From Albania to Uzbekistan, Peace Corps Volunteers celebrated Thanksgiving away from family and the comforts of home this year as they served others across the globe. But while they may have been abroad, Volunteers certainly didn't miss the opportunity to exchange traditions with their newest friends. Some Volunteers used the holiday to share U.S. culture with their new communities; they explained the traditions and history that surround one of America's most unique holidays to those who have not always had the same freedoms. Other Volunteers - who on a shoestring budget know a good offer when they hear it - graciously accepted the hospitality of the U.S. Ambassadors in their countries.
Each Thanksgiving experience is as unique as the Volunteer and his or her assignment. But whether it is a traditional turkey and stuffing dinner or a makeshift meal of eclectic taste, Volunteers certainly put to use whatever means are presented to them. Below is a sampling of how Volunteers serving in Europe, the Mediterranean, and Asia celebrated Thanksgiving.
Country Director in Albania, Terry Armstrong, gives a quick look at how American and Albanian cultures came together for Peace Corps Volunteers and local families in Albania.
Following dinner, staff and Volunteers in Albania worked up an appetite for dessert by partaking in traditional Albanian dances.
"Peace Corps Albania celebrated Thanksgiving with a team-effort dinner at our training site for 32 trainees and about 30 more staff members and their families. We helped out on an Embassy commissary run to Naples and were able to get four large turkeys, cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving dinner fixings. Many trainees and staff members prepared side dishes to bring to the dinner and others took over the kitchen of a small hotel to cook potatoes and make fresh salads and gravy. The oven in the hotel kitchen was large enough for two turkeys and two host families had ovens large enough for the other two. We ate a wonderful variety of traditional American Thanksgiving foods and Albanian foods."
"After everyone was stuffed, we danced Albanian dances to work up an appetite for desserts, which included apple and pumpkin pies and homemade baklava. We had enough food left over to prepare about 20 plates for the street kids in the town. The day was rainy but the meal and the companionship raised everyone's spirits."
Prior to Thanksgiving Day, Peace Corps Volunteer Ashley Wood gave a workshop for Armenian teachers that included fun activities to do on holidays. Volunteer Kevin Childress reports how teachers at one school took the concepts from the workshop and ran with them.
During the kindergarten class presentation in Armenia, the teacher displayed drawings of pilgrims and Indians.
"The kindergarten teacher from the 1st School, invited me to a performance on Thanksgiving Day. Her students gave a performance about Thanksgiving. All the parents were there, as well as the teachers from the other schools and some directors. The kids recited stuff, sang and danced. They had made crafts for the walls and tables.
The kindergarten teacher said it was the first time that teachers and directors from other schools had been in her school, and she said it was a great achievement. She also said that it was the first time that an English performance was ever given in a Charentsavan kindergarten."
Country Director Bill Levine shares his thoughts on the first ever Peace Corps Thanksgiving feast and gathering in Azerbaijan. In October, Peace Corps brought in 30 Americans to become Volunteers in Azerbaijan, to establish the first Peace Corps program in that country.
"Thanksgiving for the first group of Volunteers to Azerbaijan will be one to remember. The Peace Corps Trainees determined that they wanted to make a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, organized into acquisition, cooking, decorating and entertainment groups. They brought it all off beautifully. They invited all the staff and local community figures, making it a dinner for 64! I was tasked with getting the hard to find items (pie plates, spices, etc.) and provided the turkeys (which the trainees cooked to perfection). Steve's wife made a fantastic tofu meatball dish for the seven vegetarians. All the rest - including pumpkin and apple pies, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, stuffing, corn, green beans, and sweet potatoes—were made by the trainees.
"The decorators went out and gathered autumn leaves, squashes, apples, and pumpkins, somehow found autumnal napkins, and decorated the tables and hub dining room walls with festive fall arrangements. The spartan dining hall was literally transformed into an inviting and warm gathering place.
"The food was spectacular and delicious, but even more spectacular was watching the trainees during the day working together as they prepared the meal. They have clearly bonded in special ways that bode well for the success of the program. All the staff members knew that we had a special group, but watching them pull this off left us deeply moved by just how special they are."
Associate Peace Corps Director in Bangladesh, Catherine Andang, describes how Volunteers shared the Thanksgiving traditions and learned more about the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr.
"This year, Thanksgiving in Bangladesh immediately followed the Muslim holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr, a celebration of the end the month-long fasting period of Ramadan. Because Eid festivities typically last for a few days, Volunteers had the fortunate experience of being able to participate in host country celebrations at the same time that they celebrated Thanksgiving. Most Volunteers took advantage of the lull in work activities to visit with Bangladeshi host families and friends and with fellow Volunteers."
"Kate Teela spent Thanksgiving riding rickshaws with her two host sisters through Sylhet, where she works as a TEFL teacher. To celebrate Eid, they visited the homes of eight different family friends and relatives and ate whole meals of chotputi (a Bengali lentil dish) and coconut puffs at each stop. Kate donned her new shalwar kameez (traditional outfit), embroidered with red beads, that her host mother made for her and her host sister. Hours later and pounds heavier, she returned home. Just as she sat down to breath a sigh of exhaustion, her parents called to wish her a happy Thanksgiving.
"Kelly Copeland, who is a TEFL Volunteer in Dinajpur, also spent Thanksgiving celebrating Eid with friends and her host family. She had ten invitations from family and friends to visit and eat traditional Bengali foods, and as she proceeded from house to house, ended up with more invitations and more opportunities to sample local dishes. Kelly notes that at the end of the day, she had eaten a total of 13 times: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and 10 other mini-meals in between."
Linda Perry, a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria, writes about her Thanksgiving experience, sharing and exchanging American and Bulgarian traditions with other Peace Corps Volunteers at a meal in her small apartment.
"I rushed around and managed to shop for food and prepare some old favorites. I 'kidnapped' my class, some of whom had said during the previous class that they would like more conversation. When we got to my place some of the Bulgarian ladies helped me cook, and one was the doorkeeper.
"We had a rather untraditional dinner, with broiled chicken, special coleslaw that my family loves, potato salad, deviled eggs, fruit salad, baked sweetened squash, olives, sirene (the Bulgarians didn't eat any), and sodas.
"The Bulgarian ladies were delighted. They asked for a brief history of Thanksgiving and we attempted to share that. It was so much fun to share our celebration with Bulgarian friends, and since I often cook for 24 or more in Washington, the crowd made it feel even more like Thanksgiving to me."
Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria, Bethany Blonde, had a similar Thanksgiving experience with her friends.
Volunteers in Bulgaria pulled off a great gathering, despite having to make several cross-town trips to prepare the food.
A group of close friends spent the weekend in Sofia celebrating Thanksgiving. We also had four Bulgarians participate. For many of them, this was their first Thanksgiving dinner and they were impressed with our traditions and cooking! Although the apartment we rented had no oven, our dinner was a huge success. Thanks to Peace Corps' well-equipped kitchen and Sofia taxi-drivers, all the food was cooked and delicious. After stuffing ourselves with turkey and pumpkin pie, we had a friendly game of Pictionary and wonderful conversation (that is, Bulgaro-English conversations among our diverse group).
Volunteer Jennifer Himelhock writes on behalf of other Peace Corps Volunteers, Alfred Bobek, Adam Bramm, Kimberly Rankin, Sarah Keppert, Judith Hogan, and Frank Smith about their Thanksgiving celebrations with their Bulgarian counterparts.
"A group of us went to the historical town of Kalofer. We celebrated with Frank's counterpart and other co-workers. There were seven Peace Corps Volunteers and about seven or eight Bulgarians. We prepared side dishes and deserts and one of the Bulgarians (who went to cooking school) prepared a most delicious turkey with stuffing.
The Bulgarians sang traditional songs, while the Americans tried to sing a few songs of their own (mostly country songs like "Sweet Home Alabama"). I think we were far more impressed with the Bulgarians than they were with us, but it was a lot of fun. It wasn't exactly fair, though, because they even had a drum to accompany them and keep the beat!
Thanksgiving was a blast and our Bulgarian hosts said they wanted to have Thanksgiving every week!"
Peace Corps Volunteer Deena Johnson describes the Thanksgiving celebration she hosted for her Bulgarian students.
"I chose to celebrate Thanksgiving with my eleventh grade class. I invited those who were interested in sharing a big feast and experiencing an American Thanksgiving to my apartment. The entire class signed up to come, so I moved the feast to the local restaurant, where the owners (friends of mine) were more than happy to have us. We had the whole restaurant to ourselves, on the Friday afternoon after Thanksgiving.
"During the weeks before Thanksgiving, I worked on tracking down a turkey, which I eventually got, from another friend in town. In addition to the turkey, I cooked stuffing, mashed potatoes, cornbread, and carrots. I also made a big salad, cranberry relish, apple pie and pumpkin pie. We brought the food to the restaurant before the students began to arrive. We had a huge spread, and each student brought something to share as well! It was wonderful! My students really enjoyed tasting our traditional American foods, and asked for many recipes. I was really surprised at how open they were to trying everything."
"During the meal, one of the girls stood up and read something she had written in English: what she and the class were thankful for. She said that they were thankful for their English teacher, and all of the time we have together, and all of the lessons I teach them. It brought tears to my eyes. Then the class presented me with a gift: a holder for wooden spoons in the shape of a ceramic chef. It was wonderful! Truly a Thanksgiving I will never forget."
As in most countries, Peace Corps staff and Volunteers in Macedonia celebrated Thanksgiving in a multitude of ways. This year, they used the time together not only for giving thanks, but to review and reflect upon the completion of the trainees' three months of pre-service training.
Peace Corps trainee with projects.
The trainees and staff gathered as trainees presented their Independent Macedonian Culture Exploratory Projects - including topics on pig slaughtering, wine making, weddings, home remedies, pop music trends, and other traditions in their host country. Currently serving Volunteers from different regions in Macedonia also came to discuss and share their projects, activities, and best practices via a "Projects Gallery."
Volunteers perform a short skit.
Volunteers, along with some of their home-stay family members, pre-service training staff, and the in country staff joined together for a Thanksgiving Feast in Kochani. There, trainees and home-stay families prepared traditional American and Macedonian desserts and dishes to accompany a turkey dinner. Trainees shared the history of Thanksgiving with guests and requested a moment of silence to observe that for which we are thankful. After the feast, skits and songs served as entertainment.
Lisa Mirande-Lind, Programming & Training Officer in Morocco shares how Peace Corps trainees, homestay families and Moroccan staff celebrated important traditions for Ramadan and Thanksgiving.
Moroccan Volunteers and staff demonstrate that behind every great feast is a lot of hard work.
"The last week of pre-service training was an intense combination of both significant Moroccan and American holidays and also the day that all trainees had been waiting for: swearing in! Emotions were high; saying goodbye to host families, the end of Ramadan fasting, and the bitter sweet excitement of leaving your 'family' of 10 weeks and finally going to site. For many, it was the first Thanksgiving away from family.
"When we planned to have a Thanksgiving spread, the idea was posed to the Moroccan kitchen staff at the training center. After translating the menu in both French and Arabic and numerous discussions, the staff decided they could find all the ingredients needed.
"The day before Thanksgiving was L'Aid, the end of the holy month of Ramadan and one of the most important days for Muslims around the world. It was a day off for staff and Trainees were celebrating L'Aid with their homestay families. A few staff members spent the day baking pumpkins pies (for 100) for the dinner the following night.
"On Thanksgiving evening, the center staff produced a feast that tasted just like home: turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, rice stuffing and gravy (with assistance from Kumi Kilburn and Shauna Steadman) and pumpkin pie with whipped cream. Their efforts impressed everyone and brought smiles to the faces of both Moroccans and Americans. Staff was amazed at what pumpkin pie actually tasted like.
"End of pre-service training thank you speeches were given and there was truly a feeling of togetherness among the group, which is what Thanksgiving is all about."
Peace Corps education Volunteers in the Philippines, Lisa and Bob Burton write about their first Thanksgiving in a country away from the States.
"This was our first Thanksgiving away from home, but here in the Philippines it seemed to embody the true spirit of the holiday. To begin, several Volunteers sailed across the ocean to reach the sunny shores of Catanduanes. Though their journey took much longer than anticipated and was accompanied by bouts of seasickness, the weary travelers were pleased to finally arrive.
"Upon landing, the Volunteers were greeted by the natives and promptly offered merienda (snacks). In response to this hospitality the Volunteers pulled scores of food from their bags to offer as pasalubong for the Thanksgiving feast.
"Everyone came together to prepare food for the meal. No turkeys were available, so we made do with another type of fowl - chicken. We mashed potatoes with a glass, made piecrust out of graham crackers, and experimented with gravy recipes. Family members and friends from the U.S. helped contribute to the meal by sending Stove Top stuffing, pumpkin pie filling, and cranberry sauce. The Filipinos offered new additions to the meal with pansit bihon (a dish with vegetables and noodles) and kassava cakes.
"The Volunteers dug into the meal with gusto, filling their plates as full as possible. Our native friends were a bit more conservative, taking only sample size portions of the strange foods. We could tell which foods they enjoyed by their return trips to the buffet. Despite all the food consumed, we were blessed with leftovers for the following day. It was truly a feast to remember! Our meal was filled with hearty conversation and laughter. We talked about life in America, life in the Philippines, and the meaning of Thanksgiving. As our evening came to a close we realized that Thanksgiving is still relevant today, as it was almost 400 years ago."
In a jovial manner, Country Director Bill Benjamin in the Philippines shares that the spirit of Thanksgiving is alive in the Peace Corps Volunteers serving thousands of miles from America.
These impromptu turkeys were created by resourceful Volunteers in the Philippines.
"What do you do when you are thousands of miles from the U.S. and you need Thanksgiving table decorations? In the Peace Corps you improvise! The 260 Peace Corps Volunteers created these great birds for table decorations as they celebrated Thanksgiving dinner at the close of their Mid-Service Conference. Not home...but as close as it can be."
Lani Horowitz and Brian Hobbs, Volunteers in Ukraine, describe the rush of creating a Thanksgiving dinner for the first time in a distant land.
"After emailing my aunt and mother to get recipes, consulting the Internet, and searching the markets here high and low for ingredients, I was prepared to make my first Thanksgiving dinner. When I told Ukrainians it was the first Thanksgiving dinner I had made, they didn't believe me. In America, I got to set the table, make the pie and act as assistant in the kitchen. Here, I was it - head chef.
"I had been negotiating with the lady at the bazaar for a week, reminding her that I needed her biggest turkey on Saturday, the 22nd. The day before I picked up the turkey, she said, 'I thought you were coming tomorrow?' I confirmed that I would be there around 9 a.m. Then she told me that she wasn't sure if she'd have a turkey. Well, she came through. Her biggest turkey was 3.5 kilos or under 8 pounds. It was a 'she' turkey and the saleswoman said it would be tasty (I have no idea if we eat the males or females in the U.S.) What was missing? The bag to cook the turkey in and that button that pops up to tell you if it is done. I'd have to rough it.
"I'd rate my first Thanksgiving dinner a B+. The turkey was great. The stuffing was just fine to the Americans, but the Ukrainians really liked it."
Last updated Jan 22 2013