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December 24th, 2009
10:58 PM ET

When did you stop believing in Santa Claus?

Emma Lacey-Bordeaux
CNN Researcher

This time of year you see Santa every where. He was even in the CNN Newsroom yesterday morning thrilling children, many of whom looked like they believed. A co-worker of mine, older and wiser than I, recently asked me when the magic stopped for me? When did I stop believing? She asked while musing about her own children's Christmas experiences and I sat for a moment with the studio lights of the newsroom shining down thinking aback to the Christmas lights of my childhood.

I can remember as clear as day all the excitement and anticipation waiting for the man in the red suit to deliver all those gifts. Only my Santa didn't have a red suit or a round belly. My Santa was clad in UPS brown and arrived in a brown truck instead of a red sleigh.

I grew up in a dizzying succession of college towns. Champaign-Urbana while my father was getting his doctorate, Baton Rouge, Chapel Hill and Bloomington, Indiana. Each location was far from my doting grandparents, aunts and uncles. While these family members intended to lavish me with all manner of gifts, my parents took the opposite approach. The salary of a post doc did not accommodate extravagance and my parents, perhaps conveniently, believed that by giving me only a small number of simple gifts my imagination would grow. A typical Christmas would net the dolls, movies and sugary delights from the UPS Santa, courtesy of my extended family, while the non-UPS Santa contained simpler gifts. Needless to say as a child the gifts which came by post fueled my belief in the magic of Santa.

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December 24th, 2009
03:09 PM ET

Dear President Obama #339: Winding down with a win...

Reporter's Note: President Obama is going to take it easy for the holidays. Me too. But without the surfing. And I’ll still write my letters every day.

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

It’s Christmas Eve! Or as I like to call it, Foam the Runway Day, considering how much I usually have left to do. It’s especially true in DC this year with the big snow storm, all the late action on health care reform (as I write this the Senate is poised to approve their version in the morning, so congrats,) and the usual end of year work madness that I’ve grown to know and fear.

I’m a pretty good time manager (as opposed to time traveler) so it always surprises me a bit to find the Christmas tornado roaring toward me while I’m still standing in the wheat field of autumn like a befuddled farmer. But what are you going to do? Time marches on.

My big special is on at 7 o’clock eastern tonight, All the Best, All the Worst 2009, and I’m actually pretty excited about it. I don’t know if you’ll be in transit to Hawaii at that hour, but you could probably get Biden to Tivo it. You got mixed reviews, as you might expect, but your family drew raves, so that’s good news to take to the beach.

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December 24th, 2009
12:11 PM ET

Gift #1: Holiday gifts from the land of a thousand hills

Janet Nkubana, a former refugee from Rwanda, sells baskets for a company she founded that now employs more than three thousand Rwandans.

Janet Nkubana, a former refugee from Rwanda, sells baskets for a company she founded that now employs more than three thousand Rwandans.

HOLIDAY GIFTS FROM THE LAND OF A THOUSAND HILLS

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I love receiving holiday gifts.

Especially when they’re gifts of knowledge.

I feel like I received at least five gifts of knowledge when I met Janet Nkubana on a recent night.

I hope you’ll let me share them with you one at a time.

Gift #1: A Basket of Security

Janet Nkubana had travelled from her home in the country they call The Land of a Thousand Hills to The Land of a Thousand Malls.

She was here, at Macy’s, to sell her company’s traditional Rwandan baskets.

It’s unusual to have a conversation at a department store that begins with the phrase "When I was growing up in the camp..."

Janet's camp was a refugee camp in Uganda, across a border from her homeland.

In that camp where she grew up "the population was very concentrated. It was easy for a child to get lost."

And so, as Janet describes it, the mothers would do their best to keep their children close to them. One way they did that was to have the children gather nearby grasses that their mothers could use to weave baskets. Not just baskets. Woven mats too. There were no mattresses. So everyone slept on mats.

The mothers were always weaving mats so "the children didn't have a wet sleep."

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Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
December 24th, 2009
11:48 AM ET

Gift #2: Quality takes time

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

When Rwanda's master basket weaver Janet Nkubana walked me through the symbolism of her basket's designs, the image you see here left a big impression.

I asked her how long it took a weaver to get from the center knot at the bottom of that basket to the spot she's pointing to. A couple of inches of weaving.

"It may take a whole day to get from here to here," she said.

Janet is the master in charge of the masters. Her company employs 32-hundred women to weave baskets. Women who would otherwise have no way to support themselves and whatever family members might have survived the genocide in 1994.

How many of those women are master weavers?"

About 300.

300 masters out of more than 3-thousand weavers. Only one out of ten. Judging from the selection of baskets, the other nine weavers are just really good.

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Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
December 24th, 2009
11:46 AM ET

Gift #3: Don't spill the words

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I've been to Rwanda before. But I was never invited into a backyard. Now I know why.

Janet Nkubana, Rwanda's master basket weaver, tells me the backyard is where the women of Rwanda gather. It's where they talk. It's where they share their secrets.

No men allowed.

As a journalist, it was my responsibility to convince Janet that it would be a good thing to reveal just a few secrets from the backyard.

I don't have a very large audience, I told Janet. Your secrets will be safe with me and these readers.

Janet ignored my plea, picked up a basket, and walked me through the symbolism of the design.

"In Rwandan culture," Janet explains, "women are not allowed to sit with the men and talk. They are normally in the backyard cooking. But inside the backyard, should other women come to visit, you sit there and talk a lot of secrets.”

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Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
December 24th, 2009
11:44 AM ET

Gift #4: Weaving man

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

I picked out a basket at Macy's and read the name of the artist to Rwanda's master weaver, Janet Nkubana.

The weaver's name was sewn to the inside of the basket.

Who is the woman who wove this, I asked?

Janet looked at the name and laughed.

The weaver of this basket was not a woman. It's a man.

"We had men who had no jobs,” she tells me. “A few men said can we join the women?" This weaver, this man, said: "I don't mind. I'm a very poor person. I want to be a part of your group."

I liked the man’s basket. The weaver was not a master weaver. BUT …

“We do have one man who's a master weaver," said Janet. One out of 300.

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Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues
December 24th, 2009
11:15 AM ET

Gift #5: Weaving unity

Michael Schulder
CNN Senior Executive Producer

To repair a country after a genocide, in a nation like Rwanda, where the killers and the survivors still live in the same neighborhoods, takes a lot of time, to say the least.

It takes longer than the hundred days that it took the men with machetes to kill at least 800-thousand people in the spring of 1994.

Remember what Janet told us about master basket weaving. It takes time too.

"Through weaving,” says Janet, “we've brought back our culture. We've restored talking. Families are forgiving each other."

I was skeptical that weaving could foster such reconciliation.

“It was difficult at the beginning, to have both aisles of the genocide under one roof. At first," says Janet, "some were not talking to each other."

Janet recalls moving to Rwanda after the genocide and visiting the town her parents came from. One of her former neighbors remembered how Janet's mother used to invite her in for milk. That woman's brothers are now in prison for their role in the genocide.

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Filed under: Africa • Beyond 360 • Michael Schulder • Refugees • Women's Issues