Being far away from home for the holidays is never easy. As someone from the Midwest where we’re used to cold and snowy Christmases, it was especially strange to be in a warm and humid climate (even more bizarre was seeing stores decorated with Santas and listening to “Frosty the Snowman” while grocery shopping). But even though I was missing family and friends and there wasn’t snow, my Christmas with Lubuto was special and memorable in its own way.
We decided that it would be a nice holiday treat to take those kids who volunteer at the Fountain of Hope library to the movies and then out somewhere to dinner. In the end, there were eight of us, David, a member of LubutoArts who also teaches art to younger children; library volunteers extraordinaire, Joe and Moses; Jackson, another artist who helps out keeping data for the art class; Emmanuel, who is helping out with the OLPCs at the new library in Garden; Elijah, our Fountain of Hope library manager; myself, and Lebo Moore, who is the daughter of Fulbright scholar and Lubuto volunteer Mary Wagner. Lebo graciously came to help me chaperone, but I think that, like myself, she also really wanted to see Harry Potter. Being somewhat limited in our movie-going options, I chose Harry Potter. It is, of course, based on a book. What could be more appropriate?
I don’t think that the guys had any familiarity with the Harry Potter series, but it didn’t seem to matter. They had all put on their nicest clothes and sat neatly with their hands folded in the theater waiting for the movie to start. All of them kept insisting they were excited to be there, yet you wouldn’t have known based on how solemnly they sat. For Joe, it was the first time he had ever been to a movie theater. It is deeply humbling to do something we consider to be so ordinary with kids who have so little. Joe was even entranced by the previews. After each one, he would lean over to me and say, “Ah, it’s looking nice.” All of the guys said thoroughly enjoyed the movie. Dobbie, the little CGI elf with a high pictched voice, was undoubtedly their favorite character and solicited big laughs from all the guys. Now, whenever I go to Fountain of Hope, Joe calls everyone “Mr. Potter.” I have no idea why, but he seems to think it’s funny.
Dinner was a more interesting experience. Trying to go through a huge menu (TGI Friday-like) with unfamiliar foods was a bit challenging. Moses, David, and Joe ordered chicken and chips; no mystery there. Emmanuel ordered a big steak. Jackson ordered a steak and prawns. Written on the menu as “filet and prawns,” he asked us what a filet was. Lebo told him it was a specific cut of beef. She then asked him if he knew what prawns were and he said yes. But when his food came, while he ate the beef with gusto, he was completely grossed out by the prawns. He actually had no idea what they were and insisted they were snakes. He was absolutely adamant in his refusal to try one. When I countered that I had at least tried everything they had ever given me (including kapenta, a disgusting anchovy-like fish, with nshima, blah), he still refused. “Who taught you to eat snakes? How can you eat these snakes?” Likewise, the beef was not a hit with Emmanuel. When a waitress came by he asked if they served nshima. They didn’t, so he settled on chicken and chips, clearing his plate (in case you were wondering, Jackson finished both his and Emmanuel’s steak). The guys didn’t talk much during dinner and after the ordering fiasco, I was really afraid they hadn’t enjoyed themselves at all. It wasn’t until Emmanuel had finished devouring his meal that he turned to me and said, “I am so happy. This was the best day.” The others echoed similar statements. Just hearing that MORE than made up for the lack of snow. While certainly atypical, it was an amazing Christmas in its own way. It sounds a bit corny, but to be able to do something special for this group was the best Christmas gift I could have asked for.