I’ve been to lots of Tanzania parties by now, usually fun, always interesting, all completely, painfully filling and often hilarious, but not one has had quite the build-up as the Christmas Day Party.
Mama Mdogo has been talking about for months. What we’re going to eat, how we’re going to decorate, who’s going to come, how much singing and dancing there will be at church. And what we are going to wear. Mama Mdogo and Baba (dad) Mdogo are my closest family here. When I first arrived I ate nearly every meal with them, and though I’ve now pretty much figured out to start my charcoal stove, I still rely on them for any number of things. So, it only makes sense that the entire Christmas Day (coincidentally they are also some of my only Christian friends in the village) would be devoted to them and their niece, Happy, who also lives with them. This means a while back we decided to get matching outfits made. I let Mama Mdogo pick out the fabric and as a result it has been the most electric Christmas in memory (see picture below).
I woke up Christmas morning to rain. The rainy season has officially started, but I’m still not used to it. I can probably count the number of times I’ve walked in rain in the last two years on my own two hands, and today we’re walking, far. I roll out of bed, trying not to disturb the mass of braids sticking out from the top of my head (the result of two very painful hours the day before and a hairstyle usually appropriately named ‘The Kilimanjaro’, but sadly on my head just droops down to a rather pathetic attempt at Africa’s highest mountain). I don my neon green dress, glowing head to toe, collect the date-cinnamon biscuits and yards of construction paper chains and ‘snowflakes’ I made yesterday with Happy, and head down the hill to the Mdogo’s house.
They’re running around like crazy of course, Mama Mdogo misplacing absolutely everything, simultaneously trying to serve me tea, mop the floor and deal with the goat that was just slaughtered. Baba Mdogo precariously stands on uneven tables and chairs to hang up the decorations. We thank the Muslim neighbors for killing the goat and for cooking (otherwise they wouldn’t be able to partake in the feasting) while we’re at church and we’re off.
It is a 40-minute walk to church, and I’m already slightly grumpy. I’m not sure if it’s the 4-hour church service looming ahead of me or the fact that somehow, for a girl from Seattle, I’ve become completely incompetent in the rain. I think ultimately though, it’s the mud. Africa mud is legendary and terrifying and everywhere. I have to concentrate with every step not to fall on my butt. It’s a confusing consistency, both sticky and slippery and surprising deep and all sorts of suction-cuppy.
But when I look at the four of us (just for a second, so I don’t fall), walking down the road, I can’t help but giggle. We are without the brightest things in the entire district, if not region on this dreary Christmas morning. Mama Mdogo is sporting some pretty fancy pointy toe heels that sink into the mud with every step. She is also carrying a awkwardly large and extremely heavy keyboard on her head (one of the many duties of being in the church choir). And she’s doing it all with style. I’m blown away.
We finally get to church, mud splattered but in good spirits. Before the service starts a guy finds me to tell me about his recent trip to Detroit, Michigan (What?!) for seminary training. He says it was beautiful (never been, but is this true?) and rich, but people were so busy, hardly anyone greeted him and it was cold. Sounded to me like he was trying to like something he’d been told his whole life is the place to be, but after experiencing it now wasn’t so sure.
Settled into hard benches, sandwiched in between Happy and some of the most wonderfully done-up Tanzanians I’ve ever seen, the service started. Mama Mdogo and the choir sing and dance. Guest performers come up and dance and lip-synch to their previously recorded tapes (why listen to beautiful voices when you can pump the music through a bad sound system at extraordinary high volume?). And everyone loves it. The ‘yodeling’ cheers that can only be done by an African consistently break the usual peaceful serenity of church.
The four hours pass quicker than I think they will and soon we’re shaking hands with the pastor, taking pictures and heading back down the hill and back to Endagaw Village and Mama Mdogo’s home.
The rest of the day, guests flow in and out of the house, each receiving a heaping plate of spiced rice, goat, beans and a soda upon entry and a Merry Christmas and Karibu Tena (welcome again) upon departure. The food is delicious and I keep sneaking in to the ‘kitchen’ (mud hut with a couple fires going on the other side of their property) for extras. And I don’t have to leave once, or attempt to swing by all the other Christmas day parties, because just like Mama Mdogo, this is partly my home. I’m the hostess too and some of our guests are coming because I’ve invited them. I’m in charge of handwashing, soda getting, and candy distributing. It’s great. As the guests trickle away and night twinkles in, the four of us, still a hot colored clan, sit back and smile. A few modest gifts are given, thanks are shared, and Christmas is complete.
This year’s Christmas celebration was a far cry from last year’s Katsepy Christmas and doesn’t even begin to compare to any of the holiday seasons I’ve experienced back home. But I think it’s those differences and who I get to share each year’s party with that make me appreciate each unique experience all the more. I don’t miss the hoopla of Christmas. What I miss the most is my family and friends and the highlight of my celebration was still hearing their voices on Christmas day. But, I was content in sharing this year with my Tanzania family. And what a beautiful one it was.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!