“Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.” I said during lunch. I expected a response but I got way more than that.
“Why don’t you cook a Thanksgiving meal for us all tomorrow? You can make it just like home.” Was the response my host family offered to my comment.
At first I was really excited to make food for them but then I started to think about what cooking a thanksgiving meal would mean. Normally I cook the meal with my Mom. She and I love to cook and holiday meals normally bring fun times in the kitchen. Here in Manambaro I am out of my normal kitchen with the tools I am used to cooking with and without a grocery store that carries every possible food you can think about. Then there is the fact that I normally cook with a recipe. I follow the guidelines that are placed in front of me. I am not the best at just throwing things in a pot and knowing it will taste good. This year has helped me with that though.
A plan was made that we would go to Fort Dauphin to the market and I could buy everything that I would need. I frantically started to think about a Thanksgiving meal. There is normally turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, and pumpkin pie. I had no idea if we could find a turkey and knew cranberry sauce was not going to happen. I know that there are lots of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and veggies at the market so I was good there. Once before we bought a pumpkin so there was a chance that we might be able to find one that we could use in some way (no canned pumpkin here!).
Not even an hour after mentioning Thanksgiving I was in the car and we were off. I could feel the stress of the event filling me. How was I to make this meal that I usually prep with my mom for a few days all by myself in a different country? I sent a quick text to Quinn, another YAGM volunteer who lives in Fort Dauphin, to see if she would want to join in for Thanksgiving. I was going to need support!
First stop at the market was to look for a turkey. Yes, a live turkey. I was told that they have them and eat them at the holiday time so we might actually find one. There had been talk about how the price might be higher because I was a vazaha (foreigner). I asked if I should stay in the car until after the turkey was bought but was told no. When Diah and I got out of the car everyone started holding up there chickens for us to look at and telling us prices. Thankfully Diah was there to help and we found a turkey!
By the time we were finished with our shopping at the market, the basket that we had brought was too heavy for one of us to carry, so we shared the handles as we walked back the car. We put everything into the car and headed home. I had a special seat partner on the way home. He even decided that it would be funny to poop. Oh my!
I woke on Thanksgiving Day with a bit of anxiety. There was a lot to do during the day. Thankfully Quinn would be joining me to help and celebrate. I started the day with laundry. How else was I to start the day? Hahaha!
Quinn arrived and I filled her in on the food we had and the plan for the day. I told Dr. Heuric that he would have to tell me how to cook the turkey because I had no idea. During lunch the turkey was boiled on the charcoal stove to keep it tender. The charcoal stove is a common way of cooking in Madagascar. Then would be transferred to the oven to finish cooking.
After lunch we got to boiling the potatoes and prepping veggies. We decided that we would try to make a pumpkin pie. We made a crust and then with the cooked pumpkin made a filling. I had no idea if this was all going to come together.
With the help of Quinn and Diah, we made everything that I had thought went with a Thanksgiving meal other than stuffing. Right before we were going to eat I realized that we had no gravy. I wasn’t going to give up. With the information from family back home, I was able to whisk together some ingredients. A gravy was made.
As we set the table I began to smile. It looked like Thanksgiving to me. There was turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, mashed sweet potatoes with a glaze, mixed vegetables, cucumber salad, and even a pumpkin pie. Amazing! I felt proud that we were able to make this happen. It really hit me when someone said you were able to put this all together in the bush in Madagascar. Yes, yes I was. Despite not having running water most of the day, fighting with keeping the gas burners on but not too high, and then having a light bulb out in kitchen forcing the last bit of cooking to be done with flashlights, it all came together.
As we gathered around the table to pray, I smiled. This is what Thanksgiving is all about. Spending time with friends and family. Even if how you celebrating changes from traditions, it is all part of the journey.
I am thankful to be alive and blessed to have this life I am living.