Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Gifts

Today has been the warmest day yet in Bogota! The skies are vibrant blue, only a few fluffy drifting clouds and the smell of blooming flowers wafts down the streets. It's not windy, nor wet, nor overcast and it feels as if summer is upon us and the rainy season is over.
Por ahora...

It's also the warmest day because of what we spent the day doing. Today was the Ambassador's Christmas party for the embassy community and for our invited guests: the Ayudame Orphanage and Fundacion de Quemado, a children's burn unit. The CLO (Community Liaison Office) has been organizing this event since September and many embassy employees turned out to help out. I'd like to give special recognition to the star of the show: Papa Noel.

Papa Noel hears a special request.

Does anyone recognize the man in red? I'll give you a hint:

I guess that makes me Mama Noel this year, but I was really more of a helper elf at the door, greeting and checking in our guests as they arrived. The kids from Ayudame came wearing matching t-shirts and proudly raised their hands or shouted out their names as we checked them in. I know it's cliche to talk about the darling orphans - but they really were.  I was struck by the tangible bond among them, as the older ones helped out the younger, making sure everyone was accounted for and pointing out to us who was who. The next two buses were from the Fundacion de Quemado, the children's burn ward patients. These kids ranged in age from about 2 to 15 and each brought a parent with them. An entire family of five children and their mother arrived, all of them patients, and I can only imagine that it was a house fire that struck them.

With two co-workers, we continued checking in guests as the kids, their families and guardians explored the Ambassador's residence. As the day was so warm and dry, they wandered the grounds and hillside and then came inside for treats, Santa visits and creative activites. The CLO arranged for troops of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to come as well, and they played with the Colombian kids at  long tables where they could decorate sugar cookies, make necklace, draw or decorate Christmas bags. Embassy community teenagers were on hand to help out with the little ones and each table kept the kids busy.

Pictured are two teenagers from Fundacion de Quemado showing off their necklaces, and (below) a few boys from Ayudame eyeing the dessert table and gingerbread house. The girls were sitting on the sidelines, just watching the younger ones. At first I thought they were too mature or too "cool" to want to do the kids' crafts, but when I invited them to join the table, they drew huge smiles and straight away got to work making their necklaces. I was particularly fond of Jefferson (age 15) and his mother Daisy who I finally coaxed into conversation (she admitted that her hands were all blue because she'd been painting her house). The Ambassador and his wife, plus the DCM and his wife, were wonderful hosts, circulating among the guests (the Ambassador in a Santa hat) or serving empanadas and other snacks to us all.

A Colombian dance troupe called Dejeme Ser came out to entertain us and kept up high-energy song and dance routines wearing Britney-mics and satin outfits. An embassy mother-daughter team played Christmas flute duets and another woman sang carols.  Finally, Papa Noel came out from his chair alongside the Christmas tree to deliver presents to each of our Colombian guests. He started off reading the kids' names in Spanish, but I guess the gringo accent was losing some of them, so one of the Colombian women from the CLO office took over. Each kid got a present - from dolls to soccer balls to purses - and it was great to see Tim handing them out with his helper elves. The day was still summery warm as we wound down and saw the kids off onto their buses. Tim changed (secretly) back into his usual self and we headed home. He brought with him an armful of notes to Santa with wishes written in English, French and Spanish, depending on which school the particular kids attend. Unfortunately, we can't hang these up in the CLO office on Monday for everyone to see, as the kids will be so disappointed to notice that their message didn't stay with Santa.  
All in all, a really super first Christmas party at our first post!                                                         Coming next: Bogota and nightime ciclovia.

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