Thursday, November 27, 2008

Being Thankful

Thanksgiving is hard to explain here because the notion of "thanksgiving" already exists as a mostly Christian event that typically raises money (I think for the church hosting the event--haven't quite figured it out). For example, I was invited to a Mother's Day Thanksgiving this coming Sunday at the New Harvest Ministries, and the invitation is an envelope--so you know right off the bat that this is all about the collection plate. The parade and "Medical Sunday" I wrote about in October was also a Medical Thanksgiving. This makes describing American Thanksgiving a little more difficult. As I told my friend Lisa last night, Halloween was easier to explain because it was an entirely new concept. Plus it's easy to convey in pictures, unlike Thanksgiving, which is a typically American display of overindulgence (in the best way possible, of course) coupled with awkward family moments. Yes, it is also a nice time to have the family all together and to remind oneself to be thankful for what one has. None of this comes out well in pictures.

So, when I say that today is Thanksgiving to the nurses and administrators, it doesn't really come across. Maybe partially because I'm in a country that survived the bad end of colonialism, while American Thanksgiving is a celebration of the arrival of the very kind of people that brought colonialism in the first place. It's sort of weird to explain the history behind it, and it always reminds me that America is in fact a settler colony. The difference between the success of these Anglo-Saxons (and other foreigners, of course) and those that were in, say, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe or South Africa or those French in Algeria is that our forefathers managed to kill off such a large portion of the indigenous population that resistance was easier to quell. That's the simplified version, anyway. And again, sorry to be an obnoxious historian on Thanksgiving--as a foodie, I love the holiday, as a historian, I feel the need to bring this stuff up. I apologize.

But here are a few things that I am thankful for:

--The patients on the ward and the ones that have gone home. They are my emotional stability and the reason that I can get through the frustrating moments. I was looking at pictures of the women who have gone home (I even dreamed that one of them had come back last night), and it made me so happy to think of them getting back to their lives but still sad that I wouldn't see many of them again.
--Gmail. Although it's always dumping me, there is no better way to bother people at work and bombard them with questions about their lives. I do not think I'd have made it this far without it, and the idea of trying to do this without internet or computers is daunting--Thanks, digital age.
--Rat traps and bug spray. Not a lot of explanation needed, though I did try to kill the world's largest cockroach last night and missed, which was not ideal. There was also a wasp the size of my thumb in the kitchen--jet black with an orange warning circle on its butt--but I was too much of a wuss and had to have our caretaker, Amara, kill it.
--Really good fruit and pretty decent bread. You have never tasted a banana until you've gotten away from those nasty American one-variety tasteless ones and tried the fat little yellow ones, the red spicy ones, etc, etc, etc. The papaya here? Amazing. I am so excited for mango season, I don't know how I'm going to make it to March, when the first ones are ready. The handmade Fula bread is pretty nice, especially toasted in the oven.
--My friends and family back in the US and around the world. Some of you have been better than others at keeping in touch, but I love and miss all of you and can't wait to see you all again.
--Being here. Yeah, it's cheesy, but I feel so lucky to be in Bo doing what I'm doing. I love it here. Again, all I have to do is to walk down to the ward and see all the patients sitting together laughing at the television, or remember driving through villages with our speakers blasting outreach advertisements while women scramble to write down our number with their fingers in the dirt, or dream about the plans for a ward garden that will be started in January, and that's enough for me--it beats getting stared at all the time, or being seen as another foreigner with endless amounts of cash, or having my head bang against the car window as we navigate a bad road.

I know it's been a tough year economically, which always dampens the holidays, but I hope all of you (Americans at least) are having a good day with family and friends and that you take time to think about what you're really thankful for. I won't get into one of those self-righteous "be-thankful-for-what-you-have" rants, no worries.

Oh, and to end, I have to put two very nice opinion pieces in the New York Times about Thanksgiving history and food. Two of my greatest loves.

1 comment:

  1. Hooray for history & food. (By the way, if you haven't yet, you should start reading http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/ - really good blog written by a bunch of history professors. I like the recent post on Iran-Contra a lot, particularly because I have the usual historical amnesia about events that happened in my childhood & around my birth. Too close to study as history, too young to be more than half-heard talk & shreds of nostalgia, right?)

    I am thankful for the last couple of days - I'll send you a letter about them. They've really been wonderful. And my kids today were fantastic, which is also a plus. Love my 1º de ESOs.

    Jim

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