13 Dec A Nyama Choma Christmas

I grew up thinking that Christmas needed snow and the classic claymation 1964 Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer movie playing in the background.

Turns out you can get the same warm-Christmas-fuzzies by roasting a goat in Kenya.

Christmas at the Simama Transition Home was great. We had decided to throw a party: we had our goat, we had our borrowed boombox for the compulsory dance competition, we had the sacks for our sack races, and we had a Christmas bush to decorate.

Our Christmas began, as it usually does, the day before, by digging a large hole. Our friend Ryan had the ambitious idea of trying a Polynesian-style earth oven for the feast. It goes like this:

Step 1: Dig a hole approximately the size of a goat.
Step 2: Line the hole with rocks from the river.
Step 3: Build a massive bonfire to heat the rocks until they’re white-hot.
Step 4: Wrap the meat in banana leaves and place on the rocks.
Step 5: Cover the entire thing with a big pile of banana leaves and let cook for 4 hours.

There were skeptics.

But it worked great! And we could never have done it without the help of the kids at the home. They collected all of the firewood and a pile of banana leaves the size of a small house! They helped dig the hole and gathered a great pile of rocks for the oven. Such great kids.

Kenyan tradition calls for roasted meat (nyama choma) for big holidays. When the goat arrived from the butcher, we were a bit surprised to see it still alive. But alas, not for long. We seasoned the goat, five chickens, a pile of sweet potatoes, and wrapped it all up in banana-leaf blankets. The whole parcel was lowered into its bed of hot rocks and left to cook. Meanwhile, others prepared some delicious Pilau (spicy rice), scrumptious Mokimo (mashed potatoes and plantain), mouthwatering Chapati (flatbread), delectable Githeri (corn and beans) and a yummy beef stew.

While all of these dishes were cooking over the fire, the kids that were not helping were throwing a dance party. And then an impromptu fashion show. We held our own mini Olympics filled with games and fun. But mostly races, because these kids love races. They competed in the three legged race, the relay race and the sack race.  But as everyone here is best friends, it was difficult to determine the winning team.

Luckily for me, the dance competition started the exact moment I had to help open up the earth oven to check on our goat. It turned out great. Well the sweet potatoes were either burnt black or raw, but who likes vegetables anyway?

We played a bunch of cards, sang songs, splashed in the river and had a marvelous Christmas feast. The house parents and staff even arranged gifts for the kids, like a new shirt or a pair of shoes. It was a great celebration! I don’t know if I have ever been to a Christmas party where absolutely everyone attending was so happy to be there.

And then, at the end of the evening, all 40-some of the party-goers gathered around and watched the movie Elf. As it turns out, Will Ferrell is funny universally; there is just something about a large man in tights that translates very well.

I, however, had voted for claymation 1964 Rudolph.

– Jarod Griesbach