thanksgiving in ukraine: round two and minus the turkey

thanksgiving is by far my favorite holiday. really thought it’s a close tie with the yule tide cheer of a chicago christmas…plus i can’t even fathom having to choose between pumpkin spice lattes and gingerbread lattes. but unlike the commercialism christmas has become, thanksgiving remains a holiday of friends, family, giving thanks, and a whole lot of eating (…that is if you don’t count  black friday, small business saturday, and cyber monday).

it seems like just yesterday that i celebrated thanksgiving. which is sort of true since i celebrated it for 30 minutes at my ‘every holiday in a day’ party over my summer visit to america. but then also sort of not true since it mainly just involved a pilgrim vs native american dance-off, ‘pin the tail on the turkey’, and sadly no amount of gluttonous eating.

no matter where you are, being away from home on the holidays is never easy. so i decided to put my best martha stewart hostess effort forward and make this thanksgiving, group 41’s second and last in ukraine, as much like home as possible…minus the turkey.

before coming to ukraine i remained a devote vegetarian for ten years and a vegan for one. ukraine has made me a little more lenient (like last thanksgiving) but i’ve still never purchased or cooked meat. ever. i wouldn’t even know where to begin! especially when turkeys sold in the village come with everything (minus the feathers) included. so i sent out an invitation to close friends to join me at my hobbit house for a vegetarian feast — though i added in fine print that bringing your own meat was optional (i know how meat eaters on thanksgiving get with the lack of a bird on the table).

eight rsvps in total, i began preparing for the feast the year. considering i have no car and the store is quite a walk aways, it took a while — about 1.5 weeks to get all the ingredients, carrying kilo after kilo of carrots, potatoes, and cabbage in my backpack. on thanksgiving day i headed to the city bazaar early. with the amount of people bustling about it was hard not to think they too were preparing for a feast. another backpack full and a canvas bag awkwardly carrying my 9 pound butternut squash i still had yet to pick up two cans of shellack for the world map. i was beginning to feel like a suffering pack mule the fat tourist of the grand canyon choose for transportation. but in a way it was nice to feel like i was working hard for the calories i was about to consume in mass amounts.

groceries dropped off at home, i squeezed in a quick run which in my mind was just like my hometown thanksgiving morning ‘turkey trot’ — except my race was a rather sad registry of one. then it was off to school to finally finish the world map with a layer or two of shellack. but time wasn’t on my side, as usual, and i only finished one coat before rushing off to teach a thanksgiving themed english club and simultaneously give directions to hayley who was on her way to my village. my english club kids were more out of control than usual (happy thanksgiving miss kristen!) but we still managed to (maybe) learn a little bit about thanksgiving, draw ‘what i’m thankful for…’ turkey hands, and have a quick visit from hayley, whom they loved.

with the sun setting on our long walk from school to my house, we talked up our cooking game plan. it had been a long day but we stayed up till 11 pm preparing for the big day tomorrow ‘taste testing’ the sangria and tossing in new zealander accents when we could. we were having a blast. here’s what i had planned:

the menu:
(recipes to follow)

• green cabbage and red apple slaw
• butternut squash chowder
• honey balsamic glazed carrots
• apple raisin stuffing
• garlic and chive mashed potatoes
• sweet butternut squash casserole with marshmallows
• pumpkin pie
• fall harvest sangria

it was going to be an epic dinner. but then we got word from jesse, also hayley’s pcv boyfriend, that he had left the second half of his treck’s tickets at home and had no other way to get here. and only later a middle of the night phone call from megan and matt to say they bought tickets for the wrong day. things weren’t looking so good for our feast. hayley and i wondered if it would just end up being the two of us with loads of sangria and endless left overs.

but things started to improve and hayley and i didn’t have to ‘worry’ about sangria overdosing when our three friends jenny, steph, and sara made it successfully to my village. so while we ended up with a few less members at our thanksgiving it was the greatest celebration none the less.

the five of us girls (the golden girls plus one), dominated the food (some of my best cooking i might dare say) and sangria all the while festively sporting pilgrim top hats and indian head dresses. and in the true spirit of thanksgiving we gave a smorgasbord plate of food to my host family…but like the other food i’ve given them, and the looks of fear in their eyes as i explain each thing, i really doubt that they even ate it. either way, it’s the thought that counts, right?

over our ‘day two indoor picnic on the floor leftover feast’ we all decided to go around and say what we’re thankful for. jenny went first, holding up her mason jar of oj and said she was thankful for the friends she’s made in peace corps. she said what we were all thinking. out of all the things i didn’t expect from peace corps, i never had expected i would meet such great people and form strong friendships like i have. for that, i am very thankful for…not to mention my running water, heating, and internet.

we didn’t even really do much for the time we were together. we just cozied up in sleeping bags, drank tea, and watched movies while nursing perpetual food comas. it was a small gathering but it was perfect. it was so nice to be together, to chat, to laugh. and as sara said ‘it’s so nice to have someone else to talk to! i was so sick of talking to myself’. this couldn’t be more true. i’m glad to find i’m not the only one that has conversations mostly ending with ‘aaaaaaaaand you’re talking to yourself’.

our loneliness was cured for a few days. and when it was time to say good-bye no one wanted to leave. we wished we were all neighbors rather than overnight train rides away. my cozy kristen-sized hobbit house heaved a big sigh when they all walked out the door. my house felt so wonderful and full with them all here. but now it’s back to life as usual. back to having conversations with myself, back to hobbit house for one, back to cooking for one (though with the amount of left overs i don’t think i’ll need to cook for a while), and back to counting down the days till we can be in each other’s company again.

sara ryan, a fellow mid-westerner and english major, gifted us all with a poem she wrote for this special occasion. i hope you too find it amusing : )

minus the turkey

whoever said it wasn’t thanksgiving without
the turkey was seriously misled because
whatcha gonna do with that 50 pound frozen carcass
beached up next to the cabbage salad at the bazaar
cause it’s the morning of and you got
an easy bake oven and besides
the whole crew is pretty much vegetarian now
whether forced on the gretchka diet
down to the last gryvs come the end ot the month
had a run-in with a dog meat chebureki
and swore off street food forever,
gandered (and taken a whiff) in the meat building
where lipsticked ladies slapped down
slabs of salo,
or was slipped some cow tongue or
rooster heart or pig feet by your
zealous meat-eater host family.

some refute the authenticity of this most sacred
American feast to the fact that we are not
on American soil but our name here may as well be
nasha Amerikanka or nash Amerikanietz
and like New Jersey, only we can put our towns down
or suffer our babushka-strong wrath
and we do in fact talk up “America”,
“the United States” before conversational
understanding took precedent over geographical accuracy.

are we not with our kindred spirits?
up to our waists in Ukraine
we are our sanity-savers drug druga
when you want to quit the teacher thing
after one too many seventh form boys,
when the lady at the vokzal casa is a suka
(you can at least think it),
when it’s dark and cold by 3 p.m.
and you don’t want to leave your sleeping bag,
ever,
your b.f.f.s just “get it”.

they too keep toilet paper, hand wipes,
and black shoe polish in their purses
(regardless of gender),
will play in the street with you,
are ready to sled down a slag heap
on a plastic bag just for the fun of it,
and are there cake-in-hand for your birthday,
no matter how hellish the marshutka ride or
ghetto the platzkart
(because you can’t bake your cake and eat it too)

so if anyone asks, we have pardoned our turkey
if it’s good enough for the prez it’s good enough for us.

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