KEEPING COOL: The snow arrived two days after we did

What would you like me to give you for Christmas … a new house, a fancy sports car or maybe just the latest state of the art flat-screen high-definition TV?

Well, I’m not going to rush out to buy any of those things; not because I’m a tight wad or because I can’t afford to – although I am and I can’t – but rather because I am also a caring human being and I really don’t think any of them would be truly good for you in the long run.

Yeah, yeah, I know, that’s a very self-serving argument that parents have been using for years and years to save a bit of cash, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true, and I’ve witnessed something in the past few days that confirms for me that an easy life is not necessarily a good one.

One of my biggest worries about relocating from Botswana to England has been that the people over here don’t smile a great deal – at least not while they are walking down the street or travelling on the buses and trains – and it can be really difficult to even make eye contact with a stranger let alone strike up a conversation.

Well, a couple of days after my youngest daughter and I arrived in the UK from sunny Africa the temperature here plummeted and the skies filled with snow; and it kept on snowing until there were 20 centimetres of the white fluffy stuff on the ground.

It was beautiful, but it could also have been seen as a serious inconvenience as it made the roads and sidewalks quite slippery. Everything had to slow down, vehicles wouldn’t start and driveways and sidewalks had to be cleared before the snow got so compacted by feet and wheels that it turned to ice.

The thing is, when I walked around our neighbourhood the morning after the storm and talked to the freezing shovelers they all smiled, returned my greeting, chatted a bit and then went back to their chores with what seemed to me to be a great deal of enthusiasm. The extra work didn’t seem to be an inconvenience at all; as a matter of fact, it seemed to do most people a world of good.

Now this doesn’t really come as a great surprise to me; I mean why would so many people spend their free time training for and competing in marathons and triathlons, or walking across the Makgadikgadi Pans, or pay a fortune to climb Mount Kilimanjaro if they didn’t get something very valuable out of at least trying to overcome serious and sometimes painful challenges? Problems, believe it or not, can be very, very good…as long as you have some hope of solving them.

So…instead of sending you lots of expensive gifts and hoping you win the lottery and settle into an easy life in 2011, I’m going to simply wish you all a merry holiday season and a year filled with challenges you can overcome with the help of a few good friends.

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