Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Advent Wreaths have been a part of my family's Advent tradition for as long as I can remember.  I knew I needed to make one this year.  I used the box from a care package I received and some pieces of fabric I have to make the wreath.  I think it turned out well!
 To start things off, Happy First Sunday of Advent!
It’s not easy to be away from home for holidays, especially the ones centered around family.  There are certain things you miss doing and people you miss seeing.  Being in another country all together can make it even more difficult. 
I like to dwell, not on the things I miss, but the new opportunities I get to have!  I saw Thanksgiving not as a chance to look at the things I miss, but as a chance to make some really cool memories!  So, how do you celebrate Thanksgiving, a truly American holiday, when you are half-way around the world?
I have to start out by saying that I was not alone in my Thanksgiving planning this year. Rob, another teacher at CAMS, who is actually NOT American, helped a lot!  
We started by making a list of all the traditional “Thanksgiving-y” foods.  Certain things (turkey) are hard to find here for a good price and others (cranberries and pumpkin) either are never found or are out of season, so are impossible to get.  We began to look for alternatives.  We then put our list up on the staff notice board at school and asked people to sign up if they were coming and to let us know what they were bringing. 
We ended up with about 22 people.  The family on my compound who live in the big house offered their home for the festivities, which was really generous of them.  There is no way that many people would have ever fit in my house!!  Many of them had never experienced a Thanksgiving before, so they were excited to learn more about it.  Others had shared a Thanksgiving meal with other Americans before, and were excited to do it again. 
Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday here, we had to do it after school, which meant a late dinner.  After school, I rushed home after school so I could finish my contributions and have a couple of Skype calls to family and friends in their early morning hours.  I made a gluten-free apple crisp sort of thing (it’s hard to really make it without flour and oats, but it turned out tasting good anyway) and some bread to share.  I baked the bread the night before, but needed to peel and slice a dozen apples and bake the crisp so it would be warm when I brought it.  Because I knew we wouldn’t be able to have turkey for dinner, I made my bread into the next best thing.

Not all the food is here yet!

At around 7:30, I headed over to the house with my food and some extra plates and silverware.  I was glad it was so close because it took me a couple of trips.  Others began arriving with their contributions and soon the table was full!  We had a few people bring chicken (the best alternative to turkey, better than bread, I have to admit) and even a beef stew.  There were also several vegetable dishes, mashed and roasted potatoes, and a plethora of drinks.  A few people brought desserts to share after the meal, including candy corn!  (It’s the little things!)
Waiting to experience Thanksgiving in Tanzania!

As people arrived, we gathered on the sofas just to begin talking.  It’s always nice as a staff to have a chance to meet as a group outside the school setting.  Conversations can lead to places other than work.  It’s great to get to catch up in a non-work environment.
After everyone arrived, Rob welcomed everyone to Thanksgiving, but then handed it over to me, “Someone who is actually American,” to pray.  I started us off then asked everyone to add their own Thanksgivings as we worked our way around the circle.  There is something about remembering what you are thankful for and saying it out loud that feels good, no matter how serious or silly the thanksgivings are. 
After the “Amen,” we began to fill our plates!  I realized that the food isn’t what the Thanksgiving meal is about.  The mashed potatoes were about the only thing on the table that was “traditional” in any sense.  Even without turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, it was still Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for what you have and sharing a meal with family and friends.  I have just as much to be thankful for this year as ever, but have a new appreciation of what really matters. 
Sitting down to enjoy the meal!
Eleanor, in the white shirt, is explaining how they do Thanksgiving in the South.  She's one of the other two Americans at CAMS.

There was more conversation during the meal and dessert and someone broke out a guitar.  It was entertaining to listen to people from other countries break out randomly into the Star Spangled Banner, despite our telling them that Thanksgiving isn’t about patriotism and that song usually is reserved for the 4th of July instead of Thanksgiving.  It was a great gesture, though.  They were trying to think of things that are “American” to help celebrate. 
Here is Sarah, the other American, listening to the Star Spangled Banner.

I decided that we need more Thanksgiving songs.  There is something about singing “Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh…” while sitting in a tank top and it’s 85 degrees outside at 9pm that just feels wrong.  We couldn’t think of any others! 
After the crowd started to leave, all was good!
We cleaned our plates!!

Overall, this Thanksgiving was fantastic.  I would like to share a few of the things I’m thankful for this year.  I’m thankful for my friends and family back home who continue to support me and my decision to join YASC and move away.  I know it’s not always easy on them.  I am thankful for YASC for finding me the perfect placement and giving me the opportunity to have a fantastic experience.  I am thankful for the people I have met in Dodoma and have become my family and friends.  I am thankful for the opportunity I had to grow up in a place where we always had enough, and more than enough.  I am thankful for the following people for showing me support during the month of November:
Pat and Connie Keller, Jim and Jerry Hager, David and Lynn Fox, Kate and Warren Murphy, David Galagan, and Bishop John Smylie.  Without them, I would never be here.

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