the malls around Nairobi started putting up Christmas decorations. Normally at this time of year you see the lights go up for the Diwali festival. You also see fire crackers and sparklers for sale.

But Christmas decorations?

tree

By Week Two in November the Christmas music started playing. It’s all a bit too much really.

In the West it’s a normal occurrence a few months before Christmas to have it all out there, but this is Kenya. Overpriced Christmas trees arrived this week. Tinsel and shiny balls are available year round here. Tinsel is often used as necklaces for when children and adults graduate school. When a small fake tree costs $100, there’s only a limited group of people who can invest in that.

Yesterday I saw a small decoration that cost $20. It was the outline of a Christmas tree with a couple of beads on it. It was no bigger than 10cm in size. No wonder people don’t buy decorations like this.

I remember Christmas back when we lived in Australia and before that, New Zealand. There was so much pressure to get everyone a gift, and not something small either. Doesn’t look like much has changed in that aspect. There’s the buying of gifts for workmates, friends, family members, church leaders, school teachers. And of course, there’s all the Christmas breakup parties to go to.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with celebrating, I’m all for it. But why spend all that money for one day, buying pricey gifts for people who probably don’t need anything more to collect dust. Why do we put ourselves under so much pressure to ‘have it all together’ for one day in the year?

gifts

I love the way Christmas is celebrated here in Kenya – generally. It’s not about gifts, it’s about getting together as a family. For many people they only see their family once or twice a year so coming together is really important. We have some friends who are rather wealthy and even they are not into gift giving.

Since coming to Kenya, the whole gift giving thing has taken a back burner. To be honest, if we really wanted to buy ourselves something, we probably would. Mind you, things here are pretty expensive and our budget is small so gifts aren’t a high priority.  Mind you, we did buy our grand daughter some clothes when we were in Dubai. We had a friend who was visiting from New Zealand send them to here. Which was just as well, as she would’ve grown out of them by now, and they were so cute.

This year we’ve decided to go camping at one of the national parks we have in Kenya. Staying in Nairobi is quite depressing, there’s pretty much no one here. Most people will go to their families home in the country. Last year we were stuck in Nairobi and it was the worst.

One thing we wanted to do was to make sure our security guards and caretaker get looked after. They earn around $120 a month, that’s barely enough to survive on. One of our guards works 7 days a week. What we are doing for them is to make up a food parcel to see them through a couple of weeks over Christmas. We can’t buy them any meat as they don’t have a fridge or freezer, so it has to be dried food. It works out at around $35 each but that’s a big deal to them.

I’m not writing this to make people feel bad about spending money on Christmas, but I am writing it to make us think what it’s all about. I know lots of organisations like Churches have a large Christmas tree with tags on it and people can buy a gift for a needy person.

I think that is great. However, writing a cheque is the easy part.

Why not take your kids to visit some people at a nursing home? Sit with a homeless person on the street and talk to them. On Christmas Day itself, stop for a few minutes and chat with someone who has to work that day. You could also drop into your local police station with some homemade baked goodies that your kids have made. Invite someone over to share lunch with you. Call someone you haven’t spoken to all year.

police

My message is to DO SOMETHING, not just to go and buy something. Suicide rates are very high at this time of year. It can be super lonely for people, especially those who are estranged from their families. You can be the real difference to someone, you can change their lives.

Don’t ruin your Christmas by letting it all become about who can give the flashiest gift. That simply makes it a shallow competition. Instead enjoy the being together, the playing of board games, celebrating with food. Turn off the phones, get off the laptop, go and enjoy playing with the kids.

Life is short, make the most of every day.

elderly

 

 

 

 

Grandparenting from Afar

When we moved to Kenya we never even had it in our minds that within a few short years we would have a grandchild on the scene. Why you always look forward to it, you’re never quite ready for it. When our daughter Hannah and her husband Luke told us that they were expecting their first baby, we didn’t actually believe them. It’s the type of prank our family would play on each other. So even when we got off the Skype call, we didn’t quite believe it.

But it was true, and in March this year Isabella Rose was born.

I felt very privileged to be there a couple of weeks before she arrived, was there for the birth and for a month afterwards. But then we had to leave to return back to Kenya. We saw Han and Izzy one more time when we were in Australia but after that we weren’t sure when we would see them face to face again.

It could be years.

baby-hand

We are now on a journey of being grandparents from a distance.

It’s a common occurrence in the world we live in for grandparents to be on one side of the world so how do we manage it and still build a relationship with the most precious gifts in the world?

 

  1. Don’t feel guilty

It’s hard not to be there for every moment of their lives. You feel bad for not being there for birthdays or Christmas and if you were there they wouldn’t have to go into daycare because you ‘could have’ helped out.

At the end of the day, you’ve got to realize that even if you moved back to the same country as them, they might up and leave to go somewhere else. So are you just going to jetset around the globe following them? You have chosen to live where you are and they where they are.

 

  1. Use the internet to your advantage

For us, Skype is one of the best inventions ever. We might only get to use it once a week, but the fact that we can, is the fantastic. I’ve asked Han for a photo or video every day of Izzy, and she’s pretty good at sending it on Facebook. Sometimes it’s a report on how she’s been sleeping, other times on how she’s going with feeding. Even the smallest message makes us feel involved with Izzy. At times I just get on my phone and video myself or put some toys in from of the phone and make up stories for her. This morning I got back from a run and put a 30 second video of me filling in Izzy on what was happening today. It’s no big deal, but it helps with me missing her so much.

 

  1. It’s not a competition

It’s hard when your daughter and grand daughter are surrounding by their in-laws who get to enjoy ‘your family’ on a daily basis. When you find out that your grand child has been spoilt with lots and lots of gifts and you can’t do that because you’re a missionary and don’t have money for such luxuries. It’s very easy to get jealous.

But it’s not a competition between them and you. Your grandchildren are not objects. You can’t buy love and the best thing you can do is give them time. Things break, the best investment you can make is time. Let them show you their homework, art, favourite toy and just chatting. Even taking the time for them to sing their favourite song or preparing for a presentation. The fact that you’re making time for them is the most important thing.

october-foot

  1. Make the most of holidays

If you can’t get to your grandkids, invest into them and fly them to you. When Izzy was born, I made the decision that I wanted to be back for her first birthday. I have no idea how I will find the money for the ticket, but it’s important to be there. Izzy won’t remember it, but for Hannah, she needs to know that she matters to us. It’s been a difficult journey for her because she hasn’t had her parents around. I’ve got expat friends whose grandkids come at least twice a year to visit them in Kenya. Others fly to their other home each year or meet up with their kids and grandkids in a mutual country for a few weeks.

One of the dangers of volunteering overseas is that when you return to your home country, you need to spend a lot of time fundraising and you don’t spend time with family. On our last trip we said we would take April off and have a break. But, because of school holidays, we actually had to do many presentations during April. However, we still made time for family, which was a first. For Hannah’s birthday and Mothers Day, we made sure we spent it with the kids.

You can’t get time back. Go and make some good memories.

 

  1. Learn to celebrate

Look at what you do have and not what you don’t. Make the most of birthdays and Christmas, not just with a card or gift, but with the phone calls and messages on social networks. I’m keeping every video and photo that Han is sending through for a project for Izzy’s first birthday. I’ve also got some creative ideas for gifts for Christmas. We’ve sent clothes through but judging sizes is always a hard thing. Sometimes we’ve ordered books online that our kids grew up with and sent them through. Because we live far from them, when I’ve returned, I’ve taken the toys that Han had when she was little. That way if anything untoward happened to us, at least she has memories of us. My grandmother gave me a porcelain love heart when I was small, so when Izzy was born, I gave that to her. It might not seem much right now, but I have nothing left from my mother, so it’s nice to leave something small with Izzy.

 

What have been some of your experiences of grand parenting from a distance?

october-disney

 

Not Quite What I Thought It Would Be Like

Yesterday we moved our belongings into an apartment. For the past 6 months we’ve been living out of suitcases while we went on a fundraising tour. Pretty much we were in a different bed every second night, so we got into a routine and where everything went. We had our ‘speaking clothes’, ‘casual wear’ and ‘travel clothes’. We knew where our toiletries would be and most importantly, where to find the hair brush.

Of course, after 6 months it did get a bit tedious but we were there for work so we made it the easiest for us.

So when we decided to return I was really looking forward to settling down and having a home to ourselves.

However, it hasn’t turned out so wonderful as I thought.

I thought finding an apartment would be easy. What I didn’t take into account was how prices for rent had risen since we’d been away. We were pretty specific on what we wanted. We needed a balcony for our BBQ (and I love sitting out there) and I wanted somewhere for my washing machine. I also wanted to drop how much we would pay per month because we hadn’t raised our personal income enough to spend more.

To find a place here you decide on the area you want to live in, then go from gate to gate and ask the guards if there is anything available. After a couple of fruitless days we employed the skills of two agents. I’d had other agents call me after I made some enquiries online but they all wanted $50 upfront for a commitment fee. At least these two guys wanted nothing (they got paid by the landlady).

We ended up with two options, none we were 100% happy about but we needed to find something this week. On the Friday we signed for the apartment and then discovered that the President announced a public holiday on Monday. Thankfully, the guy we’ve used before was able to bring together a team to work on the Monday anyway.

I’m used to moving so it was no big deal to do it for the umpteenth time.

What got me was when we started unpacking the 30 something boxes. I got so overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we had accumulated over 4 years. I was used to just a few clothes and here I was looking at more clothes than I ever saw. Then when I went to unpack the kitchenware I got annoyed with myself in how many plastic containers we had. Seriously, did we need that many containers? Did we need that many clothes and shoes?

I know after a few weeks I’ll adjust but right now I’m staring at my wardrobe and already deciding that if I don’t wear them in the next few months, I’ll pass them on to someone who actually needs them.

We do have to ask ourselves if we really NEED the amount of belongings we own. While travelling I’ve seen some people who have a whole room dedicated to just their shoes. Isn’t there a better investment in life than that?

Stuff disintegrates, but the investment we can make into the lives of people is what continues forever.

That’s where I’ll be making more of an investment in. What about you?

Home and Away

I’ve tried all I can to call Kenya home but it’s not quite working. I thought if I put it into my head that this was ‘home’ it would happen automatically, but it hasn’t. I still call Australia home. While we will always consider ourselves Kiwis, we see ourselves as more honorary Aussies. Of course, when it comes to the rugby we always love the haka. Our 11 years in Australia were some of the best we’ve ever had.

It’s not a bad thing though, pretty much all expats have a place they call home, but that’s because they’re only here for 2 or 3 years on assignment. For us, as long as the money lasts, we’re here.

It’s been nearly 9 months since we’ve been in our own place. For a month our Aussie mum put us up at her place, then we spent a month in the US before coming here to Nairobi. We’ve been house sitting since then. Getting into our own house is pretty important. I was so over having our stuff in boxes that I just had to get some small things out. Some have been packed since a year ago!

A place can be a house but definitely not a home. I’m hoping when we find a place next week that we can really make it our own. It was way too expensive to bring many belongings with us from Aussie so it was just a few mementos and kitchen gear. Everything else we had to start from scratch.

Between the time we came in 2011 and then again in 2012 living costs had pretty much doubled. Still, we press on.

There’s been some challenges to even finding a place. Twice now we’ve been promised an apartment and it’s fallen through. Apparently on the 28th we’ve been guaranteed a 3 bedroom apartment just up the road from the office. I’m not into crossing fingers but I really hope we get it. The owners of the house we’re in are coming back from New Zealand in exactly 2 weeks and we also have some Kiwi friends coming for a week. So, we’re cutting it pretty thin.

apartment

The actual apartment we hope to get.

At this stage we’ll be sleeping on airbeds, but that’s okay, we’ve done it before.

Thanks to some generous friends we will have a couch to sit on! As I’m writing this blog our builder is sitting in our lounge drawing what he’s done. It was meant to be finished tomorrow, but in good Kenyan time it’ll be next week. We are so grateful for all of our supporters we really could not be here without them. When renting an apartment here you even have to supply your own gas oven, known as a ‘cooker’ here. I guess that’s because people steal them when they leave.

One of the reasons we are here is to host the many international visitors who come to Kenya to look at the work we are doing. Every month for the rest of the year we get the great pleasure of having people in our home, whether it be just for one night or seven. In fact, one couple arrive just a few days after we hopefully move into our home! I love having people at our place, whether they are a local or a visitor. To us it’s really really important to have a nice place that people can call their second home.

Thankfully it’s not over the top expensive to get furniture made. The same lounge suite we wanted in Sydney is about ¼ of the price to be made here and we only have to wait a week for it. To get a bed made takes around 4 days.

Hence, we’ve started a campaign called ‘House our Home’ to give people an opportunity to partner with us to make our new house (actually an apartment), our home. Check out the link HERE which has a whole list of things people can donate towards. The cool thing is that it doesn’t matter if you’re in Australia, the US or the UK, it’s tax deductible, sorry about the rest of you though!

I’m hoping that when we get into our own place that we’ll feel like this could become our home. We’re not ready to go back to Australia yet, but I think I’ll always call it home (of some sort anyway).