I’ve never been one to miss people when I travel or move cities. Even when I was little and went to summer camp and all the homesick kids would cry at night with the counselors assuring them that everything would be OK and they would see their parents in just a couple weeks. My parents would also get mad at me for never writing them back. The older I get the more I realize how lucky I am for the family I have and how much I never want to lose them.

Today I woke up and fixed pumpkin pancakes and peppermint tea and sat down to a colossal crossword puzzle my parents sent me from the christmas paper. I worked on it for about an hour making a good dent in the 1500+ word puzzle, all the while reminiscing on the mornings I spent living in Chicago riding the L to work with my uncle. We would grab a Red Eye at the entrance of the station, board the train, take off our gloves and set to work finishing the crossword before our arrival downtown. Uncle Peter would always finish the crossword and the sudoku, even on Fridays when it was the 5 star difficulty. Today is his daughter—my cousin, Dallas’s—birthday, and I had the pleasure of celebrating with them a year ago. We woke her up with a tray of hot cinnamon rolls and a computer screen with Skype open and her big sister on the screen to wish her happy birthday from Colorado. I got to spend the beginning of her teenage years with her, and I’m better because of it.

On the other side of the crossword puzzle were locals’ stories of christmas eve traditions and memories. Since college, I haven’t had a consistent christmas in the states. I’ve spent christmas in India with one of my best friends from high school, Artee, and her family who are hindus. It was still one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life and I probably owe my acceptance to the Peace Corps to her. Another Christmas was spent in warm Australia in my bathing suit scanning the great barrier reef and trying desperately to not to be obvious to my parents and little brother as I batted my eyes at the aussie instructors. Babes, all of them. This year I was in Bangangté, Cameroon with 40 other volunteers in a small apartment with a chimney (the reason for the location of the event). I sewed christmas stocking with children in my village and we cooked a mexican feast and ate on anything that resembled a plate closely enough. We tried our best to recreate the feeling of family and tradition with a christmas tree, ornaments, lights and some decorations my parents sent. Who knows why we crave these things.

My family has always traveled to family’s homes for christmas, but I was lucky enough to have enough “traditional” christmases in my childhood to hold onto. I remember the smell of my grandparents burnt orange carpet in their old home in Shreveport, Louisiana and the sound of the train that went by in the middle of the night. I ate all of the m&m’s in the plastic candy cane holder one year and threw up christmas colors. My grandma used to make a gingerbread house with us grandkids each christmas we spent there, and she always bought the grossest candy—minty gumdrops and off-brand peppermint bites—to decorate the roof and walls—perhaps to keep us from eating all of it. On years we went to Chicago to my dad’s parents we got to have a white christmas. There was even a frozen lake behind the house that we were never allowed to walk on. My uncle Stan, who’s Jewish, would give us gallon bags of dollar store treasures each year and I remember playing with a small plastic hinged man with sticky balls at his hands and feet. We would stick him to the top of a window and he would alternate his feet and hands sticking bending at the middle and tumble down the window. Waiting at the top of the stairs christmas morning, my grandmothers’ cookies and candies, Bing Crosby playing..

I didn’t mean for this post to take a christmas tangent, but I just have these moments here where I see a picture or read something and it makes me hurt with how much I love my family and how lucky I am. I’m constantly surrounded with african culture, tradition, values, etc. Sometimes I wish my mom were here just to let me know things will work out and keep me focused on whats actually important. Right now I’m happy and I know everything will work out, but here is just a list of my past month excitements:

-strep throat
-coxsackie virus
-housing problems- boss finally told me he wants to move me to a village called Bare in the Littoral Region at Easter if I don’t find a house really soon.
-4th annual MLK feast, complete with cheesy biscuits, fried okra, chicken, eggplant, coleslaw, chocolate cake, mashed potatoes, etc.
-new computer lab
-wake-boarded and sailed on a lake by Foumbot
-Tungiasis, pulled 2 sand fleas and a billion babies out from under my toenails last night
-an Elite took me on a moto tour of houses in Bandenkop to try and find one that works!

This is Africa.