“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17
My school resumed class sessions the first Monday of this New Year, which quickly sucked me from the peaceful, restful, contemplative space that was my holiday, back into the hustle and bustle of the education world. In an attempt to recapture that time, while also processing all that I experienced, I am here at my humble keyboard, unsure of which words I will end up sending from my screen to yours, dear reader.
This being my first Christmas season spent both on a different continent from all my relatives, and without any snow at all, I was tasked with the challenge of how to make Christmas feel like Christmas. Capturing the essence of the Christmas feeling was already becoming increasingly difficult as I’ve gotten older, so this year simply added another layer to that struggle.
I figured the best place to be was amongst family, and since I had none of my own here I decided to borrow someone else’s. My friend Kanaya travelled with me the distance of two long and bumpy bus rides, and one shorter yet bumpier motorcycle ride, to his boma in the Maasai village of Lempapule where we spent two weeks.
Maasai life is something that is so vastly different from anything I have experienced before, and yet it felt as natural and comfortable as slipping on an old sweater. Some context: the Maasai are one of the indigenous tribes of Tanzania and Kenya. Most of them live a pastoral life tending cows, goats, and sheep in the Afrikan bush. After spending time living among them, I feel confident in saying that they are the blueprint for what a pure, unselfish community looks like. There is very little, if any, concept of “yours” and “mine”; at the end of the day there is just “ours”. One person’s good fortune means good things for all. One person’s struggle is everyone’s responsibility for remedying. One person’s poor decision ripples through to the lives of everyone in the community.
To be given the opportunity to experience this level of community was a precious gift that overwhelmed me at some moments. Coming from such an individualistic community where we put up fences and labels and divide our lives as clearly as possible from those around us, this way of life was a huge shift in perspective.
There was a day where I had brought back my leftover chipsi mayai (basically an omelette with french fries cooked into it) to the boma, and since I couldn’t finish it I gave it to one of the teenage boys who was around at the time. Without being asked, or even expected to, he immediately found his siblings and cousins to share the special treat with all of them. This moment feels like such a perfect snapshot of the level of community and cooperation that they grow up operating with.
I directly benefited from this selfless caring for others when I awoke on Christmas day sicker than a dog.
I had travelled to Emi and Lemakau’s boma to spend the holiday with them, and something snuck up on mine and Emi’s immune systems and made our ability to enjoy the festivities near impossible. We tried our hardest by travelling into the village to hear the Christmas choir competitions that the women spent weeks preparing for, but we were both wracked with discomfort the entire time we were there. I found myself sleeping sitting up in a small bar while the rain poured outside and the men shouted stories around me. After attempting, and failing, to eat something, we decided it was best just to go back and try to sleep it off.
One of their close friends, Baraka, had a proper mattress at his house (most of the Maasai sleep on cow skins atop a bed of twigs) and offered it to me to rest. I proceeded to sleep, taking breaks of consciousness to drink water/call my family/take medicine, for about 20 hours. In the morning, Baraka’s mother came to give me natural medicine that is made from ancient recipes passed down from countless generations back, and gave me a perfectly crafted stomach massage.
These weren’t the kinds of Christmas gifts I have received in the past, but they were necessary to serve a specific purpose for me this year. Not only were they immense blessings, but “Baraka” literally means “Blessing” in Kiswahili. Everything about this situation felt like street signs pointing me towards the giver of all blessings.
At the risk of sounding like a cheesy Hallmark Christmas movie trailer: as I was out there in the bush searching for Christmas, God revealed the true reason for the season right before my eyes. The greatest act of love; the greatest sacrifice; the greatest blessing given to us not once a year, but every minute of every day. I don’t need snow, a tree, or cookies to recognize and give gratitude for that truth.