Dump the old and laugh in the new

It was a humid New Year’s Eve in 1998 in Zimbabwe. Rain was threatening the skies over Bulawayo, and our family was settling into my sister’s home after a wonderful Christmas break at a small, private game reserve outside the city.

There were 22 of us together that year: my parents, my three siblings and all of our families. Some of us stayed at my sister’s house in Bulawayo, and some in friends’ homes around the neighbourhood. We gathered during the day and for meals and outings and arguments; not all of the above were planned. Hey, we’re family.

After a week or two in Bulawayo, we’d spent an amazing five days at the reserve, celebrating Christmas and the rare and welcome opportunity for us all to be together. We arrived at the reserve armed with food and drink to sustain an army. My brother-in-law’s family were at the reserve when we arrived; it was planned that Christmas Day would be our overlap day and 45 of us sat around the same celebratory table for lunch. A marquee doubled as a dormitory for the 18 children in sleeping bags that night, while the adults enjoyed the luxury of sleeping in thatched rondavels (round huts) overlooking a small dam. As they say, it’s hell in Africa.

After a further few idyllic days of horse-riding, fishing, swimming, walking, reading and enjoying good food and family time – including a spontaneous concert that we siblings put on for the incredulous children, and a wonderful awards’ ceremony that one of my brothers orchestrated to mark the unique contribution to the holiday of each one of us – we returned to the city to celebrate New Year together. It was on the day before New Year’s Eve that, one by one, 14 of our clan of 22 fell ill. (My original family plus two sturdy youngsters remained either completely or relatively untouched.) My sister – who is a nurse – took great care of each patient, ensuring everyone was well-hydrated and fever kept at bay.

The next day we took my elder son to see the doctor. Before she examined him, we told her that we had 13 more like him at home; whatever he had, they all had too. Tests revealed that shigella dysentery was, well, running through our family. All 22 of us had to have treatment for this notifiable disease, and so it was that we celebrated the dawn of 1999 quietly and, I guess for the most part, gingerly.

The medicine took effect quickly and within a day or two, all the cousins were gathered around the dining room table sharing stories of their experience of the disease. For the young boys – aged between about 8 and 14 – the conversation was not repeatable, and much laughter rang through the house; it made a change from those other sounds.

Part of the family left soon after the New Year and 12 of us remained to travel to Hwange Game Reserve and Victoria Falls for a few more idyllic days. We travelled in a pack, enjoyed incredible game-viewing and sight-seeing, and found that hysterical laughter can hurt your stomach almost as much as the disease. As we visited two of the most beautiful places on the planet, our memory banks filled with stories that will follow us around our whole lives, and shared memories of joy and discomfort that bonded us in a way you could never imagine.

We’ll never know where the disease came from but we do know that love, laughter, family and brown paper packets filled with bullet-sized tablets took it clean away.

So, as I sit in my London flat on a chilly, grey New Year’s Eve and await the dawn of 2012, it warms my heart to think of this time 13 years ago and all the interesting adventures of our family reunion. We bought a beautiful wooden carving of a giraffe who we named “Relly” (for relatives), and he stands proud in our home (currently in my parents’ home) as a reminder of that holiday.

Reflecting on the past year, I feel anxious to press on into the new. I miss my family and home and friends – I always do at this time of year – and my heart feels heavy with nostalgia. But I guess – like the shigella – that feeling too will pass and I look forward to rediscovering the laughter that will make my belly ache.

As I wish you all a wonderful and happy New Year, and every good blessing for you and your family, what is it that you reflect on at the dawn of this New Year? And what are your hopes for 2012?

Happy New Year to you all. Sunshine signing off for this year!


40 thoughts on “Dump the old and laugh in the new

  1. ooooh i’ve heard lots of ‘unrepeatable’ stories about this and many times! Definitely sounds like something none of you will ever forget! Thinking of you… 🙂

  2. Eww, dysentery is just about the worst thing one can have, especially over the holidays. Glad your family survived that awful experience and you can laugh over memories of it now! I hope you have a wonderful New Year’s, Sunshine, and I’m glad I’m getting to know you through your blog. Perhaps a phone call home is in order for tomorrow?!

    1. I know, Debbie, who’d think we’d bond over a good old dose of shigella! Yes, a call home is definitely in order – we do those, and skype, often, which is wonderful. Happy 2012 to you and yours, Debbie xx

  3. Happy New Year, Sunshine! Thank you for sharing your stories and life with all of us around the globe. Katie and I are looking forward to the new year. We are calling it our Year of Allowing – as in letting go of resistance and allowing into our lives all of the good stuff the Universe has lined up for us. By the way, the Christmas yurt camping experience was fantastic! I will be posting pictures and story on my blog soon. Much love and good cheer to you and your family!

    1. Happy New Year to you and Katie too, Patti. What a lovely decision you’ve both made for the year ahead – I really like that. Glad to hear you had a great yurt experience – I’ll check out your blog. Every good blessing to you too xx

  4. Even though so many of you got sick, at least you were together in your misery–and now it makes for a great story. Sara and I are hoping Sara will find work in 2012 (perhaps, in London) and that I will make good progress with my memoir. Happy New Year to you and your family, Sunshine. Blessings to you in the coming year!

    1. Very true, Kathy. I hope that your and Sara’s hopes and plans for 2012 come to be – would be fabulous to meet you on this small island, and your memoir will be amazing! Keep me posted. And every good blessing to you both for the year ahead xx

  5. It’s amazing how getting through tough times (and illness) brings out the real side of people – either good or bad – and your family obviously showed the strength of the bonds they had. Thanks for sharing such a moving story and hi to Relly from me.

    I love to reflect on the growth our family has each year, physical, professional, emotional, and our growing closer together through our shared experiences. Happy new year to you!

    1. It’s really good to be able to look back in hilarity, rather than anger! I like what you reflect on each year … may you all grow closer and stronger in every way. Happy 2012 to you all too xx

  6. Happy New Year my dear sweet friend. I can well imagine this story reappearing around many of your family Christmas tables every year! Isn’t it wonderful how horrible episodes such as this are superceded by the unity of your family and live on as merely a symbol of such unity rather than a painful memory! Lotsa love to you XOX

    1. Happy New Year to you too, my friend! We have some of our own wonderful Christmas and New Year memories, don’t we? Much love to you all over there – hope to see you some time soon xx

  7. Great memories. Thanks for your blogs, love them. Your chilly flat in London sounds sad compared to the grandeur of Zimbabwe – here’s trusting that the warmth of the memories will bring joy.

  8. Love reading your stories from your past Sunshine. Our family shared a similar experience on a family trip to El Salvador. We drove from Minnesota to El Salvador and back over Christmas vacation when I was 17. We spent our New Years Eve and Day in our hotel rooms as near to the bathrooms as possible instead of venturing out into the celebrations surrounding us. All but one in our family of seven at the time were sick.

    Blessings to you and your family in 2012. I’ll be anxiously awaiting more stories from you.

    1. Thank you, Jeanne! Glad you understand the tale of sickness and togetherness – difficult to see the funny side when you’re in the middle of it, but good to laugh about it afterwards. God’s richest blessings to you and your family too, Jeanne – may 2012 be a truly special year for you all xx

  9. Sunshine, I feel for you as the rain pelts down outside on a grey British afternoon: SA must seem so far away. May God send you a wonderful year, though you are far form home. Hope the job is going well.

    1. Yes, it’s been a miserable day in London today, hasn’t it? Good to relax and chill and read, though! Warm SA does feel far away, but skype and Facebook do bring it closer! Thanks for your good wishes for the new year – to you and your lovely family too. Still really loving the job, thank you xx

  10. We’re having a sunny New Year’s Day and warm temperatures here in NYC. I’ll send some of it your way. 🙂
    Wishing you peace and joy in 2012!

  11. Your family literally dumped the old. I’m so glad they could laugh about it and created a fond memory for you. In 2008, we had a reunion of my mother and her sisters and we visited Nova Scotia, where we rented a house. It rained the entire week, but the house was somebody else’s homes full of games and window seats and comfy places to hang out. It was a wonderful week for the generation before me and four of their children. During that week, my mother turned 87 and my aunt’s husband turned 96. Amazingly, all made it back alive. I’m so glad we took that trip because both my mother and my uncle have passed on since then. This afternoon, I’m cleaning out drawers and closets and I came across my mother’s watch–the one she was wearing when she died and the one I stopped at that moment. I had forgotten I had it. I miss her in this moment. I’m so grateful for that week of laughter.

    1. Thanks for sharing this lovely story of family and cherished memories and special times. So wonderful to hold on to memories like that; I know just what you mean, elifair. Much love and rich blessings to you for 2012 xx

  12. I really enjoyed reading about your family holiday in Zimbabwe. apart from the memories of the past it made for great reading of precious family time! We have just come back from a few days away with the whole extended family, 9 in total with spouses of our 2 eldest, our 4 month old grandson,our youngest son’s girlfriend and my 90 year old mother. The range of ages and personalities made for a challenging but fun holiday.

    keep up the great stories which make delightful reading and happy New Year to you and your family!

    1. Sounds like you made wonderful and special memories, Christina – what a treat for you all to be together! 🙂 Glad you enjoy the blog posts, and I wish you and all your family a blessed and peaceful 2012 xx

  13. Hi Sunshine! Enjoyed reading your post – we had a holiday time like that when we lived in Zimbabwe when our eldest daughter – who was only about 8 at the time – got Shigella – it was too awful and she was so ill – so I know what you mean! Hope you have a most wonderful 2012!!

    1. Ah, you understand the joys of shigella! Not so much fun – much better when it’s over, hey? A most wonderful 2012 for you and your family and your new ventures too xx

  14. You might be the only blogger I know of who faced shigella! That’s a disease I’d never even heard of…

    My mom and I spent one Christmas Day on the beach in Cartagena, Colombia, eating pizza and ice cream for dinner. Whatever hit us (heat stroke?) we spent the next day taking turns on/at the toilet bowl. Ahhh, memories.

    1. Well, now you know that it exists and you’re all the richer for it! 🙂 And you know the joys of shared memories like ours – always better in retrospect! Happy 2012.

  15. This definitely brings back very good, and bad memories. Thanks again for painting a wonderful picture with words. XXX

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