A Christmas Carol is one of my all time favorite books. My mom got hooked on Dickens a few years ago, and in talking with her about how much she was enjoying him, I started reading his books again.
Honestly, "again" may not be the right word. I read a few of those books I was supposed to read in high school. A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, David Copperfield. It's not news that Dickens is talented, and I especially love how he weaves social issues into his stories.
As much as I enjoyed the other books, A Christmas Carol is my favorite. In fact, I still harbor the fantasy that my family will sit around a fire during the holidays and take turns reading it aloud. That has yet to happen, but I will not give up the dream.
There are so many things to love in A Christmas Carol, but to me the scene stealer is Ebenezer Scrooge and his life-changing transformation.
When I heard from our Kenyan research partner that in her spare (!) time, she and her husband are house parents at a local orphanage, I immediately asked to visit. The research team consisted of four professors and one amazing student, Maria, who also wanted to visit the home. So on our day off Maria and I took the ride out to Ebenezer. We both decided it was our favorite part of the whole trip. It was that incredible.
I must confess: I'm a bit of a cryer. I have no problem with breaking into tears during a commercial, or every Oprah show I've ever watched, or at the end of Cars the Movie (1, not the sequel) even though I've seen it four thousand times.
I'm totally okay with being a public cryer... but I know it can be a little disconcerting to others. I was really worried before the visit, because I didn't want to fall apart at what I thought might be a sad situation and then in any way make the kids feel bad or awkward or unhappy. So I kept repeating this mantra in my head, "don't cry- enjoy the moment, and cry later if you need to." Over and over that day I said this in my head.
The truth is, I shouldn't have worried, because the kids I met were so charming, fun, and sweet-- and again FULL of joy, that they put me at ease.
When I heard stories about how they were a combination of AIDS orphans, or former street boys, or kids' whose mom's had died and their dad's second wives had forced them onto the street. I didn't cry.
Even when I met a baby who'd been left on a roadside at only a few weeks. Isn't she gorgeous? Even when I heard her story, I didn't cry.
She was in a wonderful place after all, and her caregiver clearly adored her (she was also the only baby at the site).
Of the 300 children and young adults at Ebenezer, there was one baby, about seven preschoolers, and the rest were school-aged kids.
When I met a toddler who was sick from his AIDS medication, I didn't cry.
Maria and I went to hang out with the older girls-- high school age, and we spent about 45 minutes with them talking and laughing. They were a lot of fun (and so fascinated with Maria, who is much closer to their age than I am).
They're having kale and ugali (a kind of millet or sorghum cake-- in fact, it most reminded me of when you let your grits get hard. YAY grits!). When I heard that they eat chicken once a year on the day they all celebrate their birthday together, I didn't cry.
We were having such a good time, and Maria and I started showing them our photos on our phone and ipad. They watched videos of my kids, looked at Maria's boyfriend and my husband, etc. (Making lots of hilarious comments about everything). When they asked if we had photos of our moms on our devices, and could they see them, I have to be honest, I almost cried. But I held it in.
Then we went to visit the younger girls- elementary and middle-school aged. They sang for us.
And that's when I cried, but it wasn't because I was sad.