The Best Christmas Gift

Kenney Tran is a Community Economic Development (CED) volunteer serving in a pueblo in Magdalena, Colombia.


It was on a day like any other, if I hadn’t bothered to check my phone when I woke up, I could’ve honestly not known it was the 25th of December. Christmas day, one of the most important holidays in the world, started out quieter than most days. I rolled out of bed, made myself my standard coffee and eggs as I waited for a friend from my cohort to come over. I had planned to do something that night for my host family. I was going to make chicken parmesan, and I could already imagine the pure shock on any typical host country national’s face: this boy, who doesn’t look like a gringo, about to cook… an Italian meal? 

Yeah, don’t worry. It surprises a lot of people that I used to work with at Olive Garden.

As I sat on the porch outside watching the day pass me by, feeling the temperature fluctuate between 97 and 99 degrees, and sipping on glasses of lemonade with my host family, I found a sense of joy. I’ve never experienced a Christmas as warm as this before, and I was excited for the next one to come. I began prepping for Chicken Parm, and as I sweat in a kitchen that seemed like it was over a hundred degrees, the food was almost ready.

I had previously made a day trip to a group of Cacao farmers a couple of sites over, lugging back with me bottles of Chocolate wine, a chocolate bar, and (from my stash of items from the United States) a big old calendar of New England (complete with all four seasons). I was excited to present them with the presents that I had for them, including this big family meal that I would be able to share with both them and a friend from my cohort. I opened with a small speech about how much I appreciated them and I felt as if I should give back to the family that had given me so much. They responded in kind, telling me that they felt my presence was a great opportunity to learn about the world and different cultures. As the night wound down, I was pretty happy with how close I had gotten to my family. We sat outside on the porch when they caught my attention and quietly stated, out of all the gifts you could’ve brought us, your presence is the best one we could’ve asked for. I took a moment to gather myself and was just sitting there, infinitely grateful for what Colombia has brought me.

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