CHRISTMAS IN AFRICA
This year, I’ve spent the Christmas away from Europe for the first time. Here in Africa, they don’t really bother to decorate the streets, so for a long time I didn’t even realise the holidays were just round the corner though the interior of the orphanage began to change beyond recognition. Repaired furniture, washed windows, clean walls and finally the decoration. Kids beautifully decorated the whole space with paper chains, bows and pieces of brightly coloured fabric.
Christmas is one of the most important seasons of the year over here. The kids don’t have to work at all for a few days, they receive some new clothes, for the upcoming year and will finally get to eat something else but rice and beans. No wonder they get all excited already few weeks prior this holiday!
Tanzania, as a former British colony, uses English sockets, the cars drive on the left side and Christmas is celebrated the English way, thus starting on December 25th. On that day, kids finally get to wear the new clothes they shopped for few days ago in the city. After getting ready they set out for the first Christmas Mass. Kids choose the new clothes themselves. Therefore, top to toe dressed in fake models of Gucci or Burberry, they look more like getting ready for their latest gangster rap single music video shooting than as on their way to the church.
After a tiny rain we’ve been left with no electricity for few days and it was to remain off for the entire Christmas. Over here, no one seemed to really care though. The huge dinner for 40 people was cooked on fire while using candles for light and african drums for a great music production.
All the main celebrations break out in the early evening. Everyone dances around to the rhythm of drums forming a huge circle – the kids, nuns, care takers, volunteers… Even our 150 kg cook Albertina shaked her ass in a twerk solo in the middle of the circle.
Finally comes the dinner time! The East African society is strongly hierarchical. The most important members of the household are always served first. In the dining room, each group of importance has its own table, depending on their status. (In some African homes, individual groups even eat in separate rooms.) But today, this rule can be broken! The dinner is served equally for all, from one large table in the middle of the dining room. Children may even get server before adults.
The Christmas dinner consists of Pilaf – spiced rice, french fries, boiled banana, cabbage salad, boiled peas, chicken and pork meat and beans. In addition, everyone gets to choose one bottle of soda. Celebrations then continue until late. The following day is very similar, full of dancing and games. Kids are also given the letters and small presents from their “adoptive parents” from the Czech Republic and will proceed to form the respond with the help of volunteers. For dinner, we have the leftovers from the previous day and another bottle of soda.
Every kid received a little Christmas present from me, one of them received something a bit bigger though. Ibrahim is one of couple of twins who grew up in the orphanage. Now, he is 19 and has just finished the high school. His English is excellent as were his school grades and he’s been keeping me company most of the time ever since I’ve arrived to Mahango. Few weeks ago, I asked what did he want to do next and he told me he would like to open his own shop in front of the orphanage. However he lacks sufficient capital to start the business. When I asked how much money would it be, he pulled out a carefully elaborated budget. The resulting amount was 350,000 TZS, approximately 150 USD. I did a little market research, which really didn’t take much time as there is only one other shop in our village that sells almost nothing and the shop assistant is usually not even inside. So there is definitely some room for improvement. Several locals have also confirmed that to open a new shop in the area is a great idea. I was equally impressed by Ibrahim’s drive and the level of commitment so the next day, to his great pleasure, I announced that I would raise his total budget up to 400,000 TZS, fund the entire project and help to start the business. Though to make him understand that, as in the real world, he can’t just get free money for nothing, he has to repay this interest-free “loan” back. The money will not be paid back to me, but Michaela – the head of Bez Mamy, who will then use it to cover the management costs of the orphanage. This way, the same 150 USD will be used twice. First, to help this young guy to start his business and then as my donation supporting all the other kids.
We got into work immediately. Later that day, we went to buy some cement and bricks to finish the shop and wooden planks for the table and shelves. Next day we purchased all the product to be sold in the shop and I began to daily educate Ibrahim in business management, retail and simple investing. In addition, we made some promo flyers with the kids to be then distributed around the village. After a week of hard work, two days before Christmas, we were ready to open with the first customers immediately flowing in.
Even though the conditions are rough and I can’t already wait to have a hot shower after being here for two months, I have not feel this content for a long lime. After Christmas, my mission was supposed to be over, but there was no big saying good bye as I promised the kids I would come back after just having a little break for few weeks.
You can read about my first few weeks volunteering in Africa in my previous article. If you would like to support the kids of Bez Mamy, you can easily donate through the website www.bezmamy.cz. Thank you very much.