It’s all very well living abroad and trying to put a brave face on emigration but when it comes to Christmas and you can’t get your hands on a tin of Roses it’s no joke.
Living in Indonesia has its ups and downs and while the notable lack of some of our favourite foods from home has a positive effect on the waistline, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Pate. Even in Ireland it can sometimes be difficult to conjure up the Christmas spirit, but when you’re living in an Asian, predominately Muslim country, it’s downright impossible.
You find you’re taller than the Chinese Santa in the Mall, wrapping paper is nowhere to be found, you dream of Penney’s and Dunnes and the idea of decent Christmas decorations and the likelihood of finding a 1000 piece Christmas Jigsaw is slim. The shopping list magnified onto the fridge is growing but none are ticked off, Turkey Crown, Ham, Tins of Roses, (Quality Street, Celebrations or Heroes, suitable replacements), Ballymaloe Relish, Tesco Finest Goose Fat, Carrigaline Cheese, Taytos, M&S Mulled Wine, Cadburys Mini-Rolls, Oxo Cubes, Pate and Pate. Coupled with the food shortage here in Executive Paradise, I have two teenage daughters and no BOOTS (pharmacy not Doc Martins). I mean how is it possible to buy for such an age bracket with not an overpriced high street pharmacy/beauty shop in sight?
What is in sight however, en route from Executive Paradise to Lippo Mall are streets and streets of poverty. Young children literally living on the side of the road, barefoot. Chickens, cats and rats share the patch that they can home and the galvanised roof over their heads is surely as noisy in the rain as it is hot in the sun. The sight of a young child, carrying an even younger one in a sling whilst trying to feed the baby rice with her fingers, puts the problem of being unable to source heated rollers for a fourteen year old in perspective.
So this year, unlike all other years gone by, we are forced to change our focus for Christmas, it shall not be consumer or commodity driven, it shall not be a mass of materialism in our house on Christmas Day, this Christmas, to inject a little Christmas spirit into our home, we are going to solely rely on the giving of goods to the needy, known as charity, a word that never resonated in our home before past a nominal monetary monthly standing order to large Irish Organisation.
This Christmas we would take to the kampungs of Jakarta, (kampung is the name given to the slum type living areas). If you stood in the middle of the road you can almost touch both houses which are sometimes of bamboo or plywood construction, washing is strung across the road like oversized bunting but the self-sufficiency and strong sense of community is admirable. Delighted that this expedition with my two daughters was not only going to shock them into realising the reality of poverty, it was also going to benefit the poor, the perfect act to ensure a perfect Christmas.
So the trawl began, it first started a gentle raking through the wardrobe, unwanted t-shirts, dresses etc., but as the mental images of the poverty on the street of Jakarta became more vivid it ended up being a full sweep, taking everything that we didn’t really need and putting it aside for the needy. Incidentally amidst the loot I noticed several items which I’m sure were Christmas gifts only last year. A battery operated neck massager, a foot spa with rotating bristles and a vibrating pumice stone, enough bubble bath, bath bombs, bath salts and bath oil to open a shop and more clothes either unworn or with labels still on that I care to admit to.
The upshot being that apart from clothes and shoes we had little else that these people actually need. After all a foot spa even if it had accompanying aromatherapy oils was hardly on the wish-list of anyone living in a kampung, rice and fruit would be far more welcome. This was beginning to become as much an exercise in the needlessness of excess as in the pity of poverty. And it also goes to show that nobody wants a foot spa for Christmas.