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

 

 

 

 

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When Terrorists Strike

This weekend in many parts of the world there were terrorist attacks. To us it was brought close to home when a mall we visit was taken over by terrorists. As I write this blog it is going into it’s 4th day of the siege. Only a few minutes ago an Australian friend found out three of her close friends perished, one of them to give birth in two weeks time.

People escaping from Westgate Mall.

People escaping from Westgate Mall.

A lack of security is a reality here, but when a mall we frequent is taken over and people die it brings in a whole new level of things. Already we don’t travel at night, go for a walk at night and always lock the car when we get in it. We have a security gate on our apartment door and two night guards on the apartment block.

The thing is that you hardly ever ‘feel’ insecure. We walk through the slums (even though the Aussie High Commission says not to) to visit families and the biggest threat is shaking all of the hands of the kids who say ‘How are you?’ We are more worried about avoiding people as they step out in front of our car or suddenly seeing a donkey and cart pull out and there isn’t enough space to stop.

You get used to having your car checked at the mall, or being security scanned on the way into church. However, the thought of people attacking people as their children are in a cooking class is totally different.

The first thing that happened to us was the numerous questions on Facebook checking if we were okay. We were 4 hours away at the Amboseli National Park looking at wild elephants when I just happened to check FB to find out about the tragedy. Automatically I posted that we were fine. What I didn’t let people know is that we actually would’ve been there as already planned.

When we got back to Nairobi, like everyone else we were glued to the TV to see what the story was about. We had planned to go to the movies at the local mall, but when things like this happen you are best to stay at home. So it was toast for dinner and we put on a comedy to lighten the situation. I used this time to field through the endless questions online and SMS our pastors back home. Both responded even though it was really late, which was great. We have a number of expat friends so you instantly go through the list to make sure they weren’t near the incident. Thankfully they were all fine.

When terrorism happens people put their lives on hold. While you don’t want it to stop you from doing everyday things you can’t help yourself. You choose your seat at a café based on how you can escape. You look at people a bit more suspiciously. You decide if you really need to get a few groceries.

Waiting to get our car checked

Waiting to get our car checked

We ventured to the mall yesterday and things are very different. There is normally a check of your boot, but now they check the glove box, back seat and boot. Instead of two lines for the check, they’ve merged it into one, barriers up on both sides, and very long lines. That’s just to get into the carpark. Normally there would be plenty of cars but yesterday there were only 4 others. Javahouse is a café which is packed at lunchtime, there were two people.

At our mall you just walk in – normally. Now they are doing a full bag and body check. Pete went there on his motorbike and he had to thoroughly empty his bag out. Churches were only half full on Sunday. This is because they are normally the next target. I’m not sure if we would’ve gone had we been home.

Normally this carpark is full

Normally this carpark is full

Liz had a co-worker who was injured and like us, they started their day in prayer for our nation.

When terrorism strikes it does a couple of things. It makes people retrench and it also makes them come out and do extraordinary things. It will take a good month for businesses to recover from this incident and for those at the mall it could be a number of months. It will have a huge economic impact for those in that business district.

On the positive side people here rally in times of disaster. There was an outpouring of money, food items, counsellors and also blood donations. The Red Cross were at the forefront of this tragedy and did a great job in the face of so many challenges. It gave people a chance to go out of their comfort zones and care for others. I heard of one lady that was giving out cups of tea from the boot of her car to the police on the scene. It might not seem much but here no one does anything without payment.

Wherever we went people were glued to TV’s on updates. At our mall there were crowds of young, old, black, white trying to get a viewing point on a TV to keep updated. Some businesses closed down and had an all day of prayer. People took time out to talk to their colleagues to make sure they were okay. There were the conversations of ‘where you were when it happened’.

The Westgate Mall siege is over. The TV channels are showing less about it. People give a sigh of relief. Children return back to school and people resume their lives as normal as possible.

However, we have to create a ‘new normal’. Things won’t be the same for a very long time, especially for those involved. We will still look with suspicion and keep as secure as possible and unfortunately terrorism will happen on our back doorstep and we will go on the emotional rollercoaster all over again.

Life is not certain but our faith in God is. Stuff happens and some people equate life with God, which is not true. We live in a broken and fallen world and have to suffer the consequences of that.

What humbled us is the number of people from around the world that sent us messages of support and concern. Each and every one made a huge impact on us and wasn’t taken lightly. It reminded us that we are not here alone.

This incident also reminded me that we need to update our insurance!!