Saturday, December 27, 2008

Our Kabul Christmas

The weeks leading up to Christmas were very busy for us over here in Kabul.  Not only did we have our unexpected trip to Dubai, but the entire month I felt like I was working against the clock.  With several big projects to complete by end-of-the-month payroll and the beginning of 2009, December was a month that needed overtime instead of time off.  But when Karzai passed an edict mandating a week off for Eid e Qorban (the Festival of Sacrifice, celebrating when Abraham showed the faith to sacrifice his son. . . in the Islamic world, Ishmael), I quickly fell behind.  Between Christmas get-togethers, work, and of course preparing for the holiday; I felt like December 25 quickly and quietly crept up on me.  It was very stealth.

Most Afghans have no idea what Christmas is, why we celebrate it or even what day it is on.  I was asked no less than 10 times when Christmas was, how many days it lasted, what it celebrated, who Santa was, who Jesus is. . .  My favorite questions came from our chakador, Habib, who asked me "When do you start partying for Christmas? And how do you tell when it's supposed to start?"  The Islamic world operates on a lunar calendar.  The beginning of holidays are determined by the position, phase, and a sighting of the moon.  School and work calendars always have holidays in parenthesis with people guessing the actual date as it draws closer.  Holidays usually last for several days and include visiting family and friends and eating lots of sweets and food.  Afghans are extremely surprised when they find out we only celebrate Christmas for one day, two if you count Christmas Eve.

Celebrating Christmas in a place like Kabul takes a little bit of creativity and effort.  We already have a few in place traditions (opening pajamas on Christmas Eve, eating chocolate pudding and biscuits for breakfast on Christmas Day, nutmeg logs, to name a few) and these little traditions help us feel at home wherever we are.   We were also blessed to have a whole team working together to make Christmas fun and festive, one of the benefits of sharing a home with two other families.  Between all of us, we were able to pull off a great holiday.

Some things that went into making our Christmas special:
-A 24 inch tree sent from Dynamic with color changing lights.
-Baked goods sent from North Carolina.  Candy Canes sent from Washington.
-Sending Agha Gul to get pecans and getting a jar full of pickles instead.
-Homemade eggnog and apple cider.
-Reading the Christmas Story together.
-Having a full Christmas dinner spread with green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, cornbread stuffing (if I had time to tell you how difficult it was to find cornmeal in Kabul. . .), punch made from a bottle of Sprite and all different juice boxes in the fridge mixed together, pickles (instead of pecan pie), and chicken pretending to be turkey.
-Skype! So great to see our families on Christmas.
-Making great memories with friends; playing Wii, cooking together, and watching Joey and Steve play with Legos that we got for our 4 yr old housemate.

Although we missed being with family, we'll always have great memories from our first Kabul Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Moments and memories

From J&J Slide Show Pics

I know, it's just a little picture.  But it's the only one I have on our hard drive of me and my mom.  It was taken when I was brand new.

Today marks the 10 year anniversary of my mom's passing.  Yes, it is a day that brings some tears and sorrow.  But more than that, it's a day to celebrate moments and memories of Mom's life.  Of course I am a bit partial, but I think Kathy Pandiani was an incredible lady.  She lived a life that's easy to celebrate.  She was sincere, loving, caring and joyful.  She loved to dance and laugh.  She wanted people to feel involved and important.  And she found great joy in serving others.

My mother taught me to be a woman of faith and prayer.  Throughout her sickness, she always had her eyes focused firmly on our Lord.  I remember her praying for healing but also praying for God's sovereign will to be done.  I believe she was a testimony of God's love in her life and in her death.

A lot has changed in the last ten years; graduations, a wedding, moves all over the country and world.  There is so much of my life that I wish I could share with her, although God has blessed me with many wonderful people to share these moments with.  Of course, I will always miss her.  But I am so blessed to have lived 17 years of my life with Mom.

Two memories: This may be bad parenting.  But to reward me for doing well at my piano lessons each week, Mom would buy me a vanilla latte and a chocolate chip cookie from Shakabra Java on 6th.  This started when I was in 3rd grade.

Every Christmas we would spend Christmas Eve and Day with Mom's family.  Part of the tradition was Family Follies, our annual family talent show.  Mom always planned out a little act for us to do, usually with elaborate choreography.  One of the most memorable Family Follies was when I was almost six and Mom, Melissa and I performed "The 12 Days of Christmas" with interpretive dance.  Sarah recited a poem about her Auntie Flo who gave her underwear every year.  She can probably still say it, you can test her on it.

Caroling in Kabul

Last night I attended a ladies Christmas party.  It was a great chance to spend some time with the women I work with/for and have some Christmas celebration.  Getting into the Christmas spirit is not an easy task over here.  There are no decorated trees, no lights on street lamps, no malls (let alone a decorated Nordstroms), no displays of Christmas foods in the non existent grocery stores.  In the expat community, we all work very hard to make our homes feel Christmassy.  In our house we have a tree and wall decals of Christmas scenes that arrived from Dynamic yesterday (Thank you Dynamic!).  And we feel that we have the corner market on holiday beverages with lots of apple cider, hot chocolate, and my holiday syrups for pumpkin spice lattes and peppermint mochas.  But it takes a lot of work to get in the Christmas spirit.

Last night was definitely an exception.  Our hostess had her house decorated from floor to ceiling.  We enjoyed punch and appetizers and a beautiful formal dinner of lamb.  Everyone contributed to the meal with a holiday favorite.  And all the while we enjoyed Christmas music.  We even had a gift exchange.  I think that everyone felt a little closer to home.

But the icing on the Christmas cake was when there was a knock on the door and one of the small groups from within the Community had decided to go caroling around the neighborhood to expat families.  Caroling in Kabul is something that I did not expect.  And I have to admit that while we all sang "Go Tell it on the Mountain," I got a little teary eyed.  As we sang through a couple songs, I was struck by the fact that with all the work we put into Christmas in Kabul, without all the Jingle Bells and department store Santas, we have the advantage and blessing of being able to embrace Christmas without much distraction.  Celebrating Christmas in Kabul is not easy.  We miss family and friends, traditions and even the dreaded Christmas shopping.  But we're thankful for friends that come to carol in the cold, cold Kabul night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Some Thankfulness

Well, I have been a little absent from blogging the last few weeks.  I've started a couple of posts.  But each time I sit down with the intention of blogging, I get pulled away.

The last few weeks have been too full to go into much detail at the moment.  In a nutshell, we had a few situations come up culminating in a very sudden and unexpected trip to Dubai for visa renewals and various appointments.  More on that later.

Right now, I'm full of thankfulness.  One of the posts I started about a week ago was about our Thanksgiving experience here, and I feel that the theme of giving thanks has been recurrent for us the last few weeks.

For Thanksgiving, we had a great opportunity to spend time with some great friends and eat some great food.  There were around 70 people at the event; 4 turkeys and countless fixings to keep everyone happy and fed.  It wasn't quite Thanksgiving at home, but it did the trick.  Joey's happy because he got some Pumpkin Roll which he considers an absolute staple.

As I reflect back on the 5 months we've been here, I can't help but think of how the things I am thankful for have changed.  It used to be the basics: friends, family, health, wonderful husband, place to live, general things like that.  And while I'm still thankful for family, friends and Joey (increasingly so), I find that life over here makes me appreciate a whole new set of things.  Here are some of those things:

- Skype!  I am so thankful for Skype and friends and family that use this wonderful, free invention.  Although Afghan internet is not always up to speed, on nights when it works and I get to see my niece Karis whistle or my dad talking about the Christmas tree. . . it can't be beat.

- Keeping with the technology theme; Facebook, emailing friends and regular blog posters, readers and commenters are things that help keep me in the loop.  It's so nice to wake up in the morning to wall posts and email messages from back home.  (So keep wall posting, blogging, emailing. . . and if you aren't doing these things, start!)

- Hot water.  We live a luxurious life here with a generator that works most of the time, hot water from the showers after 3 minutes of warm-up, and space heaters that we can leave on during the night.

- Our APO.  Mail in Afghanistan is unreliable and verging on non-existent.  Any semi-reliable shipping methods cost an arm and a leg and have no guarantee that what your sending/receiving will make it to the final destination.  We are so blessed to have an APO even though we're non-military.  It usually takes letters/packages about 6 days to get here from the states.  It's great for receiving little pieces of home.  (If you want the address, email me!)

- I'm thankful that there are daily flights to Dubai.  Generally speaking, I'm not so much a fan of Dubai.  It's a big city with construction everywhere, traffic everywhere, malls everywhere, sand everywhere.  But for visa emergencies, healthcare, and getting our fix of little things like Starbucks or Mexican food . . . it's really a nice place to go for a day or two.  While in Dubai we enjoy little luxuries like eating out, holding hands, bath tubs, being able to walk places (did I mention we're on walking restriction here?), comfortable hotel beds and pillows, grocery shopping, and STARBUCKS!  After our quick little three day visa trip we feel revived and refreshed.

- Neither of us have gotten too terribly ill.  And this despite the fact that we recently found out our "cook" has not been iodining our vegetables.  This may be too much information, but we're thankful to be worm and hepatitis A free!

- And finally: Our prayer partners.  Over the last few weeks the importance and power of prayer has really been stressed in our lives.  We've also realized that we have an incredible network of friends and family all over the world that are partnering with us in prayer.  From here in Kabul all the way back to the US, we're so thankful for praying people.  Your prayers for us are such a blessing, we thank God for you daily.  Thank you!