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  • Writer's pictureMichael Roman

An Island Christmas

Spending Christmas on a tropical atoll was a stark departure from my usual holiday experiences. Gone were the bustling shopping malls, crowded parking lots, twinkling Christmas lights adorning snow-covered houses, and the frenzied rush of last-minute Christmas card exchanges—all distant memories in my quaint village setting. However, despite the absence of these familiar trappings, there were still elements that made it feel like Christmas.


The slight drop in temperature brought relief from the relentless heat, thanks to several days of rain accompanied by cooling winds. Daytime temperatures noticeably decreased, adding a touch of seasonal ambiance to our surroundings. However, the Christmas storms also brought disruptions, halting mail service for a couple of days. For us, receiving mail from home was a cherished weekly highlight, offering a precious connection to loved ones far away. The realization that our friends and families didn't know how much their letters meant to us during those months made the interruption in mail service all the more disheartening, dampening the spirits of many in our group.


As Christmas morning dawned, a rumor began to circulate among the volunteers in the northern villages—a tantalizing whisper suggesting that our mail had been deliberately held back on the main island, all for a special Christmas surprise. The news spread like wildfire, igniting a spark of hope and excitement in the hearts of everyone.


With each passing moment, anticipation mounted, fueled by the possibility of a Christmas miracle awaiting us in the form of long-awaited letters and packages from home. The air buzzed with excitement as we eagerly awaited confirmation of the rumor, hoping against hope that it held true.


Mail days during training were always a rollercoaster of emotions. The anticipation of receiving a letter or package was palpable, and the joy of hearing your name called out in the maneaba was indescribable. Yet, the elation was often tempered by a pang of homesickness that washed over us as soon as we tore open the envelope or package.


Pictures were the currency of connection on mail days, exchanged eagerly among friends and fellow volunteers. Even if you didn't receive any mail yourself, there was solace in sharing in the joy of others and learning about their families and lives back home.


In many ways, our training group transformed into a close-knit village community, where collectivism took precedence over individualism. We celebrated each other's triumphs and shared in each other's sorrows, finding strength and support in our shared experiences as we navigated life far from home.


The Christmas season's absence of mail had a profound impact on the group's morale. Feeling homesick and frustrated by the lack of communication from our families, we knew we needed to lift our spirits. Drawing on the festive spirit of our host villages, which were predominantly Christian, we came up with a plan to spread some holiday cheer.


As the sun dipped below the horizon, signaling the onset of evening, we set out to carol through our host villages. With hearts heavy with longing for home but determined to find joy in the present moment, we began our journey. Moving from house to house, we sang traditional Christmas carols, filling the air with the familiar melodies of the season.


With each song we sang, we felt a sense of connection not only to our host families but also to each other. Despite being far from home, the warmth of the holiday spirit enveloped us, reminding us that we were not alone. And as we sang under the starlit sky, our voices echoing through the village, we found solace and comfort in the shared celebration of Christmas, bridging the distance between our hearts and home.

  

Tekaai, one of our trainers, followed us in the Peace Corps truck, claiming it was to transport the southern volunteers back home after our caroling adventure. Little did we know, he had a surprise in store for us. Concealed within the truck were packages and mail from home, collected by Peace Corps over the course of an entire month leading up to Christmas.


As we concluded our caroling journey, Tekaai playfully commended us on our, admittedly, mediocre singing. Then, with a mischievous grin, he swung open the back of the truck to reveal a treasure trove of packages. Brown boxes adorned with international postage and our names awaited us, evoking a flood of emotions. It was a moment that transported us back to childhood, as if we were unwrapping presents on Christmas morning.

Tears welled up in everyone's eyes as we realized the magnitude of this unexpected gesture. In that instant, the distance between us and our loved ones melted away, replaced by a profound sense of connection and joy. It was a Christmas miracle that filled our hearts with warmth and gratitude, reminding us of the power of love and the spirit of giving, even across oceans and continents.


"Ken! John! Cassandra! Dianne! Lauren! Matt! Mike!" The names echoed through the night air as we swarmed around the truck, eager to claim our treasures. Each box held the promise of a piece of home, a connection to loved ones thousands of miles away. The anticipation and excitement were palpable as we eagerly tore into the packages, like children on Christmas morning.


There was an undeniable sense of joy and camaraderie as we shared in each other's excitement, passing boxes from hand to hand until they reached their rightful owners. In that moment, we were reminded of the power of simple gestures and the profound impact of connection, even in the most unexpected of places.


As we reveled in our unexpected bounty, it felt like a true Christmas Eve, albeit with a tropical twist. The Peace Corps truck had become our makeshift sleigh, delivering not just packages, but moments of pure joy and shared celebration. It was a night we would never forget, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the bonds that unite us, no matter where we are in the world.


After Tekaai dropped off the southern village volunteers, we gathered at Marissa's kiakia to open our boxes. The excitement was palpable as we eagerly tore into the packages, eager to find letters from home, cherished photos, and comforting treats.


Amidst the laughter and shouts of joy, we uncovered a treasure trove of goodies: Kool-Aid packets, novelty treats, batteries, travel games, playing cards, and Ziplock bags. These simple comforts from home brought smiles to our faces and warmth to our hearts.


Marissa's host family must have thought we were a little crazy, hearing our screams of excitement emanating from her kiakia. But in that moment, surrounded by friends and surrounded by reminders of home, we felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude and connection.

After finishing opening our packages, we gathered in the family bwia to share our gifts. It was heartwarming to see the family graciously accept our offerings, even though they hesitated to take too much of what brought us joy. I later learned that they didn't want to deprive us of what made us so happy, but they appreciated the gesture nonetheless.


As the evening progressed, someone suggested we bring out my guitar for a sing-along. Excitedly, I dashed back home to retrieve my instrument, accompanied by my brother and sister. Our impromptu singing session extended well into the early hours of Christmas morning, filling the air with laughter, music, and the warmth of shared moments. It was a Christmas I'll never forget, made even more special by the bonds of friendship and the spirit of togetherness that enveloped us all.


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