I hope your year went well. This is the 13th annual edition of The Christmas Letter and I’m happy to say that twenty nineteen has been an amazing year for us. We’ve been on the road for five months now, and have visited about 15 countries and 40 places. It feels like we’ve been traveling all year though we were home for the first seven months. I don’t remember that part much.
Vivian started 2019 wearing a cast after breaking her arm at the end of 2018. She finished 6th grade, made amazing friends, and grew up a lot. Her love of writing and sketching really took off.
Evan enjoyed 4th grade, especially friends and his favorite period – recess. He continues to be a bundle of contradictions, a loving turd.
By the beginning of summer Jo methodically started preparing for our impending departure by moving our shit a.k.a our personal belongings to Goodwill every day. Towards the end of July I packed my bags for Africa. Aaron met me in Arusha and we climbed Kilimanjaro.
A little bit after that Jo, Carol and the kids arrived in Arusha and we officially started our year long family vacation. Carol left us after Africa and we headed off to the Mediterranean and Egypt followed by India and Bhutan. Then we took a short break from traveling and came back to Austin for Thanksgiving. In December we resumed where we had left off, with a few days in Singapore and the rest of the month in Australia.
Vacationing requires work. Planning the trip as it unfolds, having Vivian and Evan study periodically, keeping everyone fed, and going from place to place takes effort. But in between it’s magic. We’ve splashed in stunning beaches in the Mediterranean sea and Indian and Pacific oceans, climbed up hills in Africa and Bhutan, stepped on to the sand dunes of Egypt, swam and sailed down the Nile, rafted down the Mo Chu river, climbed inside the Great Pyramid, watched the sun set over the ruins of the Acropolis, cringed at crocodiles devouring drowning wildebeest on the Maasai river, marveled at lions copulating in the Okavango delta, played with starfish in the shallow lagoons of coastal Kenya, enjoyed a breakfast at St. Marco’s square in Venice, chatted with school kids in a slum in Nairobi, spun the prayer wheels at a nunnery in Punaka, patted koalas in Brisbane, watched a storm brew over the city walls of old Dubrovnik, ridden bicycles on cobbled stoned paths along the shores of the Adriatic, toured Robben Island prison with an ex-convict, drank with the regulars in Gansbaai watching the Boks play the All Blacks on the television, rode on a tram in Kolkata, admired the erotic sculpture at Konarak, watched Christmas carolers in Singapore, celebrated Diwali in Hyderabad and Christmas in Brisbane, gazed upon Tutankhamen’s solid gold death mask, surfed down a giant sand dune in Western Australia, snorkeled in the Mediterranean, paid our respects to Michael Angelo, Galileo, Machiavelli and Dante in Florence, kissed my wife in the back seat of a gondola in Venetian canal, admired the breathtaking views from the balcony of Nueschwanstein castle, mingled with the lederhosen-sporting locals at the St. Rupert’s Day fair in Salzburg, ran along the rocky cliffs of the Western Cape to spot whales, got drenched in the spray rising from Victoria Falls, witnessed thousands of wildebeest thunder across the northern Serengeti during their migration, listened to a lion conservationist tell us about her work in the Ngorongoro crater, and looked at the fossil beds of Olduvai gorge where our species got started.
We’ve visited old friends and made some new ones. Along the way Vivian and Evan discovered a little bit about the world and Jo and I learned more about our family and ourselves. We were horrified by apartheid and how its long tentacles reach towards the future but we were uplifted by the hopeful children in the school in Mathare. We were amazed by the social lives of the wild dogs of Okavango, the most ruthless predators in the delta who tenderly take care of their young. We are struck by the open warmth and friendliness of the Egyptians and horrified by the clamp down on their protests just weeks before we got there. Everywhere that we saw division and tribalism and the ugly underbelly of fear and greed we also heard people telling us that the only way forward is together. The old cab driver in Greece who worries about the swarming immigrants from Africa and Syria said “But we have to take care of them”.
There is one place where there isn’t a silver lining. It is how we’ve fucked up planet home. Most places we visited are reeling from unusually late or early or too little or too much rain, or unexpected heat. Whether we are causing the change or not, the world seems to be entering a period of misery caused by climate change. How will this affect the lives of our children ? I don’t know. But hope by itself is a misguided sentiment. Ignorance is worse. Willful short sightedness is criminal.
As we travel I hope Vivian and Evan and Jo and I learn a little more about other places and people. Yesterday an old friend posted this quote by Dr Chuba Okadigbo, a Nigerian politician and philosopher I’d never heard of:
If you are emotionally attached to your tribe, religion or political leaning to the point that truth and justice become secondary considerations, your education and exposure is useless. If you cannot reason beyond petty sentiments, you are a liability.
Here’s to not being a liability. And to Merry Everything and Happy Always.
Warm wishes and love from Evan, Vivian, Jo, and me.
Dec 26 2019. Burleigh Heads, Queensland, Australia.