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When you live overseas, especially overseas as in Africa, celebrating major holidays can be a little unusual. That is, we do all the same things, but they might look a little different.
I was thinking about this as we went to buy the meat for Christmas dinner. It was Christmas Eve, a hot sunny afternoon. We stopped by Fawaz to see if they had petit pois
surgelés, but they didn’t. Nobody this year had frozen peas, or broccoli, or any of the veggies I wanted that can sometimes be found here at Christmas-time. That’s ok—we had glazed carrots and fresh green beans instead, and it was good.

Afterwards Donn swings over to the meat market. We turn into a narrow, winding alley, choked with trash, live goats and sheep wandering round, lined with wooden tables piled high with slabs of meat. Flies buzz determinedly. From hooks above the tables hang sheep legs with the tail attached. (Note: this is nothing. Someday I’ll tell you about the camel market, where you can buy legs with the hoof attached) The dusty air is filled with the stench of blood.

Donn steps out and is instantly swarmed by young men brandishing hunks of sheep. They push it into his face, all talking at once about how theirs is the best, the freshest, the meatiest, the tenderest. I sit in the car, windows rolled up against the smell and the flies, and wish I had a camera with me.

He buys lots of meat. We have invited two Mauritanian men to eat dinner with us, and Mauritanians love meat and eat lots of it. This will be a new experience for them, as I will roast it with a crusty herb topping and serve it on china with gravy and mint sauce and roast potatoes, instead of boiling it without salt and serving it on a large platter. I am also passing on the intestines and organs too; even after 5 years in the desert, I just can’t stomach them, and we are inviting them to experience a Western-style Christmas.

We are still Christmas shopping. We stop by one last store, trying to find something to give Elliot. They have a French version of Pictionary for $80. We can’t do it—we decide to let him order something online. He might get it in April. But he’s got plenty of other things to open on Christmas morning. This year we got TWO parcels of gifts from friends!!

Christmas morning we spend as a family. We have baked French toast and bacon and Starbucks coffee that came in one of the parcels. We open presents, read the story. Another American family joins us for dinner, plus the 2 Mauritanian men. One brings another American friend whom we don’t know. The poor man feels very awkward, crashing a Christmas dinner, and follows me into the kitchen to apologize. But we don’t mind–after all, it is very Mauritanian to bring along extra people unannounced. We just get out another plate and there’s plenty of food.

Afterwards I make coffee and one of the men makes Mauritanian tea, very strong and minty, 3 rounds drunk in little glasses. We have pumpkin pie and fudge and mince pies and chocolate covered ginger, which I made myself this year. Some guests linger; I make more coffee, we talk with friends while carols play in the background. Some things are the same around the world.

Edited to Add: Donn wanted to make sure we were getting sheep meat instead of goat. Everytime he said, “Kebsh?” the vendors would thrust the sheep tail into his face! That’s the point of leaving the tail–to show what kind of meat it is.

I also forgot to mention that we opened presents to the thumps and bumps of construction work which is going on next door, where our neighbours are adding a couple of rooms to their house. No one around us was celebrating, but that was ok–we were.

December 2006

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