The holiday season away from home, especially in a Muslim country, is inherently different than the cozy Canadian Christmas Dani and I love so much. The warm kaleidoscope of Christmas lights adorning frosted houses is absent; Dhaka sports only cold, whitewashed concrete. Misty exhalations into icy air are replaced with coughing fits from breathing too much polluted street dust. Colorful wrapping paper choices are limited. Few kids are enthralled with Santa. I even, to my own great surprise, miss the incessant blare of cheap Christmas tunes as I meander through the mall frantically searching for Dani’s gifts. For a variety of reasons such as the tropical climate, grinding poverty and Muslim religious practices, Bangladesh doesn’t seem to offer much by way of Christmas cheer. It seems hard again, for the second year in a row, to fully register that this is actually Christmas.
Dani and I both have fathers who missed Christmas regularly traveling internationally for work. I don’t believe either of us truly realized the loneliness of being away from family at Christmas until last year…and Dani and I had each other! The lyrics “I’ll be home for Christmas if only in my heart” certainly evokes a larger lump in my throat than it ever did before I moved abroad! Kudos to our fathers who sacrificed many Christmas seasons so we could afford turkey, cookies and presents under the tree. We love you!
In spite of our ruminations on how lonely we feel in the Christmas season and how much we miss such and such a food or such and such a person, we have managed to find ways of bringing the holidays to life here in Bangladesh. We bought a fake tree and decorated it with local ornaments, brought two large candles from Canada so our living room currently smells like candy canes and most importantly, Dani has been making Christmas cookies. I am extremely happy! And perhaps a glutton…but hey, Christmas cookies come only once a year!
I also bought Christmas coasters from Folk International that I am oddly excited about. Yes, you heard me. I’m pumped about Christmas coasters. Not that I’ll ever use them but they are hand-painted and made of pure Awesome with a capital A.
In the spirit of the season, I modified a version of Bangladesh 12 Days of Christmas below. Sing it out loud, you’ll have great fun!
On the ______ day of Christmas Bangladesh gave to me…
A Case of Dysentery
Two Plates of Phuckha
Three Roaches Running
Four Students Tardy
Six Cans of Hunter
Seven Power Blackouts
Eight Rickshaws Racing
Nine Mosquitos Biting
Ten Beggars Begging
Eleven Men a Staring
Twelve Cars a Honking
The holiday season is different here in South Asia but we’ve managed to make it our own. There are traditions and family members from Canada that we miss intensely but there are exciting unfamiliar traditions to begin, exotic locales to explore and new people to love here in South Asia as well. The trick is to remember this fact when we feel the ache of homesickness in the pit of our stomachs.
Last year we went to Sri Lanka for Christmas and we’re traveling again over the holidays this year. Today we’re headed off to Thailand with a group of great friends. We’ll eat food, play games, listen to Christmas music, sit by the pool and relax. I am completely psyched! I’m going to read Dickens’ Christmas Carol for the first time ever (I should have read it eons ago), devour some Bonhoeffer and C.S. Lewis and I’m hoping to finish Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. That amount of reading may be ambitious but I’m certainly not going to be reading any work emails! Woot! Woot!
Well, that’s all for the moment. In the iconic words of Mr. Santa Claus, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night! Or, as Bengalis say here in Bangladesh, Shubo Boro Din!