I am busy getting ready for Christmas at the moment although we still haven’t put up a tree. We had a small growing casuarina tree in a pot that lasted a year or two and smelled nice (looked a little wispy) but sadly it died. Most people make do with ‘plastic fantastic’ as you can’t get proper Christmas trees here, but to get one that looks any good is tricky.
What I mean by ‘getting ready for christmas’ at the moment is sorting out things to give away to our staff by way of presents. Everyone gets a ‘thirteenth month’ salary, but I’ve struggled over the years to find appropriate presents. One year everyone got a chicken, but that was when we lived at the coast in Tanzania. I agonised about giving everyone food poisoning by handing out raw chickens (I don’t have a good track record – see previous post on ‘multiple poisoning’), so decided to deep freeze them all first. Then I worried that they might be cooked when not properly defrosted. Even worse! What I should have done was given out live chickens and everyone would have known exactly what to do.
Another year I bought new shoes for everyone, but a couple of crestfallen faces of those who didn’t approve of my ‘daggy’ choice, was enough to put me off that plan forever. I was once extremely proud of the second hand raincoats (one Burberry!) and Timberland boots I found for our staff, but the ladies were non plussed with the raincoats and I never ever saw the Timberlands worn by the gardeners (even though I’d obviously found out their exact shoe sizes).
It’s tradition in East Africa to give staff parcels of flour, sugar, tea, jam, margarine, salt, boiled sweets but I’ve resisted doing that as we buy everyone soap, tea, sugar etc every month and also it seems so damn boring, so I give supermarket gift vouchers instead and hope that it might be enough for a useful kettle or something pretty.
One year I decided to clear out the entire family’s wardrobe and hand over old clothes, shoes, bags and toys and struck gold. Everyone was thrilled – so now I do this every year. Generally I hand over items of my clothing that I immediately miss and wish I’d never thrown out. Or I spy Florence wearing a skirt or shirt of mine and think; ‘oh, yes, that was quite nice, it looks nicer on her than it did on me!’
So now, along with planning Christmas presents for everyone, writing cards, wrapping and hanging decorations, there’s this huge, manic clear out taking place with dusty cupboards being rummaged through and what should, strictly speaking, be termed as ‘spring cleaning’ is carried out in the last days before December 25th. It’s always worth doing though, as nothing goes to waste and the hoots of laughter that come from the staff quarters as our old belongings are fairly divvied up is priceless and a key part of Christmas for me now.