In Peace Corps, perhaps more so than in other phases of life, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative.

Our conversation patterns fall into a familiar cycle of complaints, implicit or explicit, as we discuss the foods we miss, the aspects of our jobs that frustrate us, the constant shifting of Peace Corps rules, the lack of comforts we took for granted back in the States. It’s harder to remember the things we’re grateful for.

I have a confession: this year I planned not to celebrate the holidays at all. I’ve been pushing my budget and my energy both to the limits lately, and Thanksgiving, especially, has sounded more like a chore than a holiday.

But a friend passing by talking about her love of Christmas reminded me of how much I, too, love the holiday season, and a couple other friends decided to visit me for Thanksgiving despite my having flatly refused to join in on their initial celebration plan, and suddenly the season didn’t seem so bleak and difficult. I’ve spent a few days making holiday decorations and hunting down Christmas music, and just like that, I’m looking forward to the holidays. And just like that, I remembered that there really are a lot of things I’m thankful for.

Here are a few of them—one for every month I’ve been in Rwanda:

  1. Friends who refuse to let me be alone on holidays
  2. Furry animal babies who cuddle me and love me even when I’m grouchy
  3. Neighbours who invest in me despite the language barrier
  4. Local co-workers who are motivated and serious about projects
  5. Holiday foods—we won’t have turkey or cranberry sauce, but if we put a little effort in, we can have goat and mashed potatoes and maybe even pie
  6. My own compound with running water—I will never get over how lucky I am to have a private space with a good wall and water I don’t have to haul in jerrycans
  7. The internet—even if my access to it is limited and slow, I can still communicate with my family more or less instantaneously despite thousands of miles between us
  8. Books—I may be the only person in my village who owns books, and these gateways to comfort, escape, and enlightenment that I’ve regarded as a right for many years suddenly appear clearly to be an incredible privilege
  9. Beautiful things—this week it’s the paper snowflakes I hung from my ceiling and the candles I stuck on some empty bottles on my bookshelf; I’m mesmerised; I can’t stop staring; isn’t it lovely that we have the capacity to create and admire art?
  10. Cozy clothes—jumpers and leggings and socks and hoodies and all the lovely soft clothes that make chilly evenings a little better
  11. Coffee—in a country where coffee is an export crop but not a common drink, I can buy freshly roasted and ground coffee just a 45-minute bus ride away from my site
  12. Rainy season—honestly, during dry season I’d forgotten how beautiful my area is, but now that the rains have returned, the hills are green and the valley shimmers wet in the setting suns and the colours are vibrant without their dry-season coats of dust, and I find myself craning my neck to stare in all directions when I walk up the road
  13. My health—some volunteers have been sick more often than not here; I’ve only been significantly sick three times in the fourteen months I’ve been in country
  14. A long holiday—my mind and body are so happy to have a chance to rest a little before next schoolyear, and I’m looking forward to lying on a beach for a week in early December

Anyway, there’s my list. I hope you, too, have plenty of things to be grateful for and that you take a moment to remember a few of them this holiday season.


It’s Not About the Red Cup


Dear Christians upset about the red cups at Starbucks:

This is why we can’t have nice things. This is why nobody takes us seriously. It’s because we complain about things like snowflake-less cups.

But it’s not about a cup. The whole internet knows this is a ridiculous case of a few irrational people making a fuss over nothing. (Well, not nothing. Coffee is never nothing.) But stop laughing at the stupidity and take another look, because this is a symptom. Usually the deeper problem manifests in less ridiculous ways, but this Starbucks cup uproar is a perfect example of Christian privilege taken to its extreme.

Christians are whiny in this country. We are so eager to be offended that we’re missing the bigger picture.

You ever notice that people don’t make fun of Buddhists for their beliefs? I’ve heard people say, “See how Christianity is the only religion people hate? It’s persecution!” Number one, that’s not true—ask a Muslim or Jew sometime—and number two, maybe it’s because Buddhists don’t run around doing things like playing “pranks” worthy of an eight-year-old on Starbucks baristas and making a hullabaloo about a cup produced by a secular franchise.

It’s not about a cup. It’s about Christians thinking we deserve to have everyone support our holiday. We don’t convince anyone; instead, we cheapen Christmas. If we believe we celebrate something holy, why would we want it diminished to a commercialised doodle?

Christians are so worried about discrimination that we’re blind to our privilege. Whose slogan is on every U.S. coin? Whose Ten Commandments are in courthouses? Whose celebrations are national holidays? I didn’t notice anyone getting days off for Diwali this year, or for Passover, or for Ramadan. This nation was founded on freedom of religion: freedom of every religion—not freedom for Christians to demand acknowledgement.

It’s not about a cup. It’s about people who post pro-life Facebook statuses but judge the lives of unwed mothers—those who demand “Merry Christmas” but ignore the homeless whose Christmas is anything but merry—those who insist God is love while hating the LGBT+ community—those who sue for prayer in schools but neglect the millions of children who don’t have schools.

If this were the only instance of out of proportion pettiness, it might be a good laugh. But it’s not. It’s the natural outcome of a mindset that we’ve all lived in too long.

Instead of getting sucked into argument, consider spending the effort on someone in need. Here are a few good ways:

Make Christmas a little brighter for children with parents incarcerated.

Donate to help the homeless.

Provide food for a needy family.

Help children around the world through the Red Cross.

Support a VA hospital.

Give a Christmas gift to a less fortunate child in your area.

This Christmas, let’s fix what the red cup symbolises.