A Happy Thanksgiving

So far, I’ve celebrated three Thanksgivings overseas. I remember that at the first one, when I was a freshman in college, I asked someone if Wisconsin was the capital of Michigan. It was not my proudest moment as an American. At the third Thanksgiving, we squeezed dozens of Americans, Spaniards and other sundry Europeans into a small Madrid apartment and celebrated with ham and red wine, among other things. But, this Thanksgiving that we celebrated in Rwanda last week was my favorite overseas Thanksgiving so far.

It began on Friday, the day after actual Thanksgiving when nine other trainees and I gather to kill, pluck and butcher our Thanksgiving turkeys. The poor birds had been tied up for a couple of days at that point and put up little fight when we turned them upside down and hung them by their legs to be slaughtered.

For me, there were two moments in particular which were surreal during the turkey killing process — moments in which I couldn’t believe I was actually doing what I was doing. The first was when I held the bird’s warm, still head in my left hand, knife in my right and contemplated that, within seconds, due to my application of violent force, a living animal, created by God, would be dead. The second was when I contemplated the dead, headless, featherless turkey lying on the table in front of me. I hesitated for a second, making note of the last moment when I could say that I hadn’t touched another animal’s intestines and stepped out into the void. More accurately, I plunged my hand into the void up to the wrist and pulled out a handful of innards.

These moments were less eventful for me than for the turkey, of course, but still, I killed an animal and then denuded and disemboweled it!

We left our turkeys brining overnight, enjoyed a pasta dinner and got up early to cook the turkeys in a pit. As they cooked, our training group worked together to create a cavernous vat of guacomole, a mountain of stuffing, a hogshead of mashed potatoes, a lake of gravy and a table’s worth of coffee cake, apple crumble and chocolate cupcakes. The cupcakes were provided, to the delight of the trainees, by the Peace Corps Rwandan country director and his wife.

We ate the food, which tasted just like Thanksgiving in America, until we physically couldn’t eat anymore and then we sat around lamenting our inability to keep eating. We all had a lot to be Thankful for and we shared those things with each other as we ate. It was a beautiful Thanksgiving and, for sure, one of the major highlights of training.

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