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A lazy, hazy Christmas at the orphanage - By Rebecca Wicks

As a kid, you laugh at your gran and granddad, who every year without fail will enjoy a full Christmas dinner and then promptly fall asleep in the nearest armchair, as you walk your new Barbie or Tonka truck over their tartan slippers. As an adult, when you find yourself nodding off in such a fashion, you do anything but laugh. As your eyes start to close, with a belly full of turkey and a steaming glass of mulled wine in hand, you simply wonder how you found the energy as a child, to deal with Christmas in any other way.

Of course, as a kid you don’t have to do the cooking. There were 10 of us this year on December 25th, all pitching in to prepare the feast. We called it “The Orphan’s Christmas”, being a gathering of expats all celebrating away from home � an act of festive merriment that was undoubtedly occurring in several homes across these desert plains. You can take the westerners away from Christmas, but you can bet a homemade mince pie and a footprint made from flour that you’ll never take the Christmas away from westerners.

In order to feast in true seasonal form, we all helped to make the apartment in JBR look like Santa’s Grotto. Spray on snowflakes stood out against the marina backdrop, blue sky and sunshine streaming through the windows. A giant tree cast shadows on the floor-tiles and a log fire cracked in a beautiful, authentic, state of the art� 36 inch television� thanks to a fantastic DVD. We wore hats, and covered the window ledges with snow coloured tinsel. No one has a problem with living in a hot country, except at Christmas. We’ll do everything in our power to bring the winter in and leave the heat outside.

Clearly no one wanted the turkey assignment, so we ordered that one in from the Intercontinental hotel. An 8kg beast of a bird arrived, in a skin of golden brown and accompanied by all the festive trimmings. ‘P’ prepared his very own stuffing, which was by far better than the hotel’s, I have to say. (Could have had something to do with the pork sausage-meat he had to hunt for, far and wide; there was LOVE in that recipe). Personally I was in charge of the starters. Cooking is not my specialty so guests enjoyed a tomato and goats cheese brusetta and weren’t allowed to say anything against the overuse of oregano, or the plastic plates. It’s all about timing � cooking a meal for 10. It also helps if you know how to make the dish you’re assigned. I’ll say nothing about the Yorkshire pudding incident, only what emerged from the cooker, aside from a burning inferno of olive oil which threatened to consume the entire kitchen, was more like a giant, crispy French crepe. At least we tried.

With one small oven and dishes coming from across the city, some items were inevitably colder, warmer, fresher than others, even with a microwave. Somehow though, it didn’t really matter. Last year we set fire to the tablecloth in a rather tragic blaze involving a tea-light and a paper hat from a cracker, and this year the Yorkshire pudding faus-pas could well have been the Grinch that stole Christmas, even though we were careful not to place any candles on the dinner table. Needless to say we were just grateful to be together, and alive for the actual feast, for the second year running.

Christmas now, as an adult in another country, is obviously an entirely different experience to those of times gone by. You can’t have gran and granddad in the corner. The dinner guests change every year. You can’t have the latest Barbie or Tonka truck either, (well you can but everyone will think you’re weird). You can’t run around getting under everyone’s feet � you’re far too full � but you can play the board games you used to hate the grown-ups playing, when you were little. In 2009, Christmas will be different again. A lot happens in a year. People come and people go, life closes doors and opens new ones but in such a transient community, the friends you make become your family. At the end of the day, when the presents have been opened, the blazes have been doused with water, fake moustaches have been drawn on unfortunate sleepers and the Queen’s speech has long been lost in a haze of mulled wine and sherry, there’s no better time for appreciating your “family”, whoever they may have become, than at Christmas.

Posted: 29 December 2008

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