Saturday, November 27, 2010

Turkey and friends

This year’s Thanksgiving was awesome.

Being here, in Guatemala and away from family, friends, English, a familiar culture and things like pumpkin pie filling (it’s hard to find here), spending the holiday with 15 other Peace Corps volunteers in a tiny little town up in the Guatemalan highlands felt really good. We really did it up, two nights and days with three turkeys, 20 more guests at dinner, plus mountain of side dishes including all the classics – mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, roasted carrots, homemade stuffing, cornbread, buttermilk rolls, pecan pie, brussels sprouts, etc. It almost felt decadent.

At this point, I have to laugh and figure that anyone reading this blog is reassessing their preconceptions about Peace Corps hardship – yes, this isn’t rural Africa, and yeah, we definitely have stuff to be thankful for. We don’t eat sorghum three meals a day, live in mud huts or do our own lab tests**. MOST people have running water here, and there are microwaves. I’m writing on a laptop right now. My cellphone works great, the mail is only kind of slow. Sure, Guatemala is a developing country with appalling malnutrition rates, ever-present violence and some really sad poverty and structural oppression, but most volunteers are safe and live comfortably. I’m convinced that everyone sleeps in a bed or otherwise by choice, and we have incredible health care. The stipend, while amounting to around $300 a month, is….enough. Most of the time. Regardless, the truth is we’ve got it pretty good; these facts evoke a twinge of guilt or maybe some redoubled thankfulness in light of a huge Thanksgiving feast.

It also felt good just to remember that we give thanks as a country; so often, here buried in a foreign context, I feel like I’m forgetting the nuances of my own culture. I don’t think about Thanksgiving much during the year, except when it’s November and tradition reminds me to be with family and friends. So often, I can’t remember all the stimuli and social currents and history that makes me cringe or laugh or behave the way I do, whether I’m in the States or elsewhere.

But yesterday, sitting at a long table and watching Guatemalans welcoming us into their home, embracing our culture and giving heartfelt speeches about thankfulness, I remembered why we eat turkey and fall asleep watching football together and it felt like home.

Here’s some highlight photos:

** If you serve as a volunteer in up-country Togo, you’re trained to call in the lab results on your own sample…..just provide it, administer the pH strip and read the results off to your nurse via telephone and he/she’ll conjecture what’s ailing your digestive tract. Yeah. Now that’s a tough place to do Peace Corps.

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