Having spent the last 7 years away from home at Christmas, one would think I would be used to it by now. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it and I don’t think it will ever feel ‘right’.
Although I don’t come from the most family orientated bunch, and some of our Christmases haven’t been very unorthodox over the years. Like the time my mum, brother and I went to the local pub for a “couple” on Christmas morning and they ended up rather lathered (I was the designated driver – the perils of having just got my licence). The liquid lunch hit my mother and brother hard and they ended up in bed for the rest of the day. I ate Christmas snacks alone on the couch and the family lunch was postponed until Boxing Day.
That said, Christmas for me, is about family. As disjointed as we may be. It’s about terrible British weather (let’s face it, how many white Christmases have we really seen?), brussel sprouts and squeezing that final mouthful of Christmas pudding in, despite feeling hideously full.
In South Africa, things are a little different to what I’m used to. Firstly, December is summer here so Christmas day temperatures have been known to exceed 40 degrees. Due to the temperatures, many families opt for a “braai” (South African BBQ) instead of the traditional roast dinner. That Christmas dinner must-have, pigs in blankets, are almost impossible to find. If South Africans do opt for a full roast as their Christmas luncheon, they eat it with rice. Rice? Roast dinner with rice? No. Sorry, but no. And they better not argue with me about it, arguing with a “pom” about what constitutes a good roast is a battle they will not win.
The next kicker is being away from friends and family. But maybe that’s more about growing up rather than living on the other side of the world?
All of this said, I know friends in the ecological field that have spent Christmases in tents in the middle of nowhere, with no opportunity to make contact with loved ones. Conducting field work in remote places can be tough, especially over festive periods. For many reasons then, I guess I am grateful that my field work days are behind me and I still get to live in the African bush, but in a slightly more civilised manner, with walls and electricity and everything!
So I guess I actually have a lot to be thankful for. Although the nearest town is 20 miles away, I can at least get to shops and buy the makings of a ‘close enough’ roast dinner. I will be with my new family; my fiancé, dogs and possibly an orphaned animal we may have in our care. There will of course be compromises; rice will appear on the plate (begrudgingly), trifle for dessert instead of traditional Christmas pudding, we’ll replace the mulled wine with a nice, cold Pimms (it’s got fruit in it, close enough) and the air-con will be on full blast!
But on the same hand, what would I do if Gus Mills called me now and asked me join him researching hyenas in the middle of the Kalahari with no access to communications over the festive period? You can stick your brussel sprouts, I’m off! Don’t feel sorry for us, this is the life we chose.