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double dose of holiday cheer

We spent last Christmas without any pomp or circumstance, camping along the shores of Lake Baringo with our friends. This holiday season we got a double dose of Christmas celebrations, a notable accomplishment for our Jewish family.

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Petra, the owner of Sandai, is German-born, and Germans celebrate Christmas on the night of December 24th. As with most things at Sandai, we were made to feel a part of the family and were glad that we could share in the traditional festivities. Petra’s daughter even asked if one of us wanted to play a part in the reenactment of Jesus’ birth. So just before dinner, candles in hand, we joined Petra’s family, the Sandai staff, and other guests to watch the nativity scene unfold in the garden. As the story came to a close, the Kenyan staff started off the caroling with a Kikuyu song, which was followed by mangled renditions of Silent Night and Jingle Bells, as no one knew more of than a verse or two of the lyrics.

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Back in the house, we sat in front of the fire sipping mulled wine as Petra’s’ daughters handed out the presents that had been piled high under the acacia Christmas tree. To our surprise, all five of us had a small gift under the tree with our names on it. Once the last gift had been unwrapped, we sat down to the feast that awaited. As we were the only Americans, and thus apparently uniquely qualified to carve a turkey, Petra asked D to do the honors.

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Our second Christmas, which we celebrated the following night at a tented camp near Meru National Park, was a wilder affair. Our hosts this time were Sean and Tanyth, a pair of young white Kenyans who managed the camp. At other safari camps where we’ve stayed the managers have been more reserved, ensuring that the guests are comfortable at all times but never eating or partaking in activities with the clients. Sean and Tanyth, on the other hand, were much more engaging, joining in the big family-style meals, having pre-dinner drinks with the guests around the campfire, and taking us fishing. If the camp had been less busy, they would have even joined us on the game drives.

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Christmas night, we all donned Santa hats and sat down to yet another feast of turkey, glazed ham, and numerous side dishes. The other guests – a self-identified “domineering blond” mother from Switzerland, Belgian father, and their college-aged son – shared our hosts’ off-color sense of humor, which made for quite a raucous evening. After stuffing ourselves silly, we crossed hands to break open the Christmas crackers and, as if the libations were not plentiful enough, concluded our meal with Christmas pudding topped with flaming brandy and a side of brandy butter.

After two nights of overabundant Christmas dinners, the thought of being jostled in a safari vehicle all day was not wholly tantalizing, so we had a hard time rousing ourselves for the next day’s early morning game drive.

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