Saturday, December 25, 2010

the lights of home

On our drive home earlier this week, on the evening of the 21st, our longest day here in the southern hemisphere, we passed through, as usual, the town of Mt. Frere on the N2 highway. It was twilight, and a beautiful, huge--"the biggest I've ever seen"--moon had risen over the hills. To our surprise, the natural light of the moon was not the only light breaking through the gathering darkness; the poles of streetlights were adorned with Christmas-light displays. The sight was amusing for at least two reasons.

First, in a region, the Transkei, in the province of Eastern Cape, known to be South Africa's most corrupt and under-serviced, someone had apparently taken great care to decorate for the festive season. The potholes of Eastern Cape may never be filled; the proposed refurbishing of the Mthatha airport delayed forever; the schools in disarray; the hospitals under-stocked; but the lights, the beautiful lights, will shine for Christmas.

Second, many of the displays themselves seem out-of-place on this, the African continent. What has a sleigh, for example, to do with a land that rarely--and never in December--sees snow? Or Santa, that fat white man from the North who rides his sleigh through it? Or Frosty--the snowman?

There were the religious-themed lights as well. These, certainly, are not confined to climate or geography. And for me, a midwestern boy whose family used to search out the best neighborhood Christmas-light displays in our small Kansas town, the lights of Mt. Frere were, religious or not, a little taste of home.

Merry Christmas!


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