It’s wonderful to share Christmas with friends, and exotic to do so abroad. Our lazy holy-days mix African experiences, domestic pursuits and gift shopping.
Here in the southern hemisphere Christmas bisects the summer break. Nathan is wrapping up his summer swim camp, and on this its last day there’s much pool play, so we all join in. The pool is at his school, which looks much an American K-12 school, though the classes are bigger, and the fields are set up for Cricket and hockey, not baseball or soccer.
In the afternoon, we drop the kids at a movie and turn our attention to Santa’s wish lists. The malls here feel like compact versions of American malls. There are no department stores, but well-stocked grocery and household stores provide anchors and specialty shops are sprinked in between: sporting goods, card shops, clothing, gifts, wines, barbers, gadgets. Two more peculiar shops hint at local challenges: one is focused exclusively on power supply, with lots of batteries, transformers and electrical connectors. The other sells security: alarms, cameras, big knives and guns. More on that later.
On Saturday the weather soured a bit, a good excuse for morning Christmas shopping. Naftaly drops me in town and I stroll a pleasant few kilometers down a main street, wandering in an out of shops. Stumbling on the “Oriental Gifts” shop I find what must be the local wholesaler, because they have the same goods as I’ve seen in the mall for about 1/3 of the price. It’s a stocking-stuffer’s diamond mine, with crowded narrow aisles sandwiched by shelves bursting with cheap trinkets and toys. The store is packed with South Africa’s rainbow of races, and it’s good fun to shop among the descendants of Zulus, Dutch, English, Indians, Chinese and others.
In the afternoon, we all drive over to the Macarenga, a bountiful, beautiful botanical garden that sprawls over 30 hilly acres surrounding a stream and ponds. Excellent abstract and modernist Zimbabwean sculptures are scattered among flame trees, orchids, Japanese gardens with koi ponds and bamboo strands, waterfalls… it’s a romantic retreat, and there’s a large wedding party making memories in the distance. The boys enjoy rolling down the broad lawns while we finish a fine lunch of pizzas, fish & chips and wraps.
Christmas eve we enjoy on Sue’s pasta, and the boys’ anticipation of the coming day. Checking NORAD we see Santa flying over the Aleppo – I wish Syria and the world peace in 2017, and bid good riddance to a sad 2016. As heads hit pillows there’s some furious last minute gift wrapping, then sleep…
…until Ben’s up at 5AM outside our window. I return with him to the main house and we kill some anxious hours until the others awake and finish morning tea. Then it’s a classic Christmas with the seven of us taking turns sharing gifts and thanks… stockings stuffed with dice, cards, candy, balls and toys; a new Cricket bat and boogie board for Nathan; South African clothes for the boys; scotch for me; a spa day for Sue; Asian scarves and bowls for Naftali and Karen. More friends stop by in the late morning and then boys play baseball while Sue and Karen prepare a Christmas feast.