(Seems like Christmas was forever ago, but I’m still getting caught up here!)
For Christmas we knew we’d have two boys: brothers, ages eleven and twelve. The boys, Shawn and Ronaldo, arrived at our house on Christmas Eve with overnight bags and a bag of wrapped presents donated to them by various companies in GT.
Christmas Eve was a little weird; the boys hadn’t opened up yet and were still trying to be really polite to us, and we were also feeling them out for size. We had our “fancy” dinner where we forced the boys to try carrots (didn’t go over well) and then got ready for Christmas Eve Mass. You know how you’ve got to get to the church forty-five minutes early to make sure you get a seat for Christmas Eve!? Not here. We arrived forty minutes early to an empty, empty church. So we hung out for a while on the steps outside until a (small) crowd arrived. Mass was terribly boring, partly due to the Guyanese accent echoing throughout the church and us not being able to decipher a single word. It was also late. While we dozed off, the boys sat patiently and attentively. They showed us up! When we got home we had a sparkling cider toast and headed to bed while the boys got comfortable on the mattresses we put on the floor in front of the TV. Before I headed upstairs, I saw that they were both laying on their stomachs with their heads in their hands, staring at the TV; pretty cute sight to see.
Christmas morning we woke up to “good morning miss!” coming from the floor as we descended the steps. We had pastries (thanks, Mom!) for breakfast and then let the boys open presents. They each got a remote control car and a book, though the cars got all the attention. We sat and played with the cars with them for a while, letting them entertain themselves and us. Later we headed to the convent to have Christmas lunch with the Sisters, and the boys headed to another family’s home while we were gone. It was a Christmas Day unlike any other that I’ve had, but quite a good one. The boys had a great day and showed me some serious joy, the Sisters were drenching me in hospitality, and my community-mates were fun and festive, even though we all wished we had been with our “home” families. We were all missing something that day, but we filled in for each other what we could.
December 26th is Boxing Day, another public holiday here. We took the boys to the Zoo and Botanical Gardens for the day, and it was like their shells just broke off all at once. They joked around, tested us; Shawn pretended he was going to jump into the caiman habitat about twenty times. We joked that we were an extremely modern family, and it was more accurate that we thought. Each time the boys did anything cute, we would look at each other and “awwwww”; any time we thought they needed help we would run obnoxiously fast to their side; we bought them sodas even though they totally didn’t need them. We wanted to be the “cool” volunteers!
Later that day, we were exhausted (and sunburnt) and ended the day with some movies. The boys loved the action-y ones, but also the Step Up movies. Ronaldo assigned us each a character in the dance scenes, and Shawn practiced the moves; they watched the dance scenes over and over and over, so he actually knew quite a few of them. In the evening, a friend brought over pepper pot and black cake, the traditional Guyanese Christmas foods. The black cake was reasonable—fruit cake soaked in rum, like, really soaked in rum. The pepper pot is an Amerindian dish that includes parts of a cow (…the face…) and bile (when refrigerated, its kind of just a block of fat with some chunks of cow in it) with spices and whatnot. When we heated up the pepper pot to eat the smell was enough to steer us all away from it. We tried to be open, but…no.
The next few days we spent hanging around with the boys, watching more movies and making more meals with them. The entire time they were with us they were well behaved, polite, reasonable towards each other, cooperative and engaged in our own community. We joked that they could just move in for good (seriously, I wanted them to).
A friend invited us to go on an excursion on Sunday to Fort Island, an island in a river that used to be a Dutch Fort. While we thought the boys were going home Saturday night, we decided to keep them another night to take them on the trip with us. Sunday began with an hour long bus ride to Parika, and from there a twenty-minute speed boat ride to the island. This “speed boat” was a ricket-y, wooden boat with a motor on it that was supposed to keep us afloat on this HUGE river; I was a liiiiiiitle nervous. We all climbed in, I put my life jacket on nice and tight and made sure the boys were equally as safe and we took off. It was scary, but I managed. Ronaldo got a kick out of seeing me terrified, and kept turning around to laugh at me. At one point during the ride, it started to rain and the driver just yelled to us to “PUT THE TARP ON!”. Literally, we covered our heads with huge tarps to stay dry. When we got to the island, Ronaldo hopped out and said “MISS, THAT BOAT RIDE WAS EPIC!”. Yeah, I “awwww-ed” for a while after that one.
The island was incredible—its only “citizens” are those who cater to the small amount of “tourism” offered there. So a few families who sell artifacts they’ve found, or who have water or snack stands. There is a “museum” of artifacts, as well as the actual Fort structure. We spent a few hours just walking around the island, taking pictures and enjoying the boys. They had a great time, and we were happy to have gotten to spend extra time with them while also letting them see something outside of their orphanage or Georgetown.
The boys went home that night and immediately the house felt empty. They became a part of our little crew and then left us! How dare they. Of course I’m going to say that having them for Christmas reminded me about what Christmas is actually about. Well, it did. I spent quite a few days moping around complaining about not being able to be home for Christmas and blah blah blah; then I got to be a part of two boys’ Christmas that just, is. There isn’t an alternative for them. They weren’t missing out on a “regular” Christmas, this was it. And while I was being all dramatic about missing my brothers and parents, these boys were supporting each other because they’re all they have. No parents, no other siblings. They only have each other.
All in all, it was a reasonable smack in the face to remind me that while I’m not where I usually am, there is nothing different about “Christmas” as long as you’re spending time with people who you love and who love you, and enjoying the time together.