Thanksgiving Under a Mango Tree

By Luciana Paz
Nov. 29, 2019

I would have never imagined myself sitting under a mango tree a thousand miles away from home, eating a mountain of traditional Thanksgiving food and Mozambican food on the same plate.

From a bird’s eye view of the table, you could see plates with “xima” (corn meal porridge) next to the mashed potatoes, green beans and mac and cheese. You could also see the “mandioca” (cassava root) next to the candied yams and the “feijão” (beans) next to the gravy, stuffing and turkey or “peru” in Portuguese.

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Elbow to elbow with our Mozambican colleagues, we prepared and enjoyed a meal infused with two cultures. This was felt throughout the day, from using a coal stove or “lume” to “pilar-ing” garlic and “ralar-ing” coconut for our chickpea pot pie. We felt it while setting aside cutting boards and dicing vegetables “the Mozambican way” on our bare hands, to using Mozambican hot sauce or “piri piri” on our mac and cheese and turkey.

It was curious to see how our favorite foods, which we had so many “saudades” for, were being cooked with Mozambican ingredients and cooking systems we had learned thanks to our host families. It would have never been possible for us to cook and feed more than 80 people without having experienced this guidance in our homes these past three months.

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However, more than learning these helpful skills for our successful integration in our future communities, our families uniquely showed us more love, courage, gratitude and selflessness than anyone. They reminded us that family in Mozambique is a larger concept. They reminded us that we are their “filhos” or children and that our friends and neighbors are our “irmãos” or siblings.

There is a saying in Mozambique that really sums up this feeling: “Estamos juntos” or we are together. My cohort and I are grateful to be considered part of these families that naturally took us under their wing and made us feel part of their community. Today was about togetherness, family, friendship and cultural exchange, something which we were recently reminded to keep with us throughout our service, especially when things get hard.

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