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Christmas Plenty by Paul Hurteau

On Christmas Eve in 1989, I was the closest I've ever been to penniless. I was teaching in Kenya at the time and my school had failed to pay me for three months running. Earlier in the day, I had spent my last silver coins on one and a half cups of UHT (ultra-heat-treated) milk which I bought to supplement my third and fourth meals in a row of rice, beans, popcorn and a lemon. Now, in the lantern light, I sat at my desk and stacked otonglo and nduru, the near worthless copper pieces of Kenyan money. I could not help but chuckle at my situation: counting coins all alone on Christmas Eve, seven thousand miles away from home.

Little did I realize it then, but, over the next thirty-six hours, the spirit of Christmas kindness would give me a very filling reminder that, actually, I lacked very little....

"Bing-bong, bing-bong; clang, clang, clang..." On Christmas morning at seven o'clock, I woke to the bings, bongs and clangs of leather drums and metal percussion. It was the local Dala Hera ("House of Love") Christian group as they marched into the market center and, with many an "Alleluia!" exclaimed their joy to the gathering villagers (most of whom happened to be shepherds, by the way).

Drawn by the rhythm, I attended the brief but energizing ceremony. Afterwards, I felt so inspired by the faith and hope of my fellow villagers that I decided to spend the last of my earthly cash - the copper coins. So, I bought myself a Christmas gift - a breakfast of eggs, bananas and tea.

While I ate, a young boy brought me a message. It said that I was invited to the home of my school's headmaster to spend Christmas and the following day. Already I had been invited for a lunchtime Christmas dinner at the home of my student who lived next door. So, after eating lunch and visiting with my student's family, I biked the hour and a half ride to my headmaster's home.

I was lucky it was a long ride because my stomach was very full from the big meal of chapatis and holiday chicken that my student's mother served me. The ride gave my stomach just enough time to make room. As soon as I arrived, my headmaster's wives served me another big meal - this time of holiday beef liver and holiday pork.

The next morning, after a big breakfast, the headmaster and I visited two neighboring homesteads. Because we were considered special guests, our hosts served us boiled meat, millet ugali, corn on the cob, pineapple and many cups of tea. Then, bulging in the middle, we went back to the headmaster's home, for lunch! The headmaster's first wife had prepared chicken and corn ugali. Of course, to be polite, I had to eat the food served. At least, I thought, after this my stomach would finally get a breather.

No such luck! Just when I began to think that if I put anything more into my stomach, everything might come gushing right back out, one of the headmaster's sons carried in a whole new platter of food - with potatoes, rice and more chicken. It was the meal of the headmaster's second wife! Somehow, I did manage to stuff some, though, and my filling reminder was finally over!

On the way home, struggling to peddle under a star-filled night sky, I shook my head in amazement at the spirit of Christmas giving (and the size of my stomach); and, as I wondered who could be fuller, I felt very thankful for all that I had - but mostly that the headmaster's third wife lived in town.

The End.

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