Christmas, a Changed Perspective

Quick link: The Christmas Story, Revisited

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Today I’m posting at A Life Overseas a revised version of the essay I first wrote here a year ago about rethinking the Christmas story. If you’ve already read the essay I encourage you to read through the comment thread as people far more knowledgable than I left wisdom and insights there.

I am tired of the Christmas story.

Clarification: I’m tired of the way I keep hearing it and seeing it and reading it. Of course I’m tired of the way consumerism has hijacked this holy day but that’s not what I mean. I mean the typical western religious take on the Christmas story. Living in the developing world, in a place where women give birth at home, in a culture much closer to the culture of Jesus’ location and time in history, has changed the way I read the Bible.

Let’s think about how the story is presented in thousands of movies, children’s pageants, poems, novels, and kid’s books every year:

Joseph is a chump…

Head over to A Life Overseas to read the rest, about how living in the developing world has changed my perspective on the traditional American nativity story I grew up with:

The Christmas Story, Revisited

*image via Pixabay

Let’s Go Flaneuring in Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Today’s Flaneuring post comes from Dubai. Cynthia Bressoud takes us from her skyscraper apartment to the oceanside. There are about four more posts on the flaneuring schedule and if you are interested in contributing, I’d love to hear from you.

 

IMG_20141006_103325The light frame around the blackout curtains begins to go from artificial to natural soft foggy light.  The dull fan like sound, the traffic, begins to rachet up the volume.  I live 30 floors up above the 12 lane highway that cuts a vertical seam through the heart of Dubai.  I peer down on this seam watching the smaller than matchbox cars whizz, zoom, and dart.  Seems an unusual percentage of white cars…  makes sense, in the desert.

The rising sun is now reflecting on the glass of the buildings across the road.  The bits of sea, visible from my window begin to color up, from steel gray to deep blue, reflecting the always blue sky…always.  A cloud is an occasion for a picture post on instagram!

My view rivals any New York City view, with some of the tallest residential towers in the world and also bits of the sea.  I always wanted a sea view.  I had pictured a Maine coast type view, but who’s complaining.

My neighborhood is a  collection of glass and steel skyscrapers set in clusters of three.  These clusters huddle around man-made lakes. The sight of water in the desert is refreshing, but, don’t look too close.

One of the lakes has been filled in and turned into a park, offering green grass and some shade trees.  On my early morning walk, it is quiet.  The grounds keepers are up, clipping bushes, watering plants, cleaning the scum from the “lakes”.  The security guy on his segway, looks bored.  A few dog walkers, runners.  It is relatively quiet, as much as can be so close to 12 lanes of whizzing traffic.  The lower two levels of each building house the retail space.  Grocery stores,  hair “saloons”, cafes, restaurants with names like Canadian 2 for 1 pizza (no 2 for 1 pizzas, it is just a name), Four Guys, and Pizza Delice, no,  that is not a typo.  From Italian, to Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Indian, Lebanese.  Hundreds of places for dining and takeout pleasure!!

A multicultural neighborhood, filled with colorful faces, colorful clothing, colorful languages.  I love that.

When the sun goes down, everyone comes out.  Runners, walkers, kids on bikes, grown-ups on bikes.  Crowds at the cafes.  Kids at the playgrounds.  More dog walkers.  The evening is cooler, no scorching sun to drive you indoors. The lights from the towers reflects on the lakes, sparkling pretty.

dubaiI used to balk at any outside activity at temperatures above 85, now, that temperature seems cooler.  They said it would happen…getting so used to hot…and I mean HOT…Temps above 110 and more humid than I have ever felt.  Like walking through soup.  Soup straight off the stove…getting used to that makes any temp below 90 seem cool.  Well, cooler…and I am not sure getting used to it is true, maybe just tolerate it better.  Not.  The weather is changing, they say the wind and dust storms are a clue.  A far cry from red leaves raining down through the crisp cold air.  Sometimes though the occasional towel from the laundry on the balcony 30 floors up floats on the wind like leaves from a tree!

 

This morning I walked to the beach.  I have never lived this close to the sea.  I cross the 12-lane seam on the metro bridge, and wind my way through more tall buildings to get to the beach.  The beach is peaceful, the aqua water laps quietly on the sand.  Scattered shells and an occasional blue jellyfish have washed up on the beach.  The bustling neighborhood is behind me.  There is calm here.  A vacation-like feeling…I live here.  Nice!  The contrast of cultures is stark, bikini wearing and Abaya clad women, enjoying the beach together.

 

My neighborhood is just a tiny facet in this jewel in the desert called Dubai.   Well not really tiny,  There are 23 buildings with more than 40 floors in the Marina across the road, and many smaller.  My neighborhood has 72 towers.  Then of course there is THE tallest building in the WORLD…the Burj Kalifa. The spire kissing the sky.  But that is another neighborhood.

 

cindy bressoudWhen the last daughter was married off, Cindy and her husband started their adventure, moving from a small town in New Hampshire, to Dubai nearly a year ago.  She loves to sew, quilt, walk and swim and cycle.  You can read more about this big city/cross-cultural life on her blog A New Spring, found at www.bumblebeeandsophie.com

Yes, We Know It Is Christmas In Africa

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This Christmas season you may have heard the song “Do They Know Its Christmas?” Originally written by Bob Geldof in 1984 to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief, the song has recently been revived to raise money to fight Ebola in west Africa.

The song came with original lines like: Tonight thank God its them instead of you and where nothing ever grows and no rain or river flows. These have been replaced to be, in Geldof and Band-Aid 30’s hopes, less offensive or ignorant. There are now lines like there is death in every tear and the Christmas bells that ring there are the clanging chimes of doom.

The song cannot escape the original condescension and racism it espoused (in my opinion, these new lyrics are not a whole lot better). It was then and is now based on ignorance, racism, and a white savior mentality. It promotes an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ idea and does nothing to promote honest understanding, true compassion, or empathy. It sets up Africa as a monolithic mysterious place where everyone is poor and helpless, unaware, and in need of saving.

What I really want to say is that: Yes, we know it is Christmas in Africa.

People in Africa know it is Christmas because there are Christians in Africa and they know and celebrate the story of Jesus’ birth.

Out of every four Christians in the world, one of them lives in Africa. 24% of the world’s Christians live in Africa, which means there are over half a billion Christians on the continent. Of the top 10 countries with the world’s largest Christian population, three of them are in Africa.

Even, wait for it, wait for it…even in Muslim Africa, people know it is Christmas.

Here in Djibouti, a country with a 94% Muslim population, there are Christmas trees for sale, Santa Claus chocolates in grocery stores, Christmas carols played over the sound system in stores, Christmas programs performed by children at school. There are vacation days from work, advertising campaigns urging people to purchase the perfect gift for loved ones. There are glittering lights on lampposts downtown and a real, life-size gingerbread house at the five-star Kempinski Hotel.

These people know it is Christmas. And though I’m not Djiboutian, for now as an expatriate into my second decade in Djibouti, I’m one of them. We know it is Christmas.

One of my best Somali friends, a devout Muslim, gives me Christmas gifts. One year it was an 8×10 framed photo of my infant daughter. Another year, another Somali friend who is also a devout Muslim, pretended to be Santa Claus and delivered new material to be sewn into covers for my local-style cushions. My kids invite Muslim friends to our house to sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what they want and their parents laugh and take photos. On Christmas Day we bring part of our feast to our Muslim neighbors.

Just like they do on their Muslim feasts. Every Eid holiday we receive plates filled with grilled goat and rice dyed green, pink, and blue. Every Eid holiday our friends wish us a happy holiday and they wish us a happy holiday again on Christmas.

This is not ISIS, Muslims killing Christians. It isn’t Band-Aid 30, rich white westerners saving a dark continent filled with nameless poor and ignorant heathen. It is real people in real relationship, respecting and honoring each other across differences.

This is Christmas in Africa. Okay, actually, it is Christmas in Djibouti. But I’ve also celebrated Christmas in Kenya and have friends who celebrate in Burundi and in Somalia and in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Congo…This is a global holiday and whether or not we believe in Jesus, we are all wishing for peace on earth, for freedom for the captive, justice for the oppressed, healing from disease.

Raising money to fight disease is an excellent thing. Diarrhea kills more people than ebola. Thousands and thousands more. I wonder who will sing a song about diarrhea? Or about worms, which keep more children out of school than almost any other issue across the developing world. And how about using local artists, engaging with local initiatives, or being accurate in the stories we tell and the songs we sing? Here are some suggestions for how we can maybe do a little bit better:

What is wrong with Band-Aid 30’s song

Africans respond to Geldof’s song

How to think about Ebola in Africa

Where is Band-Aid 30’s money going? Hard to say.

Donate instead to Doctor’s Without Borders, like Adele did.

An Anti-Love Song to Ebola by African artists

*image via pixabay

Love Notes in Elementary School

Quick link: Elementary School Love Notes

Today I’m writing at Brain Child about how to handle love notes in elementary school. Lucy seems to get an inordinate amount of love notes. At least compared to how many I got as a kid. Um…zero? Could be that French is the language of love. Could be…who knows.

In second grade a boy gave my daughter an iridescent plastic orange ring. In the last three weeks of third grade she scored three loves notes from boys and a gift of a plastic egg with two rare marbles inside. This year, fourth grade, she has already received multiple love notes including ones surreptitiously passed in the middle of class and one accompanied by the longest loom band necklace she has ever seen.

She gleefully jumps into the car for the drive home and says, “You won’t believe what happened to me today,” and then dissolves into giggles and hands me the notes or shows me the gifts.

love notes

What’s a mom to do? Encourage it? Discourage it? Laugh about it? Get protective about it? Click here to read more about the love note conundrum in elementary school: Elementary School Love Notes

*image via wikimedia

What I Don’t Miss When We Spend Christmas in Africa. And One Thing I Do.

Quick link: 8 Christmas Traditions We’re Skipping This Year

There are somethings I don’t miss about spending Christmas in Africa, away from my home culture. And there is one big thing that I do miss.

Ten of my last 12 Christmases have been spent in a small Muslim country called Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. While there are some pretty obvious downsides to spending the holiday in Djibouti (especially being so far away from family), if I’m being totally honest, there are some upsides, too.

Mainly, it’s the perfect excuse to skip some out on some of the seasonal stuff that I’ve always found a little annoying. For example, tinsel. I’m not sure who invented tinsel but I can’t think of one good thing about it. It’s just a giant mess. It gets in the way of enjoying a Christmas tree, it gets stuck on pets and in hair, and it ends up in blobs either on the tree or clogging the vacuum cleaner.

Here are some more holiday traditions that I’m okay with skipping this year:

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Click here to read about Christmas sweaters, Elf on a Shelf, Mistletoe, and more: 8 Christmas Traditions We’re Skipping This Year