This year, I am most excited about sharing Hanukkah with my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers and host country nationals, many of who will be celebrating for their first time. (In fact, when it comes to Batswana, most have never even met a Jewish person before meeting me, so teaching them about Judaism and its traditions has been one of my favorite experiences.) In preparation for the holiday, I decorated my house with a Hanukkah banner and dreidels sent by my friend Jeff and I blew up blue balloons to tack up around my house. Then I wrote up the Hebrew transliterations for the blessings on the menorah so that people could join me in reciting them (and for the shehekianu - this is their first Hanukkah after all!), made posters of the dreidel game rules, and put out the cards made by Jeff's 2nd grade class for people here to wish them a happy first Hanukkah. My house now feels so festive. It made me smile to see my house all decked out for the holiday!
My sister, in a recent care package, sent me coloring books, stickers, and little stuffed animals for the orphans that I play with. I divided these things up to be gifts for them for Hanukkah. Last night, I gave Bokena and Bofelo little stuffed monkeys. They were ecstatic! They were hugging them and playing with them and the smiles that came across their face could light up the whole world. Bokena ran into my bedroom and grabbed my monkey, Jocko, (who was actually my dad's) and handed him to me and then grabbed my camera so that the three of us could take pictures with our monkeys. After our photo shoot, Bokena sat down to "read" her monkey one of the Hanukkah books and Bofelo set off to teach his monkey how to do word searches. It was one of the happiest moments I have had here - seeing them so full of joy. It filled me with joy too. In truth, it was probably the first time they ever got a present like that. To witness that and to be a part of it was truly magical.
I don't want the magic to end.
Today is the 22nd. That means that tomorrow is the 23rd. That is the anniversary of the day I lost my dad. I have been anxious about what this day would be like since it is the first time I will be away from my family for it. Although I have been having some bad dreams these last few nights, for the most part, I have been okay. I have chosen to focus on the blessings in my life, like time spent with the village kids, and that has made all the difference. I am also grateful because two members of my Bots 10 family are on their way down to be with me tonight and tomorrow so that I won't be alone. Even more, I am grateful that they didn't make me ask them to come. They just knew I needed them. I have a hard time asking for help sometimes so I appreciated not having to. It is comforting to know that I have people here that know me well enough and care about me enough to travel to be with me when I need them. That alone gives me strength and helps me know that tomorrow will be okay. (Not only that, but one of them is bringing a Cohiba for us to smoke in honor of my dad. I think that would put a smile on his face so I'm smiling too.) I would also like to thank all of my friends from home who have taken the time to reach out to me this week. You are so dear to me and your love and support means everything. Thank you.
In the days after, many people from my Bots 10 family will be coming to Kumakwane to celebrate the various holidays. On Christmas day, we will go to the lands to hear the choirs sing and be part of a traditional celebration here. I have been told that this is truly special and something that we cannot miss while living in Botswana. By the 26th, my house will be filled with twenty (or more) friendly faces to celebrate the last two nights of Hanukkah. I have been creating a menu to feed the masses and orchestrating revelry for everyone here to experience the festival of lights. I couldn't be more excited. True, I am also a bit stressed about making this a memorable and positive first Hanukkah for everyone (and also about cooking for so many - especially since my village doesn't have a grocery store so shopping involves planning, traveling, and carrying groceries quite a long distance), but I think it will be such a fun time and the sort of experience that will stay with all of us long after.
To wind up this great holiday, I will be heading to Cape Town, South Africa for a vacation with many of these same faces. Wine tasting, whale watching, Starbucks, good food, pretty clothes, shopping, beaches, Table Mountain, happy hour... the list of things to be excited about goes on. I can't think of a better culmination of this already magical holiday season.