Thanksgiving, Peace Corps Style

I am enjoying my food!!

I am enjoying my food!!

Thanksgiving meal!

Thanksgiving meal!

Last year, I had an amazing Thanksgiving with Lorato, our principals, and our host families. It was a great experience, but this year I decided I wanted to have a PCV Thanksgiving. Though I had seen SA24 in October at MST, I won’t see them all again until COS conference in May. So I wanted to gather with some of my SA24s before we start leaving 6-8 months from now. (WHAT?!) So I arranged to join the Kuru Crew in Kuruman for Thanksgiving, which is about 150km from Vryburg, my shopping town.

Tumi and P being goofy.

Tumi and P being goofy.

In order to not miss so much school, we had a belated Thanksgiving. However, though it wasn’t on the actual day, the Thanksgiving spirit was alive! The woman who owns the Kuru Kuru guest house cooked a very American Thanksgiving for us (and she is South African, btw). She made turkey, stuffing, green beans, gravy, corn cake things, a cold salad, mac and cheese, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, and apple pie. A PCV even contributed a can of Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce, which her family had mailed! It was a delicious meal, enhanced by fall decorations, hay bales, and a big scarecrow. I was astounded at the effort Suzette made for us to enjoy a truly American Thanksgiving. And being around my PCV family was heartening, to say the least.

Oratile talking and Omphile keeping P away from her food. ;)

Oratile talking and Omphile keeping P away from her food. 😉

I spent a second night in Kuruman so I could travel through Vryburg with Tumi and P, friends of mine. I actually moved to another guest house, Mynhuis (colloquially called Mayonnaise by PCVs, due to its Afrikaans pronunciation. I met an incredibly Afrikaans lady named Corey who was born to be a hostess. She even picked me, Tumi, and P up at Pick N Pay after we did our shopping, all the way on the other side of town. I ended up staying in a room by myself (a 3 room suite with a loft-ha! African guest houses are sooooo nice) and had a good night relaxing and enjoying the First World.

J and Tumi chatting enthusiastically! (J may have had 3/4 of a bottle of wine by this point).

J and Tumi chatting enthusiastically! (J may have had 3/4 of a bottle of wine by this point).

Popping into First World South Africa makes me thankful for those luxuries, but also grateful for the simple life I’m able to have in Peace Corps. That simple life can be frustrating, but it helps me grow as a person.

Thanksgiving amongst other PCVs was a great way to spend the holiday, and probably one of the most unique ways I will ever spend a Thanksgiving. And it makes me even more excited to spend Christmas with my white SA family (not my host family), and New Years with another PCV, RPCV (Returned PCV aka finished with service), and friends. I can’t spend the holidays with my family, but I can spend them with my PCV and SAfrican families.
-Jen

Thanksgiving, American style!

Thanksgiving, American style!

Dessert: pumpkin pie and a girl scout cookie.

Dessert: pumpkin pie and a girl scout cookie.

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Gratitude: Day 22 and 23

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Day 22: Though I miss my American friends, family, ease of life, and traditions on holidays, like Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the experience of living in an isolated village. It can be frustrating, but I am grateful for the challenges of my Peace Corps life. I appreciate that few people in my village speak English, and that when I’m in my village, I am 100% removed from First World South Africa. Some days it frustrates me, or makes me homesick or lonely. But living in a isolated, rural village is making me resilient, self-reliant, and stronger in my relationship with God. It also makes me realize all the blessings I have in my life now, and the plethora of blessings in my American life. Two years of isolation from my culture and my comfort zone are turning me into a different (and better) person, and allowing me to develop a whole new comfort zone.

Day 23: In honor of my PC Thanksgiving, which was held a day late, I am very thankful for my fellow PCVs. SA24, my cohort, is an amazing group of individuals that has become a family of sorts. My fellow PCVs have been an invaluable support system for me, and I’ve found some true friends. I spent Friday with about 20 other PCVs in Kuruman, celebrating an American style Thanksgiving. Though we are all from different backgrounds and belief systems, it was an incredibly day. I feel equipped to handle the end-of-year school challenges because I know SA24’s got my back if I stumble and need help. When we met in Washington DC in July 2011 for staging, there was scarcely a need for ice-breakers because we immediately became a group. That hasn’t changed in the past 16 months. My service has been enjoyable, largely due to the support from SA24. You guys rock!
-Jen

Gratitude: Days 6, 7, and 8

Rorisang-1 year, 2 months old.

Rorisang-1 year, 2 months old.

Day 6: In honor of election day, I am thankful that I was born in America. I’ll admit that the USA is not perfect, in many ways, but growing up in America has afforded me many opportunities that kids in my village don’t have. I grew up happy, healthy, with two living parents, loved, educated, never hungry….I was able to HAVE a childhood. As a young adult, I’ve been able to drive, own a car, go to college, study abroad, travel, serve in the Peace Corps (btw, only Americans can do that), and VOTE! I’m grateful that I grew up in a democratic country, and that I have a voice. I have rights and freedoms that many in the world don’t have. And now I live in a country where those rights were only given to the majority 18 years ago. Man, that sure makes me realize how privileged I am.

Day 7: I’m a Christian, and I am eternally grateful for God and all the help He’s given me here. PCVs generally do not identify strongly with any faith, much less Christianity, so I’m definitely in the minority. But God has given me the strength to step out of my comfort zone, give up all the comforts of my American life, and live in an impoverished rural village halfway around the world. Honestly, I have no clue how PCVs survive two years WITHOUT relying on God. On my toughest days, He’s been there to lighten my load and comfort me. He’s helped me realize what His plan for me is, and shown me how Peace Corps will affect my path in life. Being a Christian in the Peace Corps can be difficult because so few PCVs identify as Christians, or totally understand what a personal relationship with God means. But I doubt I would’ve made it this far without Him, and for that, I am thankful.

Day 8: I am thankful for cute kids, especially the Grade R learners that I spend a lot of time with. Cute uniformed kindergarteners reaching out to grab your hand and sing a chorus of “Hello! Dumela! Lekgoa!!” Does it get any better than that? Any current or future PCVs reading this-seriously, hang out with some 5 year olds on a regular basis. The kids at my school are coming out of their shells, and I frequently get shoutouts wherever I go in the village or at school. Yeah, it’s a little like being famous (ok, a LOT alike), but for 2 years, it’s fun. And it warms my heart when I greet in English, and the kids run after me saying “I am fine teacher! How are you? Thank you! We are fine! Good morning teacher! Teacher, may I please go out?”, which effectively exhausts their English knowledge. And the baby, Rorisang, who is staying with my family now, always shouts “BYE BYE” whenever she sees me, then chatters on in Setswana/baby talk/Xhosa while opening and closing my door. These kids are so cute, and they never fail to put a smile on my face!
-Jen

Gratitude: Day 1 and 2

In honor of Thanksgiving, I’ll be posting 30 things I’m thankful for, one for each day of the month. In reality, I’ll probably post 2-3 days at a time, rather than 1 per day. But we’ll see.

Since it’s already the second, here are two things I’m thankful for, in no particular order:

November 1: My family. I couldn’t serve in the Peace Corps without the love and support of my family. I know it was hard for my parents to let their little girl move halfway around the world, live in hardship in a crime-ridden country, but never once did they ask me to stay. My family has never hindered my decisions, even though they were difficult to accept. And when I’m struggling, my family is there to back me up. And while I’ve been in PC, my family has provided me with the strength I need to service.

In South Africa, the family structure is usually broken. Young parents die from car crashes or HIV, and children are left to be raised by their grandparents. Teenage girls have children and leave them with relatives. Adults move from the village to find work, and sometimes leave their children to care for themselves. I was blessed to grow up in a loving, whole household, and am incredibly grateful for the family I have.

November 2: The Peace Corps experience. This crazy life of mine, living as a volunteer in a rural African village, has been an incredible experience. I’ve learned so much about my life, myself, the world I live in, and what God intends me to do with my life. I can’t synthesize what the Peace Corps experience has done for me, or what it means to me. But it really is “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” There are some days when I question my entire purpose here, and the worth of my efforts. Then the baby sister wanders into my room and smiles at me, a teacher comes up and asks for my advice, or a crowd of Grade Rs follow me around, babbling in Setswana and shouting “Hello!” I’ve been able to see changes in my village in the past year, and am usually blessed by some unique experience every day.

What are you grateful for?
-Jen

Thanksgiving Photos

I had to use a hammer and screwdriver to open the green beans because there was no can opener...

I had to use a hammer and screwdriver to open the green beans because there was no can opener…

A few pictures from our SA Thanksgiving celebration!

Lorato is stuffing the turkey...yum.

Lorato is stuffing the turkey…yum.

Our dinner in progress!

Our dinner in progress!

The table set with all our delicious food. Time to dig in!

The table set with all our delicious food. Time to dig in!

Post turkey haze.

Post turkey haze.

Letsatsi la Leboga

On Thursday, Sue (Lorato) and I celebrated Thanksgiving with our principals and host parents.   Oh what an adventure that was!

Since the school year is ended and exams are in full swing, there is not a whole lot of work for us PCVs to do at school.  Essentially no classes are happening, students are studying for tests and teachers are attempting to finish up marking, assessing, and recording marks before the school year runs out.  Due to this, our principals were glad to give Lorato and I a day off to prepare an America meal for them.  Heck, they were ecstatic for Thanksgiving!

So, Lorato and I managed to get ahold of a turkey that was dead, plucked, and ready for cooking-no easy feat in a country where you often go out to your yard to find dinner.  We found a small 25kg turkey at the supermarket, and supplemented it with chicken as our meat dishes.  I discovered that South Africans do not eat turkey normally, but we will come back to that later.

We were invited to cook in Lorato’s principal’s kitchen, which was awesome.  We headed there around 8am to begin cooking for the day.  Our menu included: turkey, chicken, rice, mashed potatoes, spinach, green bean casserole, gravy, stuffing/dressing, jello salad, pumpkin pie, and apple crisp.  The day of cooking included trying to convince a dog to eat scraps, frying chicken in a stock pot, and using a hammer and screwdriver to open cans (pics in another post).  But when all was said and done, our meal was impressive, especially by PC standards.

People finally started to show up around 2:45 (we said 2pm….oh Africa) and we had everything ready to go shortly after three.  After convincing a few people to put away the paperwork so we could being, we shared our Thanksgiving.  We held hands and said a blessing, then had each person go around and say what they are thankful for.  It was incredible to hear this in a mix of Setswana and English, as one of the guys translated.  You could almost feel the cultures unite for the afternoon, and suddenly there was not thought of nationality or skin color-so cool!!

My principal had never had turkey before, so it was fun to see her try and then feel the effects of tryptophan afterwards.  She also had a glass of wine and ended up drunk/asleep throughout the afternoon!  Oh what a funny picture I have of the two of us…

We had a long discussion on dimpa and go opela…stomachs and singing.  Use your imagination and think of what a singing stomach is, and then you will understand why I was literally laughing until I had tears in my eyes.  Thankfully nobody had a singing stomach at the table. 🙂

It was truly fun to see the South Africans be put in our shoes for awhile.  For nearly five months I have been looking at various food items, wondering which utensil to use, what to eat it with, how to eat it, and whether it will taste good.  Put mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, and turkey in front of a South African, and they felt the same way!  It was also nice NOT to have to worry about those things for once!

Lorato and I had the opportunity to join several other PCVs in Kuruman and have a nice dinner cooked for us at a hotel, and I thought about doing that at one point-so easy and fun to be around everyone.  But I am SO thankful I was able to share this holiday with members of my new South African family and friends, and show them how we celebrate the blessings we have been given in America.  The goal was to share a little bit of our culture, but I don’t think that really happened.  Instead, we united two cultures and became just people, friends, family.  It was an amazing experience, and there is talk of doing it next year.  However, our principals will learn to cook a turkey next year!  And Lorato and I may well learn how to kill and dress a turkey (that was another discussion that took place).

Ke a lebogile thata go nna mo Afrika Borwa le kopane batho mo skolong le legae la me.  Janoong ken a le lelapa mo Afrika Borwa. Ke itumetse THATA go ja Thanksgiving le batho mo Afrika Borwa, y re tla na le Thanksgiving ka 2012.

Go siame, ditsala tsa me.  Be thankful for everything you have.  Being in the PC has made me infinitely more thankful for the blessing in my life, but perhaps that will be another post.  This one seems to be long enough!

Go siame,

-Jen