Thursday, December 11, 2008

My first Thanksgiving in Kyrgyzstan

One of the things that I have been dreading since I have been in country is spending the holidays without my family. To avoid feeling homesick over thanksgiving weekend I made tons of plans with other volunteers to celebrate the holidays. Starting with Thanksgiving Day I had planned on going down to Osh to have dinner with the Osh volunteers but as the day unfolded I felt obligated to stay at work and get some things done. By the time I had wrapped up all my work I didn’t have time to travel all the way down to Osh and make it for dinner. But luckily for me, two village volunteers, Lesley and Ariel, had decided to come into Jalal Abat and have Thanksgiving dinner in the city. So together we went to the bazaar and bought all the ingredients for a nice dinner. My purchase was a kilo of pork. Now this may seem insignificant to some but this purchase was actually one of the pinnacle moments of my service thus far. To put it in perspective, let me remind you that this is a Muslim country and eating pork is taboo, thus pork is not the easiest thing to find at your local bazaar but compliments to the small Russian population that still resides in this country it is here, you just gotta know who to go to.

I had been introduced to the pork lady by Fritz, who had been directed to the pork stall by an anonymous lead who claimed he could only buy pork in the dark of the night, when no one would recognize him! To get to the pork stand I had to go deep into the heart of the bazaar and slip behind some fruit and vegetable stalls. As the pork lady and I made the deal I had to remind myself that there was no need to look suspiciously over my shoulder every five seconds or sneak around corners, this was not that exciting and that I was just buying dinner.

With my pork mission completed, we returned to my friend’s apartment where Fritz, Ginger, Lesley, Ariel and I prepared our first Thanksgiving dinner in Kyrgyzstan. To go with the pig we had a salad and mashed potatoes, and for dessert we had an apple pie that Ariel made. It was amazing! By 10 pm the power had gone out and so we lit candles and continued to sit at the table and chat through the night!

The following Saturday was when we had all of the volunteers in town and hosted the bigger Thanksgiving dinner. Initially we had planned on buying a turkey and roasting it, but buying a turkey in Kyrgyzstan is a bit more of an ordeal than it is at grocery stores in the states. When you buy the turkey here, you walk away with a live and feathery creature dangling from your arm. Then you gotta kill it, gut it, and defeather it. We opted to go for fried chicken as our main dish since you can buy chicken pre-killed.

Cooking the meal was interesting. As if preparing food without the luxury of canned goods and food processing machines wasn’t hard enough, for some reason, the whole city was without electricity and water, it was inconvenient to say the least! But since power and water outages are not exactly a rarity, we had stored up gallons of water and were able to pull together a beautiful thanksgiving dinner. Fritz and Ginger fried buckets and buckets of chicken, Ted’s mother had mailed him pecans and so Lesley made a pecan pie and an apple pie, there were mashed potatoes, salad, beans, and finally sweet potatoes.

I was in charge of sweet potatoes. When I volunteered for the dish, everyone looked at me as if I had gone mad, rightfully so since there are no sweet potatoes in this country. But my mom has an amazing sweet potato casserole recipe that I was determined to make, so based on my highly developed scientific skills I created synthetic sweet potatoes. Now this is a very complicated and scientific process but here is a basic outline of the procedure; first I analyzed the characteristics of sweet potatoes. Sweet potatoes are orange roots that are sweet and starchy. Following that logic carrots are orange roots and pumpkins are sweet and starchy, therefore by boiling and mashing these two compounds and combining them together I created synthetic sweet potatoes! I’ll have you know it work and was a total hit. Just call me Dr. Martha!

The following day my parents called to wish me happy Thanksgiving. Hearing them talk about their Thanksgiving dinner made me a bit homesick but as I told them about the adventures I had, all in the name of celebrating thanksgiving, I had to laugh how exhilarating (and exhausting) my first Thanksgiving had been in Kyrgyzstan.

No comments: