Mary Walker: This Christmas in Kenya

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I had a very enjoyable Christmas with the girls at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Kenya. Kunguru slaughtered the goat on Christmas Eve, setting in motion a very well-organized Christmas Day. (Apparently, he was persuaded by some of the girls to bypass whatever cultural proscription seems to have had a hold on him in the past.) On Christmas morning, I awakened at 4:53 a.m. in my hotel room in town, next door to the town mosque, to the call to prayer. I got to the Rescue Centre early enough to enjoy tea and mandazi (similar to doughnuts) that the girls had prepared Christmas Eve.

I entrusted most of the shopping, organizing of the menu and, most importantly, organizing of the girls for the Christmas meal to Lorna, who is studying business management at Narok University. Judging from how well things turned out (not to mention her stellar performance in high school that made her eligible for admission to university), she is in the right course. Her younger sister still is at the Rescue Centre, so Lorna spends some time there during holidays. When most of the girls who were supposed to do the cooking disappeared to church without telling anyone, Lorna took charge. And pretty soon, the 10 or so girls who didn’t go to church were sitting happily outside with all of the jikos (similar to big hibachis) chopping vegetables, slicing up the goat carcass (pretty gross if you ask me, but they consider it something like we would consider cutting up vegetables), chatting, cooking and basking in the warm sun. And yes, they all got an extra piece of chewing gum from me for their hard work. All the food was prepared by 1 p.m., so we sat around talking and waited for everyone to return from church. Their punishment for going to church instead of taking care of their duties, the topic of a much-heated discussion among the girls who were cooking, was to be that they had to clean all of the utensils. Fair enough.

Because I’m such a softy when it comes to the girls, I told them during Christmas lunch that they could save their sodas for later because I could see how full (or shiba in Swahili) they were going to be. I’m happy to report that by after lunch on Boxing Day, all empty bottles were in the crates.

The girls opted to open their Christmas gifts from me on Boxing Day. It is the tradition in Kenya to receive gifts Christmas Day but wait to open them until Boxing Day, an interesting take on the British aristocracy’s tradition of giving out gifts to the poor on the day after Christmas. In a country where most of the people can afford little more than a balloon and a big bottle of Fanta as Christmas presents for the mtotos (Swahili for children), I suppose that Kenya’s interpretation of Boxing Day serves the joyful purpose of extending the holiday as long as possible. More cynically, it’s probably a holdover from British colonialists in Kenya giving small gifts to their native servants on Boxing Day after requiring them to work Christmas Day.

I told the girls that several friends from home had provided the blessings that made the meal and their gifts possible. Thank you to all of you who continue to provide such enjoyable Christmases to these wonderful girls.

Mary Walker, a 25-year resident of Clark, works as a volunteer at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre, which rescues Maasai girls from female genital mutilation and child marriage in Kenya. She now provides college and university assistance to several Maasai girls. Mary can be reached at mewalker99@yahoo.com.

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