Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blood and Chocolate

From Roxanne's archives- written Christmas 2008

"Blood and chocolate don't mix very well."

Anyone care to guess the context in which this sentence was spoken to me by my eleven year old daughter on Christmas Eve?

I certainly had no idea when I heard her voice behind me in the kitchen. As I turned toward her, my mind spun off briefly wondering if she had been reading a forbidden vampire book.

Then she opened her mouth for me and showed me that in spite of just losing a molar unexpectedly, she was still trying to enjoy her Christmas candy. (Okay, all you non- parents reading this can go throw up and come back to our world when you are done. Feel better? Good.) She wasn't upset at all, or asking me to fix anything, just stating something she was experiencing.

I did notice however, that she kept eating the chocolate. We went on with our day, but her statement stuck with me, as did her behavior.

Blood generally signals some kind of pain or injury. Chocolate on the other hand, is the elixir of life, and works great as a metaphor for all that is good. (If you don't understand this I'm sorry for you.) Most of us generally do not enjoy mixing pain with our good times, nor do we plan on it. Yet life happens. Have you ever experienced a perfect holiday? One in which nothing went wrong? No one was sick, or late, or upset with anyone else, all the food turned out great and was ready on time and everyone got what they wanted for Christmas, and no one got stuck in bad weather? Or walked out on you? Or died?

Didn't think so. Me either. This year our gingerbread house wouldn't stay up, and (much worse) I yelled at my son on the way to the Christmas Eve service last night over something that doesn't matter now.

You could say, we got a little blood in the chocolate. It didn't taste very good at the moment. But we kept eating the chocolate, and things got better pretty quickly.

See, once you have had a life threatening hemorrhage issue, like a death or divorce or a battle with cancer, it can help you to put the smaller crises in perspective. There have been holidays in this family in the not too distant past that there was so much blood you couldn't find the chocolate.

But, I'm happy to report that this year was pretty sweet, apart from the aforementioned uncooperative gingerbread house and mom freaking out episode.

Because these days as long as no one is bleeding to death, I'm not going to let a little blood stop me from enjoying my chocolate.

I suggest you do the same. Merry Christmas.

(BTW, slightly off topic, Cassandra got a microscope for Christmas, and her favorite slide was-you guessed it- the blood.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas and the Dakar Hotel Affect

Merry Christmas! Flat screen TVs on sale now! Jesus is born! Buy your season passes for Six Flags! Oh Little Town of Bethlehem…bring your family to Great Wolf Lodge for the holidays…Away in a Manger…give the gift of massage...O Holy Night…two for one laser hair removal in time for the New Year!

All I want is some Christmas music, so I have tuned in to my local Christian radio station. But in between songs and radio announcers’ smooth voices telling me that Jesus is the Reason for the Season, I am bombarded with ads that give me an entirely different message.

I don’t watch TV, I avoid the malls, and yet, I still cannot escape.
My whole American culture sets me up. I really want to live a simple life. But it is hard here where everyone has so many gadgets and comforts.

Much as I hate to admit it, my surroundings tend to set my expectations.

The power of surroundings was brought home to me on the way home from Senegal earlier this year. During my three weeks of midwifery internship in the village of Kafountine, I slept on a mattress on the floor that I shared with another midwife. I used an outhouse, and flushed it with water I drew myself from the well. I took cold bucket showers with the well water too, in the outdoor shower stall made from reeds. I washed my clothes by hand.

And you know? I was perfectly fine, didn’t feel deprived at all. When I went to the simple grocery store on the corner the biggest luxury items there to tempt me were coke (the kind you drink) and chocolate. When I walked down the street, I didn’t see one person on their iphone. Most people didn’t even have a cell phone. Or a car. No one I met had personal computers- everyone went to the internet shop and paid a dollar or two to send email. Lots of people didn’t even have electricity.

So I lived like everyone around me, contentedly for the most part.

Then on the way home, our second flight was delayed. We were stuck for an extra day in the capital city of Dakar. After hours of waiting around in the airport, sometime after midnight we were finally bussed to a hotel where our airline agreed to put us up for the night.

And not just any hotel. A five star luxury hotel, smack dab in West Africa, with six stories, automatic glass doors, crystal chandeliers and a big fancy vestibule.

And lines and lines of weary travelers, waiting for a room. (Ours was the third flight in a row from Dakar to New York to get canceled, so you can imagine.)

For some reason, our group of five exhausted midwives was one of the last to get assigned to rooms. The people at the desk asked us how many we needed. It seemed logical to us, based on our knowledge of American hotel rooms. We told them we would split up, two in one room, and three in another. The people behind the desk looked confused. We kept saying as long as there were two beds in each room we would be fine, and they finally gave us what we (thought we) asked for.

When the three of us in my sub-group opened the door after 1:30 AM ready to collapse, we groaned. Apparently a “double bed” is a different concept in Africa, even in a five star hotel. Turns out it was two narrow single bed mattress on a flat wooden king sized bed frame. There was a good deal of wood visible between the mattress and it would definitely only sleep two adults. I actually thought about just sleeping on the floor, but then I remembered where I was, and got huffy instead. I let the other two gals into the room, marched along the hall, down the elevator and back to the fancy front desk in the now deserted foyer.

I then began a dialog with several personnel that eventually led all the way up the manager, trying to work out this problem. It seemed rather simple to my American mind. This is a hotel, it is the middle of the night, I’m exhausted, give me a key to another room, and no one gets hurt. But it presented a huge dilemma to the staff. Something about me getting a whole room to myself after they had only allotted two to our group, and the paperwork that involved. Or maybe it was something else cultural that I missed. I was pretty loopy by that time.

As the debate went on, I looked around the deserted lobby and started to get really hacked off. All of the hundreds of people who had been here earlier were stowed away sleeping in nice clean beds and I alone was still standing in the hall. I looked up at all the room doors visible from the round atrium. Probably dozens of them were empty at this very moment.

My expectation had gone up considerably in the two days since I had left Kafountine where I happily slept on half a mattress on a concrete floor in a grass hut. Now that I was standing in an environment designed for the affluent, I felt entitled to their standard of living and treatment.

And demanding it. Yes, I’m sorry to admit it, but I turned into one of THOSE Americans. I didn’t make any friends or build any cultural bridges that night, but I did get a key.

It was close to 3:00 AM when I finally opened my very own door. Ironically, I discovered a king sized bed. Had that one big bed been in the original room undoubtedly all three of us would have collapsed on it instantly.

Processing this experience later showed me a lot about myself. When no one around me has anything, I don’t expect much either. But when everyone around me has lots of privileges and stuff…well, if I’m not careful it can trigger what I now call the Dakar Hotel affect.

Christmas in an American city threatens to flip that switch almost constantly. Commercials on TV and the radio. Newspaper ads. Internet ads. The end caps at all the stores, stocked with seasonal delights. Even the music in the grocery store. My environment is designed for the affluent and tells me I’m entitled to all it has to offer.

And this in the name of Jesus’ birthday. My Jesus, who deliberately choose to be born into the least affluent environment in the world He came to save. He came from a five star place where He was treated like the King he was, to something less privileged than I will ever know, and never demanded anything. While on earth, He walked among the rich and the poor but He didn’t let anything in His surroundings change who He was, or influence His behavior, or His expectations.

And He never acted like He was entitled. In fact, He laid down everything He was rightfully entitled to, and died for me.

He is my Hero.

Merry Christmas, Jesus. Make me more like you.