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Jenny's Blog

Christmas in Africa19th December '11

It is funny how we all try to create a Christmas that we are used to at home, even when we are overseas in some exotic country. I know that our Antipodean friends have Christmas cards with snow on then, it is the height of their summer for goodness sake, and I have just received a Christmas card from Zimbabwe with a Christmas tree on it – there are no spruces in Zimbabwe.

I have to admit that I have fallen into this category (quite happily), and in particular I remember a Christmas that I had in Zimbabwe, exactly 20 years ago. I had invited nine friends of mine to spend Christmas with me in the African bush. I had a house which could accommodate everyone and we’d all just finished an expedition for Raleigh International. And so we all threw our heart and soul into a British Christmas in Zimbabwe. The fact that we had no Christmas decorations (let alone a Christmas tree), the house had hardly any furniture in it, I had not got enough crockery to feed 10 of us and turkeys were tricky to find, did not deter us. We were all adaptable people, and none of these problems were ever considered an issue.

On the way to my house in the African bush we had stopped off to buy all our provisions for a true British Christmas. However, the shops were not that well-stocked for the items that we were searching for. The year was 1992 and the drought had hit Zimbabwe in a big way, so there were a reduced number of provisions on the shelves and items such as crackers, baubles, tinsel, turkey stuffing and Christmas pudding were nowhere to be seen. We did however manage to buy a turkey, it was one of three turkeys left in the freezer and we were now the proud owners of the largest one. Just enough to feed all 10 of us, well, enough to feed probably 20 but we did all have large appetites.

The journey was a long one, and this was not helped with the numerous police checks along the way and the fact that we were travelling in a vehicle designed for six and our turkey was defrosting quicker than we had anticipated. Arriving at my home in Save Valley Conservancy was a blessed relief.

We then set about getting everything sorted. Some of the guys were on Christmas decoration duty and went out in search of a suitable branch or small tree that remotely resembled a Christmas tree. Others began to fashion Christmas decorations out of tinfoil, ping-pong balls, coloured bits of paper and anything else that we had managed to accumulate on the way. Being a lover of food I set about organising our Christmas dinner.

It was then that I realised my schoolgirl error. The turkey would not fit into my oven, it was too large. My stove was a wood-burning stove, designed for one or two people and not for an enormous turkey. And I was not prepared to hack the turkey into pieces.

So the next best option was to build a big enough oven – obviously!

The hot water for my house was supplied by a Rhodesian boiler. This is an antiquated yet very effective system, where a large oil drum of water is heated up by a log fire that burns beneath it. This is all done in a small brick construction, located outside the house, and often tended by the ‘houseboy’. It only takes an hour or so for the water to reach boiling point, which then provides piping hot water in my house. My Rhodesian boiler system was relatively new, the old one still standing but no longer in use. And this is where the plan for a new oven grew from.

I could use the construction from the old Rhodesian boiler, the oil drum had obviously been removed, so there was the oven, and there was plenty of wood to provide the heat. All I needed to do was to block the hole where the oil drum had been taken out, and hey presto, there was my oven. Simpler said than done. An hour later I had fashioned my oven and was calculating a guesstimate for the cooking time. I guessed about three hours cooking time, and the potatoes could possibly go in there as well.

The following morning was Christmas Day and all sorts of preparations were made for our meal. We had gone to town on the foods, we had our turkey which was already cooking in the Rhodesian oven, roast potatoes in the more conventional wood burning stove, vegetables ready to be cooked and even stuffing had been made. The so-called Christmas tree was an old branch decorated in the handmade angels and paper chains. I have to say so myself, it all looked pretty good.

However, the timings of the turkey did not go quite according to plan. I’m sure you would have guessed this by now. It took longer for my ‘oven’ to heat up and although I could adjust the temperature by the number of burning logs in the fire, it still was not that accurate. We had planned to eat at around 5 o’clock, but by this time the turkey was still a little bit underdone, consider raw being a more applicable description. By 6 o’clock the turkey was looking more like a Christmas turkey, by 7 o’clock I decreed that the turkey might be edible, the potatoes and vegetables certainly were! I was right, 6 hours later the turkey was delicious, albeit a bit singed on the outside.

That was a Christmas to remember, although it was slightly quirky!

Happy Christmas everyone, where ever you are.

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