Christmas break?

Addendum to the previous post: water has returned to Lilongwe and the cell network is in and out. My internet is still MIA. As I was complaining to a Malawian friend yesterday, he laughed and told me I should just get used to it. “You’re in Malawi,” he said. True. And if I hadn’t had these Western amenities available, I wouldn’t be able to complain about their sudden and unpredictable outage (annoying mostly because they are beyond my control). But I still think the water strike was stupid and completely irresponsible, and I hope that this sort of behavior is not acceptable to most Malawians. The newspaper reports 88 cases of cholera and 10 dead so far, which I can only imagine is higher in reality than on paper. Unfortunately the article does not really do an adequate job of describing why strikers cut off water to the city in the midst of this outbreak, but does detail their demands for a 12.5% salary increase and K25,000 (~ $175) Christmas bonus. “Reporting” here is generally a loose collection of quotes and facts and newspapers are mostly devoid of actual information. (I have definitely been spoiled by my US news addiction.) And now, back to your regularly scheduled program: further ruminations on Christmas.

This is the first year in many that I do not have a clearly defined Christmas break. When I was in school at home in Iowa, the anticipation built throughout the month of December. Much activity revolved around the festive season, including advent services, scoping out the ditches for a perfect tree (or, perfect in a Charlie Brown sort of way), baking cookies, wrapping presents, and prancing about the house, full of secrets. When I was in school in Ithaca, Christmas break usually came in a rush of laundry and packing and sleep deprivation the day after my final final, and generally involved a crack-of-dawn trip to the Ithaca airport. Until December 18 or so, I didn’t stop to think much about presents, so my shopping was always last minute, but I still had a week or so to bask in the Christmas sights and sounds before the big day. Last year, when I was working in DC, there were Christmas parties and Christmas cookies, but I looked forward to nothing more than going home for a week of too much food and family, the smell of snow and cedar, and lazing about the house with someone else to cook my meals (thanks, Mom). Though not as long as Cornell’s 5-week winter break, I still had quite a bit of time off work, with no responsibilities beyond cookie testing.

This year my work schedule is a little haphazard – “whenever I can” would be an apt description. My research is behind schedule from where I would like it to be, but since I’m still in the data collection phase, I’m more or less beholden to the schedules of NGOs and development agencies. I have a few meetings with development agencies next week, but it seems like most NGOs are already on Christmas vacation. But I’m behind schedule, so shouldn’t I be doing work? Do I really need a break, when about half my time is spent not working or creating other work for myself, anyway?

I went to Bunda on Friday to trade in my library books before the college shut down for Christmas break, and was infected by the general giddiness of students out for break. Finally freed, they were chatting in the parking lot, dragging around impossibly large luggage, and cheered when the bus arrived. As for me, I decided I would have a little holiday from the academic books I’ve been reading, and checked out One Hundred Years of Solitude and Wes Jackson’s New Roots for Agriculture. (While Bunda’s library is not very well equipped for academic research, it does have many gems for the casual browser.) So far, both have been quite pleasing, and I’m happy to report that I’m enjoying One Hundred Years of Solitude more than Love in the Time of Cholera.

Marquez’s specialty is magical realism, a genre that I’m never really pursued outside of Spanish lit classes. But maybe being in a strange land for a holiday so closely associated with being home makes it easier to suspend my disbelief. (Speaking in tongues? Ghosts mixing among the living? Fantastical creatures and feats? Okay, then.) As I write this, I’m listening to Christmas music and the pound of rain from our daily monsoon, and trying to remember that it’s the 20th of December. I still have no definite plans for Christmas day, though my housemates and I have tentative plans to do something festive. Iowans, I hope your ice storm subsides in time for holiday travels! If I’m lying on a beach somewhere, I’ll be thinking of you.

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3 Responses to “Christmas break?”

  1. Jessie Says:

    I felt the same way about 100 Years vs. Love. I have been reading Salman Rushdie, but John bought me a new laptop and iPod in a flurry of consumerism, so now he’ll have to wait until all my settings are just right. It’s too bad you’ll miss Iowa Christmas, but we’ll keep you abreast of all the excitement of the Bovaird family.

  2. Rachel Says:

    At least you could bring some humor to your interesting outage situations by reading Hundred Years of Solitude. That book allowed for multiple chuckles in one of my stuffy undergrad classrooms.

    We’re at -11 this morning here in frigid land. Yuck!!

  3. Arukiyomi Says:

    wow… you liked it more than Love in the Time of Cholera… amazing. Check out my review of One Hundred Years if you want. I have a slightly different opinion 😉

    And it’s nice to hear news of Malawi again…

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