Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Christmas at the Convent

Though we had just come back from Christmas Vigil Mass about eight hours before, Beth and I woke at 6:30 for Christmas Day mass. The church was decorated in a style that can only be described as “tasteful, subtle, elegance”, including a nativity scene decorated with blinking lights and banana trees, which may or may not have been created by your high school prom committee.

            The mass lasted about three hours, and then we came back to the convent for our Christmas meal. In Rwanda, there’s little difference between a fancy meal and a regular meal other than adding multiple forms of carbs (i.e. having boiled potatoes, fries, boiled bananas, and sweet potatoes instead of just potatoes), adding meat to the meal, and perhaps the absence of rocks in the beans. But it was delicious nonetheless.

After eating, we opened gifts with the nuns and D’Assisi from care packages sent by some generous family and friends. Santa Claus doesn’t really exist in Rwanda, and it was exciting to place the gifts under our makeshift banana Christmas tree and observe the nuns and D’Assisi exclamations of joy as they opened brightly colored packages full of tea, books, lotion, toys, prayer cards, and art supplies. 

 It was my second Christmas away from home, and I recalled how lonely and homesick I was during the entire month of December last year. 

It was a far cry from being surrounded by the nuns, D’Assisi, and my sister this year.

Fun with nuns! 
D'Assisi showing off his drumming skills before mass

Then two of the priests from our parish, Padiri Janvier and Padiri Ubald, took us to the hotsprings about an hour from my site, in Cimerwa. 

It was probably my sixth or seventh time visiting the hotsprings, and I was fairly used to being an object of intense curiosity as a muzungu girl in a bathing suit in a thermal lake full of a hundred men, either naked or in their underwear. Unsurprisingly, if two muzungu girls in swimsuits swim in the hotsprings, twice as many people show up to simply stare silently from the shores of the lake. 

By the time we left, I estimated there were around five hundred Rwandans watching us, crowding around the water for a better view. Isn’t that how you spend Christmas in America?

When we got returned to my village, the sun was setting and our village band, Amis des Jeunes (or “Friends of the Youth”) was playing a concert in the back of a bar close to my house.

 Several of the band members were students in my community English class, and a large crowd had gathered to dance. 

They played in a mixture of French and Kinyarwanda, and sweat started to roll down my neck as the room became hot from a hundred bodies moving in the semi-enclosed room to “Bonne Annee.” 

It was the best possible way to end Christmas day: dancing to a Rwandan band in my little village, surrounded by friends and my sister, with D’Assisi in his little gray three-piece suit falling asleep on my shoulders.


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