The persistent thump, thump, of oversized speakers reverberates in the distance, mingling with the sound of shouting and laughter. I’m standing in the middle of a grassless field, arms outstretched, yelling, “Ghana, are you ready??” The relay racers respond with more shouting and yelling, followed by another cheer from the opposing team, “Singapore, are YOU ready??” Legs tied together with a borrowed headscarf, the first pair of students race towards me, falling and hopping, kicking up a thick storm of dust behind them.
Teiman, Ghana 2013
It’s the morning of Christmas Eve and I’m surrounded by students wearing flip flops and skirts, sunglasses and Santa hats. Music blasts while kids show off their best dance moves, joined by the occasional teacher. Balloons pop loudly in the background, echoing the screams of running children chasing each other through the school. I lean against the wall, watching the now familiar scene of chaos unfold.
These kids have moves!
Teiman, Ghana 2013
The sweltering sun, colorful patterns, and pulsing hip hop music don’t exactly call to mind a typical Christmas party. To be honest, if it weren’t for the red and white hats, it’d be easy to forget the reason we’re celebrating. In some ways, I’d prefer to forget. In spite of adoring this time of year back home, I’ve been dreading the approaching holidays, not knowing if I should fully embrace the whole experience or avoid it all together. It’s surprisingly easy to let most of my expectations go when it comes to finding any sense of “normalcy” on the road, however nothing about this season feels right and I’m tired of trying to force it to.
This fake blue Christmas tree feels as insincere as my Christmas mood.
Accra, Ghana 2013
I just can’t seem to manufacture the usual holiday spirit associated with crackling fireplaces and icy country roads. There’s no trace of the drama filled family feuds, or cavity inducing chocolate pecan pie that have become staples in my life each December. This is the stuff of nostalgia. Time-honored traditions I’ve always taken for granted, habitually performed year after year. All of the outward trappings of a normal Christmas are missing and I can’t help but notice their glaring absence.
I come really close to throwing myself a pity party until the whole mess is over, but after moping around for a few days I realize something embarrassingly obvious: outward trappings. The gifts, the gooey, pie, the smell of pine and apple scented candles — they’re only material reminders of what I really want to celebrate during this time of year. Community, family, hope, generosity, love. Like a greedy child, I’ve been focusing on the lack of physical reminders of Christmas, feeling sorry for myself and missing home.
I may be a grown woman, but I’m so easily persuaded to feel loss and dissatisfaction instead of gratitude and peace. Community, family, hope, generosity, love. I have all of these things and more, right in front of me. In spite of being thousands of miles away from home, I have gifts waiting for me under the Christmas tree. There are candles burning and meals shared with friends. I have a safe roof over my head, enough food to go around, and more joy than I could ask for. I have the support and encouragement of my family, and the generosity of more people than I can count. I have the love of a Savior who provides and protects.
I wake up early Christmas morning to craft a homemade yellow star for our tiny tree I picked up the day before in the market. There’s only three of us in the quiet house, a far cry from the bustling households I’m used to. Another volunteer wakes up and we busy ourselves in the kitchen, preparing banana and cinnamon pancakes “Ghana style” over a two burner gas stove. We listen to an old Hanson holiday album and some German carols she has on her laptop, the only Christmas music we can offer. We laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, and share our favorite past holiday memories. Later, we each open one gift, and I read the Christmas story from Luke.
Our humble Christmas morning feast. Banana and apple pancakes and fresh pineapple.
Teiman, Ghana 2013
I spend the rest of the afternoon calling home, waking up loved ones and crying at the sound of my mother’s voice, wishing my family a Merry Christmas. It may not be the Christmas I imagined, but it’s exactly what I needed.
Wishing you all joy and peace during the Holidays and into the New Year. From my heart to yours, sending many blessings from Ghana!