I did not used to care much for celebrating U.S. holidays while overseas. In many of the places I lived before the Foreign Service – Korea, Japan, China, Philippines, Singapore – most of the big U.S. holidays celebrated when I was a kid (Easter, July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving) were, while not always completely unknown, not of any local consequence. Only Christmas seemed to have penetrated these countries to varying degrees. And that is usually when I went on vacation.
Now that I have a child, and C is of a certain age, building holiday traditions is important to me. And having her participate in U.S. cultural activities can give her a foundation in “American-ness,” even though she has spent most of her life outside her country. Yet even though we live in Embassy and expat communities, the translation of U.S. traditions abroad is, well, sometimes, creative. It’s a combination of what is available overseas, budgets, and local interpretation.
This year we celebrated Easter four times and each time we got something a bit different.
Our first Easter event was that organized by the Embassy’s Community Liaison Office. The USAID Director graciously volunteered to host the event at his beautiful home, complete with very large – perfect for Easter Egg hunting – yard. It was a lovely Spring, er, Fall (Malawi is in the Southern Hemisphere after all) day and C was dressed in Easter-appropriate finest. There was face painting, Easter Bunny photo ops, and brunch potluck. And, of course, an egg hunt. Divided into age groups, the Embassy children lined up for their chance to participate. A huge swath of the yard was littered with eggs. For the littlest group this was perfect – but by the time even C’s group stepped up to the starting line, the kids were already plotting how to go beyond the little group, to the far end of the lawn. The rope dropped and they flew past the eggs in front of them, running at full speed. While there were a few eggs placed on top of large rocks on in trees, all the eggs were hidden in plain sight. Once the time was up, the children turned in their eggs to receive a prize bag with candy, stickers, tattoos, and pens. C very much liked her gifts but disapproved of the ease of the hunt.
No problem. Our next hunt would solve that issue.
One of the (if not the) nicest hotels and restaurants in Lilongwe advertised an Easter event including an egg hunt. As I had not yet been there I thought it a good opportunity for us to have lunch, check out the hotel, and secure more Easter booty. C had been sick as a dog the night before, but rallied for a chance to join another egg quest.
Approximately 35 children lined up to participate. And waited. Some baskets were handed out. We waited some more. Some hotel staff said it would start “soon.” More kids showed up and needed baskets. More baskets were fetched. More waiting. After awhile it was apparent this event was running on Malawian time. At last the kids were released. Almost immediately there was confusion. The organizers had pointed the kids toward a walled area and said the eggs were hidden in that area…and also the area to the right of the pool…and around the building. Everyone headed first into the walled garden and we looked and looked and looked. For a good ten minutes no one found a single egg. Even parents helping were unsuccessful. This was an event for children aged 4-12, yet the eggs were hidden so well that the kids might have had a better chance unearthing Jimmy Hoffa, the Fountain of Youth, or the Lost City of Atlantis.
Finally a few older children found some eggs and a sense of hope resurfaced in the others. C actually found an egg! I was so proud of her. Then the organizers said all the eggs on that side had been found and we should return poolside to look some more. C found another egg! But she would not pick it up, requesting I do so, because it was broken. And then I got a good look at what we were hunting for. They had not hidden plastic eggs. They had not even hidden hard boiled eggs. They had hidden brown, haphazardly painted, raw eggs!! I asked an organizer how many eggs there were — 40. Forty brown chicken eggs masterfully hidden in two large hotel yard areas for 35 children with a wide age span. I tried to put myself into the shoes of whoever planned this life lesson in massive disappointment…
C and a few others had managed to find 3-4 eggs. An older boy, maybe 10 years old, had found 8 eggs. Another older boy had 9. A girl a few years older than C had 13. She won. (Later she revealed she had simply asked those sitting next to her to contribute their eggs to her basket so someone would beat the older boys – brilliant) Most of the kids had found none. Only the top three winners received a prize. Again C felt disgruntled. This hunt had been (WAY) too hard.
Our third Easter hunt took place in Paris. As my friend and I had planned our trip to arrive in Paris just before Easter, it made perfect sense to track down a Parisian egg hunt. And we found one advertised online at the Parc Andre Citroen for a mere five Euros. We only had to wait for the tickets to go on sale; we checked online regularly for the release date. It was like waiting for Taylor Swift concert tickets. Purchasing opened and we snapped up two, one for each of the kiddos. Once at the park, we went to the registration booth, showed our tickets, and received instructions. The kids 3-6 years of age were to find only three eggs- one white, one orange, one pink. In a field there stood several red cardboard boxes. Inside were plastic eggs — one box would hold all blue eggs, another box all green, another all yellow, and so on. So the kids had only to run to a box and if it had the color egg they need, pluck one out. It never would have occurred to me to set up an egg hunt in this way.
The kids finished so quickly and then turned in their three eggs for a gift bag that contained a juice box, pan de chocolate, applesauce, and Kinder Eggs. The real thing. Not that stuff passed off as Kinder Eggs in America, the Kinder Joy, but the real, honest to goodness, banned in the U.S., Kinder Surprise. Oh boy! Although C seemed to find the hunt on the lame side, she forgot all about it once she received her reward.
Our first weekend back in Malawi I prepared our fourth and final egg hunt — this one would be at home and based on the at-home searches organized by my mom when I was little. I filled a mismatched pile of some 37 plastic eggs with jelly beans and miniature chocolate bunnies. For the largest and most decorative of the eggs, I inserted a piece of paper on which I had written a clue. Then I hid them in our living room, on the konde (our screened in porch), and the backyard. Then I called for C to begin looking. Some eggs were easy to find, some not so much. My nanny and her sister sat in the living room observing the proceedings with what seemed a mix of amusement and wonder. After C had found all the eggs, she opened the three with the clues. One read “I am not a chocolate chicken, but I can be found among my feathered friends.” C raced off to the chicken coop to find a large chocolate bunny nestled in the wood shavings. Another clue led her to a drawer embedded in the stairs to her loft bed, and the third to the playground outside. At the latter two she found gifts to unwrap.
Truth be told — I had never had an Easter egg hunt like that growing up. As a child, my siblings and I would come downstairs on Easter morning to find our Easter baskets filled to the brim with goodies — always a solid milk chocolate rabbit, jelly beans, maybe Peeps, and some small gifts. Then we would have an egg hunt in our living room. But here I was making do, making my own tradition, and C declared it the BEST Easter egg hunt EVER.