Christmas in Zambia

by Marian Rickey from Ottawa, ON

My story is one of contrasts; the contrast between Christmas of 1969 and the Christmas of 1970. 

My late husband and I spent December 25th 1969 in our government assigned, sparsely furnished bungalow in Zambia. We were there working in Zambia at a boarding school located in the heart of Tonga country. 

To reach the nearest source of supplies from our town you had to make a bone-jarring journey sixty miles up the dirt road. There, you would find the tiny post office, the general store and Nick the Greek. Nick the owned everything else in tow; the bar, the grocery store and the only garage and gas station for miles around. Twice a week, weather permitting the headmaster would take the school truck up the valley to get the mail and supplies for his students and staff. We would send up an envelope with some money and our grocery list. Nick’s wife would fill the list to the best of her ability. But often things wouldn’t arrive, they just weren’t available. Other times she’d send what she figured would be a suitable replacement. I think the woman had been blessed with a vivid imagination as some of her substitutions were quite creative. It was okay; I managed. And I was fast becoming creative myself. 

I don’t remember what I cooked for dinner that December 25th. No doubt I coaxed something out of the cantankerous wood stove. I do remember the weather was hot, steamy and it rained nearly all day long. We read most of the day, but occasionally I would look around and feel just a little sorry for myself. We had no tree, no gifts, no decorations and no loved ones. I was lonely. 

By Christmas 1970 more teachers had been assigned to our school and we decided to have a bash at our place. We still didn’t have a tree or gifts or decorations. But we did have a borrowed table and chairs along with a bright assortment of dishes and cutlery. Instead of Christmas crackers we had beautifully hand painted paper figures, one beside each plate, every one different. Instead of a turkey feast we had a pot luck supper. Thanks to the co-operation of the cantankerous beast in the kitchen, my own contribution of stuffed roasted chickens and an apple pie turned out fine. They were delivered to the table with a sigh of relief. We didn’t have our loved ones but that day in the jungle we came together as a family to celebrate and share the spirit of the season. We had a wonderful time. 

Oh, I did have a gift for my husband that year. It was just a little one though…5 pounds and 12 ounces of little…she had thrust her way into our world just fifteen days earlier. She made that wonderful day perfect.