The year I spent on La Réunion was the third Thanksgiving I spent internationally, and the first where I tried to make a real Thanksgiving dinner abroad.
Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I like that it is unique to America (pay no mind to the Canadian Thanksgiving, the designer imposter Thanksgiving). I like that there are certain foods that you eat at every Thanksgiving, making the tastes and smells unique to the experience. I like that there are no presents involved, just good food and wine and conversation. It is a pretty day, at least in the south, where the leaves have changed but the sky is still autumn-blue before shifting to winter-grey. And I like that it’s a day, when taken separately from its rather gruesome historic past, about evaluating life and being thankful for whatever blessings you have.
So naturally, even though I was on a little foreign island, I was excited about the 3rd Thursday in November. Of course, the turkey was the first obstacle. We had only two options for “la dinde”: we could go to the market and buy a turkey—a whole turkey, alive, or buy turkey cutlets in the grocery store. Carrying on the American tradition of choosing to completely ignore where my food comes from before it is shrink wrapped in my local chain grocery freezer case, we could not possibly buy a live turkey. But the cutlets also seemed so sad. So we went to the local Géant and bought the only bird that was intact for roasting: a rooster. A large frozen rooster.
My roommate and I were actually enthusiastic about this idea, since the island roosters had been terrorizing us by crowing at odd hours throughout the night. In keeping with the culture of the island, they had absolutely no sense of time. So we took a twisted pleasure in roasting one for our dinner.
We got as much Thanksgiving goodness as we could fit in our hands and our bags and hiked back up to our apartment, Le Chateau. It is not easy to haul a Thanksgiving feast up those island hills in the island heat, but we were determined. We invited all our friends: the Spanish teacher, the German teacher, my French boyfriend, and of course myself, my roommate and two others - the English teachers.
The day before Thanksgiving, tragedy struck. You see, we had in our little kitchen what I like to call our Easy Bake Over, a miniature stove with a gas bottle attached. Unfortunately, shortly before Thanksgiving I had chosen to make boiled peanuts for all my friends. As any good southern girl knows, boiled peanuts take many hours to cook. So many hours, in fact, that I depleted our gas supply in the process. Because hunting down our landlord’s maintenance man (who could restock our gas can) was a mere impossible task, prospects looked gloomy for the big day.
I was shattered! Not Thanksgiving! How can you have Thanksgiving without a stove and oven? I cried.
I didn’t have much time to lament the oven issue, because I had to work on the big day. I was excited because I got to share my favorite holiday with the kids at the university in their English class that day. It started well, with my first class. I laughed that when I asked them about Thanksgiving they immediately thought of the episode of Friends when Joey ate a whole turkey.
But, unfortunately, my third class was not in the mood to speak in English that day. And instead they decided to snicker and whisper for the whole class. Finally they broke out laughing about I-don’t-even-remember-what, and I lost it. My eyes watered up, and I stood silent in front of the class. The boys looked at me, still smirking. “Get out!” I said. “If I were home today I would be eating Turkey with my family and not working! I would be baking pumpkin pie and not staring at a frozen rooster!!” Of course, based on the blank stares I was getting I could tell that the slackers did not understand my English out-burst, so I just said “Sortez!” and shot daggers out of my eyes until they all left the room.
I walked home in the humidity and cursed all the stupid palm trees and stupid sunshine and stupid salty air and stupid hills. By the time I got to the apartment I was sad and homesick and ready to dissolve into the mattress on the floor that I called my bed.
But no! I opened the door, and all my friends were there. The table was set! They had made a raw Thanksgiving- with salad, and fruit, and nuts and packaged cookies and pretzel sticks. Of course we had lots of red wine and rum. We ate and drank and talked all evening, and everyone said ‘thank you’ in their native language.
And we drank wine in front of Star Academy until we all passed out exhausted, and it was a wonderful Thanksgiving after all.