Friday, December 23, 2011

::Friend Friday::Rachel::

Yay! Another episode of Friend Friday.  Today, I'd like to introduce you to Rachel.  I have actually met her.  :) Last September, my brother and I made a trip to PA to visit the Sight and Sound Theater and also so I could meet a few of my blog friends at Lehigh Valley Baptist Church.  There I met Rachel.  She is now living in Botswana...but really, I should stop talking so you can hear from her.

Hi, I'm Rachel! I'm a 26 year-old who is serving with my parents as missionaries to Botswana. Two years ago when they began to consider moving here, they asked my younger brother and I what we would like to do. We both responded that of course we were going with them! I mean, who wants to stay in the States when you have the opportunity to live in Africa?

I've long loved Africa and her people, and though I don't know how long I'll be able to stay here (I'm still waiting on my paperwork to come through), I'm enjoying every moment that I can! 

Botswana is a small country in southern Africa, just north of the country of South Africa. It is mostly desert, but it has nice parts too. :) We live in Francistown, which is about half an hour away from the Zimbabwe border. Because of this, we get to work with a lot of Zimbabweans too. We are about seven hours from a brother who lives in South Africa and about six hours from Victoria Falls. The longer I live in Africa, the more I am coming to view a six hour trip as a short thing!

As I said, my younger brother and I are here with my parents. I have two older brothers, both married and with several children. One lives in Pennsylvania and the other in South Africa. It's a rare and special thing when we are all on the same continent together.

This Christmas is actually my third Christmas in Botswana. Rebecca asked me a few questions about what it is like to have Christmas here, so I hope you enjoy!

--How do those in Botswana celebrate Christmas?  Is it much different than America?

The people in Botswana love Christmas, but it is obviously celebrated a little differently! For one, the temperature last year peaked out at 120 on Christmas Day, so that's a little odd to this Pennsylvania-raised and snow-loving girl! Since the beginning of November, stores have been decorating with lights, tinsel, and big fake Santas. They play Christmas music, and it is odd to be shopping summer fruits while listening to "Let It Snow" at the grocery store. As with most holidays here, people celebrate it by going back to their home villages to visit extended family. If they can afford it, there will be a big meal and gifts. Most people get some sort of Christmas bonus at their job, and use that to buy up their supplies for the holiday. Of course, this includes a LOT of alcohol. We live down the street from a big warehouse-style grocery store (think Costco). All day long, people stream out of the parking lot with carts FULL of alcoholic drinks. This weekend there will be lots of long and loud parties. It is so sad to see that even though they might not understand Christmas, or even all the traditions that I normally associate with Christmas, they have got a good hold on the greed that surrounds the holiday. People will beg, borrow, and steal as much as they can so that they can have a good holiday. This means it is the most dangerous time of year for us, as Americans, because we are looked upon as the rich and wealthy. (If only they knew!) In the States, I think this same thing is a problem, but most people can charge up their credit cards, looking for the 'perfect holiday.' Here, no one has credit cards, so they have to have the cash. We're extra careful right now, and won't leave our house unattended until after Christmas.

Statistically, Botswana is actually one of the wealthier countries in Africa. They don't have the same poverty that other countries struggle with and their education system is very good. However, there is also a 50% HIV+ rate, and a lot of unemployment (also a lot of refugees from Zimbabwe that will work for lower wages, which doesn't help create employment for the citizens). All this means there are lots of problems with depression and drinking. You can imagine how a holiday that is supposed to be happy and family-oriented could just be a sad reminder to some that their life is not at all fulfilled. If only they understood the TRUE meaning of Christmas! But that’s why we’re here. :)

--What do you miss the most about Christmas in the States?

I miss the cooler weather, the snow, and all the social things that usually surround Christmas at our church. Obviously, I miss the days of having all of my immediate family in the same place for Christmas. :) One of my friends wrote me and said that they are going caroling this week, our church just put on a Christmas cantata, and I've always enjoyed when Christmas fell on a Sunday, so I'm especially missing my church family this year. 

Last year, I really missed the baking that usually surrounds Christmas. When it is regularly over 100 degrees and your poor air conditioners are working overtime, the last thing you want to do is turn on the oven. It was unusually hot and dry (the rains had not yet started, which usually tempers the high heat), so we only did one day of baking sugar cookies. This year, the Lord gave me a special blessing by giving us one week of thunderstorms before Christmas. This means that the temperature was lowered and there wasn't really anywhere to go when it was raining so hard. We did a LOT of baking in that week, let me tell you!

 --What are Christmas foods that you can duplicate in Botswana?

Just about everything. :) Of course, everything has to be made from scratch... completely! But the longer I live here, the more I enjoy that aspect of things. I really enjoy learning how to make things completely from scratch. Thus far this Christmas season, we've made Thin Mint Cookies, Poptarts, Carrot Cake, Sugar Cookies, several types of pies, and lots and lots of coffee drinks. Just about anything from Starbucks, we've learned to duplicate. :) Ha!

Our Christmas menu this year probably won't be a turkey with all the fixings. Although that is 'traditional' for our family, we have started to make some new traditions, now that we live in a country of summer Christmas. (And I've only seen a turkey for sale once!) Instead, we usually opt to have a big cookout, called a braai (bry). Our meal is decidedly Fourth of July in style - steak and chicken on the grill, baked beans, salads and maybe some homeade rolls for good measure. We haven't yet decided on a dessert, mostly because it will just be the four of us on Christmas Day and we are traveling the day after, so we don't want a lot of leftovers. We'll probably make some homeade root beer and some homeade egg nog.

One thing I can tell you - when you do learn to make things by scratch, you soon prefer that to the convenient foods in the States. It just tastes so much better, and it's nice knowing exactly what is in the food that you are eating!

I thought it would be fun to share one of my recipes with you, but since Christmas is in just two days, I thought I would keep it simple. How about seasoned pretzels? These are easy-peasy and a great thing to whip up for people to snack on while they wait for the big Christmas meal to be finished. Or save the recipe for your New Year’s party… or just make a batch for yourself. I can guarantee that they are addictive. When we lived in the States, I made these all the time and it was our favorite go-to snack. Since we can’t get pretzels here, much less big sourdough pretzels, they are more of a special treat now. We always stuff a few bags of pretzels in the top of our bags when we travel back and forth… they are so light and don’t take up much room. Then we ration them out over the year. However, we’ve been experimenting with sourdough lately and have a good starter that is consistently growing. So hard pretzels is on our list of things to soon try. :)

Seasoned Pretzels

1 16-oz bag of hard sourdough pretzels, broken into pieces
(you could buy the bag of little nuggets to save time, but it is better to have the big ones broken up, as it helps them absorb the dressing)
1/2 cup oil (I use olive)
3 Tbsp ranch dressing mix (we make our own from scratch… you can google lots of recipes for that if you don’t want to buy it. I always add extra garlic to mine :)

Mix the oil and dressing, then pour over your pretzel pieces. Stir them so that the dressing coats the pretzels well. Bake on a cookie sheet at 350 degrees, stirring every five minutes. I usually leave mine in for twenty minutes, just because I like them super crispy. But you can take them out in just ten minutes or so if you prefer… totally up to you!

Try not to eat them all in one sitting!

All that aside, we all know that Christmas isn't about all the trimmings. It isn't about the gifts or the parties or the special meals. It isn't about the decorations or the music... it's about Jesus Christ.

The fact that our God - so powerful, so mighty, so awe-some - would come in the form of a tiny, helpless baby. Well, that fact just cannot be fully comprehended by my finite mind! The fact that our God loved ME so much that He would do that - it humbles me. Whenever I am feeling lonely or sad that I'm not experiencing "Christmas" as I grew up with, I spend some time thinking on that thought. He LOVED me enough to do that for me. That truly is the meaning of Christmas.

Merry Christmas to all the Cotton+Wood readers! Thanks for reading my babbling. :)

ps...Thanks for the recipe, Rachel.  I've had these pretzels before and they are delish but, I've never tracked down the recipe.  I can't wait to make these s-o-o-n!


1 comment:

Jolene said...

It was nice to meet you on here, Rachel. I love meeting fellow missionaries and their families... just a special bond we share, isn't there?!

Definitely agree with you about learning to prefer homemade foods. Those store-bought things that we think we miss just don't taste as good as we thought they did anymore!