Monday, December 28, 2015

Christmas in the Mara

Jambo, fisi-lovers! This is my first non-introductory blog post as an RA (research assistant) out here in Serena Camp, so I will try my best to do it justice! I'd like to talk about Christmas in the Mara, since I have been getting a lot of questions about that lately, and thought you all might be interested to know how we celebrate Christmas in Kenya. The previous post talked about a Kenyan man's thoughts on Christmas, and I would like to add my thoughts as an American in Kenya, too.

December is my absolute favorite month of the year, and always has been. Back in Colorado, where I am from, December means the onset (or continuation) of cold weather and Christmas music on the radio and decorated houses lighting up the night. I have so many great memories of the holiday season, and I always spend it the same way – with my family, at home and at church. Until this year.

As you might imagine, Kenya is quite different from Colorado. The weather isn't cold – in fact, it has been hotter this week than any I have experienced here so far. The closest thing we get to snow is early-morning fog. Our Christmas tree is not a spruce tree (or a garish plastic imitation of one) – it's a dead leafy tree that got in the way of an elephant strolling through our camp one night.

You'd think I'd be upset by something like this, or maybe jolted out of my usual high holiday spirits, but this very different December has been one of the best of my life. How could it not be, when I am in this beautiful place? Kenya is undergoing what I would call a close approximation of "springtime" – grasses growing tall, flowers showing their petals, bees and other assorted insects buzzing everywhere, and cool dewy mornings turning into hot dry afternoons. It has been amazing to watch the ever-changing Mara in its December glory.

The RAs here have a habit of personifying the Mara as some sort of omnipresent deity. One of our favorite things to say is "the Mara provides." On Christmas morning, all I could think about was what the Mara was giving me for Christmas. For example, I made it from my tent to the lab tent without running into a single spiderweb (a feat I could scarcely have imagined the day before). I drove the car for morning obs and didn't stall once (my first time ever doing that!). It didn't rain at all for 3 days before Christmas, the longest stretch we had gotten since I arrived in the Mara, allowing Jared and Kevin, both from Talek camp, to make it safely to us for the holiday. It all felt so joyful and right and needed, and I am grateful.

In the days before Christmas, the other Serena RAs and I entertained ourselves by coming up with our own version of "The 12 Days of Christmas", which included such phrases as "twelve tommies stotting", "ten topis prancing", "five golden lions", and other Mara-themed gems. We returned to camp at night to excitedly put on Christmas glasses that made our headlamps look like Santa Claus or reindeer or bells. We successfully decorated our "Christmas tree" with shuka (the Maasai people's wearable blankets) scraps and the single Santa hat we had in storage. We listened to Christmas music and watched Rudolph and had an amazing time mixing our Kenya lives with our America lives.

Christmas Eve, we watched the sun set and the moon rise and marveled at the world we live in. The next day, we wished the hyenas happy Christmas as we drove up to the den, then went back to camp and ate and made merry – laughing and opening gifts of precious chocolate, playing games that reminded us of home. 

We were all a little homesick, I think, but the Mara has her own way of healing this; I hear it in the sound of hyena whoops, lion roars, and birdsong, and I feel it in the soft December air.

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