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Ubuntu: Thanksgiving 2012 cultural exchange

One of the Peace Corps goals that Volunteers are supposed to complete is to share American culture abroad. This Thanksgiving, I and the rest of the Battlefields PCVs were given the perfect opportunity to share our holiday with British friends.

Nicky Rattray, David Rattray’s widow of the David Rattray Foundation, invited us to the British tourist lodge in our area — Fugitive’s Drift — to cook a Thanksgiving meal for her family, the lodge staff members and Ben Henderson, the current main man of DRF. This was the first time the foundation hosted PCVs for Thanksgiving, so it was pretty much everyone’s first Thanksgiving.

Great! One problem: none of us can cook. We scowered recipes on our BlackBerries before coming to the lodge and asked family members to e-mail us easy recipes, especially those that would be easy to cook for 10+ people. We didn’t tell anybody at the lodge that we didn’t really have any cooking skills until it became apparent. The lodge staff couldn’t help but give us a hard time and watch us run around like chickens with our heads cut off yelling, “Where’s the sugar? Where’s the flour?!”

I couldn’t stop laughing the whole day because it was such a disaster in the kitchen. Thankfully, we had recipes, unlimited ingredients and Monica, the 35-year-old in my group, who knew what to do because “she’s been around longer”, even though she claims she can’t cook. It got to a point where I would sarcastically say, “Hey Mon, since you’ve been on this earth longer, wanna come and see how the potatoes are doing?”

I have a hard time following recipes and my impatient-self just throws all the ingredients into a bowl to mix up (I mean, c’mon, all the ingredients are supposed to be mixed together anyways). As I was assigned to make the desserts, I had to re-do the batter twice because I mixed in the dry and wet ingredients at the same time. Oops! I was really proud of my brownies, but my sauce was another story. I tried to thicken my chocolate sauce by adding flour, which clearly isn’t what you are supposed to do because there were flour chunks in my final sauce. Another re-do — but this time a lodge staff member made the sauce. The rest of the night people would just say, “Hey Liz, can you add some flour to this?”

In the end, we got compliments on our meal, even though the Brits admitted they were scared for dinner. As a joke, we told everyone at the dinner table that they have to kiss their neighbor on the lips then say what they’re thankful for because “it’s what Americans do.” They figured out we were kidding, but still — that’s part of American culture: sarcasm, jokes and dysfunctional holidays.

One thing I miss so much about America is sarcasm — South Africans aren’t very sarcastic and don’t understand it much. This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for all the people I have met through my service work because I just click with them. I’m especially thankful for my Peace Corps geographic group because we get along, there’s always constant laughter when we’re together and we’re all pretty sarcastic. I’m comfortable in a group when I don’t have to tailor my personality and don’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not. Thanks for already being a solid — and hilarious — support system ya’ll! We’re all thankful for the work the DRF does in our service schools because by working together we are creating sustainable change.

Ironically, this was probably one of my best Thanksgivings yet although it was abroad — last year is a close tie. I doubt I’ll ever cook a Thanksgiving meal for my host family as it really would be a disaster alone, but next year I will definitely celebrate Thanksgiving with my students!

Tomorrow I’m going to a “Thanksgiving” at my church where the church members thank God for the past year. It’ll be interesting to see what that’s all about — an Ubuntu post about that to come in due time.

Happy Holidays America! Back in the village, which is only 20 or so km from the lodge — this first world-third world thing in South African is so drastic.


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  1. Ubuntu: siyabonga 2012 | Liz in Service

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