My parents fell in love in the wild rains and green grassy plains of West Africa. As a result, my older sister and I were raised there. My childhood was full of crazy adventures and I was constantly making memories as I explored who I was.
My father is Dutch and my mom is from the United States, but my heart belongs to my West African country. I love that my identity is a blend of all these cultures and it brings me great joy to see how each of them continually impacts me.
One of my most cherished family memories was going upcountry to the mountain regions every Christmas. It was a six hour, bumpy car ride to a very rustic missionary getaway compound. Though it wasn’t much at all, it was the heart of my family.
We would spend two weeks on our favorite getaway on the top of a mountain, where no one could find us. It was nothing but a small piece of land with some houses on it. My family would always stay in the house at the very top of a hill. It was just big enough to fit the four of us and our puppy, Aj. We spent our nights around the fire pit that was to the right of the house. The warmth of the flames danced across our skin as we listened to my parents’ childhood stories, read our favorite books and talked about everything for hours.
This missionary compound also provided an opportunity for exciting adventures. I remember one day that my dad had the idea to roll up magazine pages and craft them into little darts. He then used PVC pipes to blow our darts at the cows that were grazing. No cows were harmed, although a couple of cows were rudely interrupted from their snacking. That day was full of lots of laughs and definitely holds a special place in my heart.
Another fond memory that I have was of the little bamboo farm that the compound held. The way the wind blew through it and caused the trees to hit against one another made a beautiful sound, almost like music. My dad, sister and I saw that some of the bamboo was dying and whatever bacteria that was killing them was slowly spreading to each tree. We decided to cut down some of the dying bamboo and make the old wood into a little house. We built it up against the hill where the house we were staying in rested on. It took a whole two weeks to put up our little bamboo fortress, but it was well worth it.
Since we spent our Christmas break up-country, that meant we had to take our Christmas traditions along with us. My favorite Christmas tradition is when my mom makes her famous bitterballen on Christmas Eve. Bitterballen is a Dutch treat that my dad loves and thus became essential to our family celebration. They are little balls made out of a meat roux that is covered in breadcrumbs and fried. We would wait in anticipation of this delicious meal.
Soon after the Dutch treats came out of the fryer, our hearts and bellies were full. For my father, the taste was a reminder of his European childhood. For my mom, sister and I, it was the perfect way to explore and appreciate my dad’s beautiful, native culture.
It has been four years since my family and I have been in West Africa and I miss my home dearly. Though we aren’t able to go back and continue our tradition of having Christmas on the mountain top, we can still enjoy one part of our Christmas tradition.
Every Christmas Eve, the smell of our savory Dutch treats fills our American home. Once again, all of our bellies and hearts are full. Yet this time, it is not just to appreciate my dad’s culture, but also to remember our little adventures on the mountain top.