Christmas in Zimbabwe

When it's over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. 
-Mary Oliver

After many years of celebrating Christmas together in as a family post-divorce with my ex-husband and our four children, this year I made the decision to go to Africa for the holiday. It was a last minute decision after much soul-searching.

I really wanted to be with my four children on Christmas this year.  My children are ages 17-22 so time is limited with them as they create their own lives outside of family. I especially needed to be with family after losing my stepfather on November 30, 2012. 

Mom and my soul father John
My own father died twenty-four years ago when I was twenty-five. My stepfather, John, came into my mother's life seventeen years later.  I called him my soul father because calling him a stepfather just didn't seem good enough for a man like John. My mom and John met and married when they were in their seventies. It was wonderful to watch their love story during the eight years they were together.

I treasured long conversations with John and hundreds of email correspondence from him. I was able to ask him the questions I never got to ask my own father.  My soul father responded with long soulfully written emails on every question I asked him from What you are most proud of? to What was your favorite time of life?

The morning of November 30th, I received a message that John was in the hospital in distress. His health had been declining so it wasn't a complete surprise. Within two hours I joined my mom in the hospital and we moved him to hospice. Previous trips to the hospital over the past year focused on getting John well.  This time we were told he was dying.

On the afternoon of November 30th, I rode with John in the back of the transport to move him from the hospital to hospice.  I am very grateful to the driver sent to organize the transport.  He gingerly raised John's stretcher into the van and then offered me his hand to help me into the seat next to John. Once John and I were buckled in, the driver put on classical music and he drove so carefully, it felt like we floated the five miles to hospice.

Later that evening, my mom snuggled next to John in the hospice bed. With her arms wrapped around his body, I could feel his energy melt into hers.  His breathing slowed and softened. In the arms of his beloved, it was safe to die.  I held his hand and whispered thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you. Those were the last words he heard.

John always gave me great advice.  He probably would have told me to go to Africa for Christmas.  He was aware of the angst in my family around my ex-husband having a baby with our former nanny.  The baby news was a surprise to our four children and myself and an even bigger surprise to the woman who had another child by my ex-hubbie, a little girl whom we all love and adore.  That child had been in the care of our former nanny until the nanny quit the job and began dating her former employer, my ex-husband.  Their baby is due in January 2013.  I send their baby blessings.

My kids in Vail 2012
Just days before I was to meet my four grown children and my ex-hubbie in Vail for Christmas this year,  I woke up very clear that I was NOT going to go. I decided the kids needed to be alone with their dad before another unexpected sibling was born. I decided I had twenty years of great holidays with my family pre and post divorce. I blessed those memories and then released them and booked a ticket to Zimbabwe to be with the House of Loveness (HOL) children for the holiday.  HOL is an organization I founded four years ago to assist with the care and education of orphaned and abandoned babies and children in Zimbabwe.

I arrived in Zimbabwe December 22nd with 200 pounds of supplies and Christmas presents for the children.  I noticed the days before Christmas in Zimbabwe felt like any other day of the year. It was a huge contrast to the flurry of activities, shopping and parties in America.  Just twenty hours earlier, my layover in the Detroit airport was filled with Christmas specials in the shops and holiday karaoke in the terminal.

In Zimbabwe, there were no decorated trees in the homes or lights hanging outside.  No one was stressed about last minute holiday shopping or standing in line at the Apple store to claim mini iPads for gifts before they sold out.  I did see a Santa display outside a grocery store I was shopping at in Zimbabwe.  When I finished my shopping and walked outside, a small girl came up and asked for money. She was hungry.  It didn't feel like Christmas in Zimbabwe.

Within a few hours of that little girl asking for money,  I sat in my friend Ali's car crying.  "I am not tough like the Africans girls," I cried.  "I want to go home".  

I was crying for all the children who were hungry and needed help.  I was crying because there was no running water, fresh water or food at the place I was staying my first two nights in Zimbabwe.  I was crying because we had to keep borrowing cars because we don't have funds for a permanent car for House of Loveness.  I was crying for my own family and not being together at Christmas.  I was crying about losing my soul father after we spent the past year hoping he would get better.

"Let your tears water your garden of gratitude," a friend once told me. And after the tears were released, that's just what I did. 

Primrose and her new shoes
On Christmas Day, the House of Loveness children woke up to a gift from Father Christmas and more gifts from donors across the US, Canada and England who donated to the House of Loveness Holiday Wish List campaign.  Most of the children in the country woke up to nothing.  
When I gave the children their gifts, they looked at the boxes, thanked me and set them aside.  They didn't know to unwrap them.  They had never received a gift wrapped in holiday paper before.  When they finally got the gifts open, it felt more like Christmas at my own home when my children were younger.  I was assembling Legos with Brighton, painting with Primrose, making beaded necklaces with Tariro and helping Kuda open his safari kit.  All at the same time.

Betsy, GoGo and Granny
While there were no physical gifts for me to open on Christmas, the presents were wrapped up in richer moments of time spent with good friends and children in Zimbabwe who have adopted me into their lives and treat me like family.  As I was sitting outside on a straw mat at a rural farm with local African women rain sprinkled down on us.  "The rain is blessing us," one of the women said.  That felt about right.

My mentor in Zimbabwe, Ann, and her husband Roger

The gifts and blessings continued to arrive in all forms.  The full moon beaming from a stunning African sky.  Being treated to lunch with dear friends, one who has Alzheimer's and I'm grateful he still remembers me.  The opportunity to see a Shona wedding on December 25.  My friend Ali's mother who is being treated for breast cancer still offering to take five of the HOL children for the holidays if needed.  A legendary spirit healer welcoming me into her home and feeding me sadza and greens.

Another gift was my mentor in Zimbabwe, Ann Hamilton-King, offering me the use of a car for my last five days to make it easier for me to get to the children.  The car battery died just as I was leaving for the airport to head back to the States.  My last memory of Ann before I left is her pushing the car with two other people to get a jump start.  Did I mention Ann is in her seventies?

I had gone to Africa to help children and was filled with wonder and amazement as people there offered to help me.  I felt connected to the pulse of humanity.  It felt much like being in the hospice room with my mom and soul father.  I felt Zimbabwe wrap its arms around me.  Thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you.

       There are eight days left in our Dream A Bigger Dream campaign for the children in Zimbabwe.  Thank you for your support.

Tariro and Primrose, Christmas 2012


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