Thanksgiving. Eid Shokur, as they call it in Morocco, ‘the holiday of thanks’ comes down to two things for me, love and food. Gathering those you love to give thanks over a meal of all your favorite foods. The sweet smell of pies baking, warm cider brewing, and family and friends pouring in. It doesn’t get much better than that.
First as a Peace Corps Volunteer and then as artisan production manager for Mushmina, I have lived abroad for a total of 9+ years. Some of those years were spent flying back to New Jersey to be with family for Thanksgiving weekend. A small(ish) gathering at our parent’s home on the bay, followed by dessert with our (VERY) large Irish family hosted by an unsuspecting cousin who has a house (or bar) big enough to host us all.
Two kids later (and a whole lot of frequent flier miles) a new tradition is forming. The last few years my family has spent Thanksgiving in Morocco with other American families living abroad. So what does an ex-Pat Thanksgiving look like? New faces, new accents, and new variations on all our favorite holiday foods… of course we hunt down a turkey, pumpkin soup, and if we are lucky (imported Spanish) cranberry sauce! Did I say cranberry sauce?!
We are a mix of people of whom might be put in the slightly crazy category of having jumped ship and moved to foreign lands.
This soulful Sunday we bring you, The Giving Meal, by our lovely blogger, Tara Fraiture, an American Ex-Pat living in Morocco. Did you know Tara was also a Peace Corps volunteer? Are you surprised? 😉
The Giving Meal
Thanksgiving is all about family, love and thanks. When I was a child, my British-born mother would cook up a frenzied storm for days in preparation for this beloved American holiday. The gorgeous smell of a Thanksgiving meal to this day, brings me back to my happy youth. My New-York born father, a foreign student counselor and Western Civilization professor, would invite students from all over the world to join us. These were undergraduates of all religions, ethnicities and socio-economic groups coming to our modest house; young people who could not travel home for the holidays to be with their own families.
These were also people who were not familiar with American Thanksgiving. It was a real treat. And the best part was the sharing. Everyone would bring a dish from his or her home country; our antique dining room table would be teetering in dishes, bowls and platters, filled with delectable delights. Of course, my Mum offered the traditional homemade Thanksgiving indulgences with a Californian twist-barbequed turkey (still the best I have ever had), fresh cranberry sauce, pumpkin chiffon pie, buttermilk biscuits, Mum’s special recipe of sausage stuffing, homemade mulled wine and much more. My sister, father and I were given some menial tasks like juicing oranges for the mulled wine or cranberry sauce, but really, I think it was just to stop us from helping ourselves to the treats a little too early. But everyone did lend a hand. We then would stuff ourselves silly.
But still, the sharing part was the best. Chatting, laughing, telling stories until late into the evening. My Dad was the best story-teller. He still is, at almost 90 years old. He has a way with words and a gift for making people feel welcome. Even if my father he doesn’t speak the language, he manages to communicate, particularly with humor. And my Mum does what most mothers do to get to people’s hearts-she cooks. Her comfort-food casseroles and fluffy sweet potato biscuits make their way into your soul.
My parents always opened their house to others, particularly those far from home, on Thanksgiving Day. We lived in a small house when I was growing up, but we always welcomed others for the holidays. This simple idea of caring for those far from home was embedded in them and it carried over to my sister and I. It’s what I remember most as a child-my parent’s giving hearts.
One of the earliest memories of my childhood was in the rural Kenyan bush; miles and miles of savannah, practically another world from the capital of Nairobi, with my parents and sister. My parents met and married in East Africa. It was a swelteringly sweaty day and I recall red clay dust was puffing up around our hearty old four-wheel drive as we bumped along the unpaved, potholed road. Suddenly, we were flagged down by a staggering pair, hobbling along the path. The woman, we could tell, was clearly deathly ill. Even I, young as I was, had feeling of impending doom for her. Malaria, they said. I vividly remember seeing the flies circle around her face and smelling the pungent odor coming from her body. I was hesitant and afraid. The woman was terribly weak; she didn’t even open her eyes. My parents carefully shuffled her in the car and we barreled off to the nearest health clinic. Which was, of course, miles away. We never found out if the woman survived. It’s likely she died, she was so ill. But my parents, they never even blinked. They just acted. They always reacted with their hearts first. And they still do.
I’d like to think I am teaching my three daughters this same sense of selflessness as they grow up overseas. We always tell them that it feels so much better to give than receive. Thanksgiving is, and always will be, my favorite holiday because of its message of gratitude and reflection. We typically celebrate by inviting a handful of international friends over who have never celebrated Thanksgiving. Some have never even heard of the holiday before. Everyone brings a scrumptious dish to share from their native country. I furiously cook up a storm for several days before. My girls help. The kitchen is abuzz with activity and sublime smells. Sound familiar? The dining room table resembles the Leaning Tower of Pisa with its massive stash of delightful dishes from all over the globe. We even have my favorite; a teeter-tottering dessert table. Because Thanksgiving just is not Thanksgiving without pumpkin pie and homemade ginger-whipped cream.
Yet once again, the sharing takes center stage. We occasionally have an impromptu acting out of the Thanksgiving story by the kids. Someone inevitably puts on a goofy turkey hat with massive wings on the side. There is always a ton of laughter. Kids flying by, playing, yelling, singing. Music from all over the world resonates throughout the house. And afterwards, late into the evening, everyone pitches in to clean up. Every year, I am grateful for my little family; for my children and for my husband-even if they drive me a wee bit batty, for my life and health and opportunities that we have. And I want to share this with others.
By Tara Fraiture, Mushmina guest blogger