Christmas and Camels

The fact that I’m just now getting around to writing about our Christmas holiday has nothing to do with how great it was.   I could list lots of excuses for the delay – but I won’t.  I’ll just get on with it.

First, we put up our beautiful, 11 year old artificial Christmas tree.  It used to be 7 feet, but I’m pretty sure it’s shrunk with age.  So what if we had to use old socks, duck tape and clothes pins to get it together.  Unless you looked closely, one would never know.  Just don’t blow on it.  This was my first Christmas in this house to decorate fully.  We have 4 trunks of decorations and I used them all.  My only regret was that I didn’t get them up sooner than December 8th.  I kept trying not to think of how long it was going to take to get it all down, and just enjoy it.  We’ve been here for awhile now, so most people we know, and some we don’t, are aware of the fact that we put a large tree in our house in December.  Everyone enjoys it.

On December 15th, Brian and Kim, my brother and sister-in-law, arrived with their 3 tired and excited offspring – my nieces and nephew.  It was so great to finally see them after so much anticipation!  It had been a year and a half since we last saw them and Jack, Kate and Ellie had grown so much.  Let the games begin!

They arrived to 95 degree temps.  They left behind -10 in Minnesota.  What a shame!  I could pretty much guarantee them that they would not be having a white Christmas – which was perfectly fine with me.  I’ve rather grown used to a sandy Christmas.  On the way home from the airport Kim gave the best description of what it’s like to drive in Niamey.  “It’s like being in a video game!”  We came up with all kinds of scenarios for a driving game that could take place in a West African city.  Anyway, after we spent a bit of time getting caught up, we suggested that they get some sleep, as their wake-up call would be coming at 6:30am.  It was the last day of school for Trae, Tanika & Tobi and there was a final assembly before school was out.  It was the only opportunity for them to see the school and they were going to come!

We managed to get everyone to the school assembly on time and when school let out for the break, I had such a great feeling of freedom – and I’m not even a student!  It felt so good that for the next 2 weeks we didn’t have a scheudule to keep.  We were just going to hang out together and have fun.  This was Brian and Kim’s first trip to Africa, and it was our first time to be with my side of the family for the holidays since 1997.

The next day we went to Park W – Niger’s ‘premiere’ (and only) game park.  On our way there and back we stopped in 2 of the villages where we have churches to greet the people and show off my family.  At the park, we stayed in tents that had cots.  It was cool enough for blankets.  We saw lots of 4-legged deer type animals but the biggest find was elephants.  We saw 3 of them crossing a stream.  Very cool.  The park is situated on the Niger river and this particular area is beautiful.  We enjoyed an African meal of cous cous and stew outdoors by kerosene lamplight.  (mostly because there was no electricity).  We made smores and sang Christmas carols around a campfire.  We had  a great time and returned the next day.

The next days were filled with eating, baking cookies,drinking tea and coffee on the veranda, kids playing, more eating and a bit of exercise.  We played with children in an orphange, went and saw giraffe and took a ride down the Niger River in a ‘boat’  looking for Hippo’s.  We succeeded in seeing one as he slipped into the water. (At first we thought it was a big rock!)

Christmas Day was the best.  So as to avoid being in the kitchen, we made our brunch the night before.  That baked while we read the Christmas story and opened gifts.  That took some time considering there were 10 of us.  We spent of the rest of the morning looking at the pics we had taken so far, some played x box and some of us went walking.  In the afternoon, we had a local man bring his camel to our compound for camel rides.  And they are great photo ops!  Before sunset, we took the short trip to the sand dunes and played in the drifts while the sun went down – though it was a very dusty day and we didn’t see much of the sun behind the dust.  That was a blast.  From there we went to our favorite restaurant and ate Nile Perch and steak brochettes (kabobs) for dinner.  What a day we had to celebrate the birth of Jesus!

The following day we had a Christmas party at our house with all of Niamey pastors, church workers and their families.   What a time we had playing Jenga and Musical chairs.  You have never seen the game of Jenga being played with any such ‘enthusiasm’.  We had the kids play the first round of musical chairs and even the little ones were highly competitive.   But ‘you aint seen nothin yet’ was appropriate to say when it came to the adults.  They took it very seriously – if you can dance seriously around a group of chairs.  We ended the night with Christmas songs and some lively worship.

On Sunday, we all went to church in Say, the village where our pastor has been facing so much persecution.  It was a cultural experience to say the least.  Food had been prepared for us, and we had to take pictures to see what it was that we were eating (using the flash).  It wasn’t until we viewed the pictures later that we were able to see the room we had been in (no windows).  Jack and Kate and Ellie acted as if they were made for Niger.  They weren’t timid about anything, and loved the people.  They especially made friends with any baby that would have them.  And there were plenty of those!  They were a blessing to everyone they were around.  Jack is 10 and has always been Trae’s shadow when we’re together.  Though he was that, he and Tobi (who is eight) were almost inseparable.  They had never played together like that before, but we determined that the age difference between 6 and 8 (the last time they were together) is different than that difference between 8 and 10.  Kate, who is 8, had so much fun hanging out with her glamorous teenage cousin Tanika.  They made necklaces and gave each other pedicures and laughed a lot.  Five year old Ellie – well, she was everywhere.  No kidding.  Wherever we were, there she was.  And adorable.  I’m pretty sure she’ll go into some kind of entertainment when she grows up.  That, or she’ll be a vet.  She couldn’t get enough of any animal.

So, I think it is evident that our time together was better than fantastic.  It was a sad day when we had to say goodbye at the airport, but at least we know that we’ll see them again not in 2 years, but in 7 months, when we head to the US.   I actually miss them more now than I did before they came!  When are you guys coming back!!!???

2 thoughts on “Christmas and Camels

  1. Debby Stanke

    I’m back!!!!

    It was so wonderful to read about your Christmas. Jesus, friends and family, what more could you ask for? I pray that we will be one of those familys that get to visit! I am still believing God we will be seeing you in person! Talk to you more “SOON”! So much to tell you!
    Love and Prayers,

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