Saturday, December 25, 2010

Our finest gifts

Merry Christmas everybody! From Jimmy, Hotlin & Jacky
Here in Indonesia, we're having a very different Christmas experience, but one that is rich and meaningful nonetheless.  In fact, being so far removed from familiarity,  it's hard not to find new meaning and truth in the season that transcends any geographic, linguistic, or cultural divide.

Despite what I've thought in the past, Christmas really is about gifts.  Beginning with a little baby in a manger, given to bring peace and demonstrate love, the core of the holiday is about making even the simplest of gestures to share goodwill with others.  In Sukadana and now as we travel through Indonesia, it is obvious that people here have it figured out.

I began thinking about this spirit of giving in a conversation with Kinari, ASRI's founder and director.  Her vision and determination to build this amazing organization all stems from the gesture of using her gifts to bring health to people and the forests of Borneo.  Her gifts are fine, indeed.  The top graduate of her class at Yale's medical school and a survivor of one of the most challenging and best residency programs in the country, she could have picked any specialty, picked a salary, and practiced anywhere.  Instead, she gave, and continues to give, her self in this incredible service.

Christmas in Pontianak's Mega-mall.  Jacquelyn & Etty
Gifts don't have to be wrapped up in discrete little packages.  Jacquelyn and I have received small, inconspicuous gifts in the form of friendship and generosity since we set foot in Sukadana.  People who are very new to us and in some ways very different have gone out of their way to make sure we are included, comfortable, having fun, and well fed.  None of these gifts were given with expectations or hopes of reciprocation.  Rather, they were given because these new friends see ways that they can use their local familiarity, their comforts, and their gifts to make little moments in life better for us.

Sometimes gifts are wrapped, and come in humongous packages.  We received one of these types of gifts two days ago, wrapped in a huge aluminum cylinder that arrived in Jakarta from Sydney and New Zealand before that.  Ashley Saunders and Tom Dickinson, on their delayed honeymoon, came to spend the holiday and explore Indonesia with us.  We've been friends since Sewanee and have lived closely in Chapel Hill over the past 10 years, sharing great times on Franklin Street and in the swamps and mountains of North Carolina.  It's an incredible gift for these two to come and, in a way, reconnect us with the wonderful life and friends we have back home.  It's also a wonderful gift to share stories face to face with them, to recount our adventures, and to create some new ones.

Lunch on Christmas Eve with a couple of cool cats.
So it is that even here on the other side of the world, we're celebrating Christmas with just as much cheer and good tidings, and surrounded by magnificent gifts.  I'm working now on my own gifts, wondering which are my finest and to whom I should give them.  I wonder how I can do more to make others more comfortable and content.  I also hope that I can pay tribute to the incredible life we have back home and to honor those special people and places.  This spirit of gift giving isn't one that needs to end today, and thoughts of how to do good with these gifts will last a lifetime.

No chestnuts, no open fire, but warm and cozy all the same.
 Right now, I need to get out on the beach, find a snorkeling mask, decide if we can get down to Kuta Lombock to surf for a few days before heading toward Komodo Island for New Years.  It's going to be a busy Christmas day.