Well this is our fourth Thanksgiving here in Honduras. If you’ve followed this blog over the years you’ll know that Thanksgiving celebrations have sometimes failed to live up to expectations. With very particular family traditions, specific foods and tastes, and a sense of what the aura of Thanksgiving ought to be, it has been more than difficult here to replicate the holiday. Honduras simply does not understand what Thanksgiving is about. Laura and I have been on our particular ‘Holy Grail style’ to make Thanksgiving feel like what it is at home.
Our first Thanksgiving in Nueva Esperanza occurred at a restaurant that had nothing of the accoutrements of a Thanksgiving feast. We did manage to prepare a very sorry looking Pumpkin Pie that became a token gesture to the late Fall traditional meal. Our second Thanksgiving was to be in Concepcion at our house. We were going to cook everything. Though we didn’t end up with a turkey, we planned on roasting a chicken. But the power went out and we carried our defrosted chicken to a Chinese restaurant and begged them to cook it for us. They did, but they fried it of course. Fried chicken and fried rice with cranberry sauce on the side carried us through our second Thanksgiving in Honduras. Last year we were invited to celebrate Thanksgiving with some American friends in La Esperanza. They did have a turkey purchased from a local farmer. They had it slaughtered and they cooked it in their oven. But the bird had obviously not been well-fed during its life with the Honduran farmer and his family. He was a bit tough and carried a great deal of grizzle. The side dishes and desserts were very good, and somewhat resembled traditional fare, but still came up short of my hope for the satisfaction of that unique dining experience.
This year Laura and I were determined to get it right. We were challenged at every turn, but we maintained a strict focus that this Thanksgiving meal in our home in Camasca would become the envy of every American household. Our first task was food shopping in La Esperanza. We started out at the biggest grocery store in La Esperanza, often referred to as “El Americano,” because they cater to the small community of expats like ourselves. The prices there also reflect this. We were heartbroken when we couldn’t find a turkey. Perhaps the other Americans had already raided the supply. At the second biggest grocery store, we initially couldn’t find a turkey there either and our hearts were heavy. But we asked an assistant and she moved aside fifteen chickens in the freezer chest to uncover the sole fifteen pound Butterball. To us, this was gold. We couldn’t find Stove-Top stuffing, so we would work from scratch with bread croutons. We also struck out on the cranberry sauce. The pumpkin pie was to be replaced with a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. We carried all our produce back to Camasca on Monday.
We anxiously waited for Thursday to arrive. Kate would be arriving to join the celebration from Tegucigalpa. She’d be looking for cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie filling, and a pre-formed pie crust. With any luck we’d have everything we needed. Our guest list was a bit exotic. Jessica and Edman and their children, Tino, 9, and Penelope, 3, accepted the invitation. Edman is Honduran. Jessica has volunteered at our bilingual school. They would bring a lemon merengue pie, yams, corn bread, and egg-nog (or perhaps better said — those food items that can best approximate lemon merengue pie, yams, corn bread, and egg-nog in a country that doesn’t recognize these foods). Raul and Elena are young Spaniards who are volunteering here. They would enjoy their first American Thanksgiving. Also invited were the three young Hondurans working in our nutrition supplement program. It was to be an international Thanksgiving.
On Thanksgiving the electricity was on and we were psyched. We went to work in the morning because even though school is out until February, the people working on our nutrition program were taking blood samples of the benefactors of the nutritional supplement. We thought it particularly appropriate to celebrate a feast of plentiful harvest in the context of feeding children at risk for malnutrition. In the early afternoon I prepped the turkey with a garlic and wine glaze. The burners on the electric oven worked fine and I assumed the oven would work as well. But the electricity was low and didn’t generate enough power to actually turn on the oven. Foiled again, it seemed. But we also have a smaller gas stove for which we only use the burners on top. I didn’t think the oven actually worked, but Laura got it lit. The turkey barely fit in the compartment. The control for the oven on the gas stove does not have temperature settings. Instead of this, it simply reads “1,” “2,” “3,” “4,” and “5.” We guessed 4 and prayed the turkey would neither over or undercook. We didn’t have much gas, and, afraid we would run out, I continued to fiddle with the electric oven. Eventually I got it on, but the electricity was so low that it took forty-five minutes to pre-heat. The turkey went back into the electric oven. I read that the inside temperature of the turkey should be 185⁰, but obviously I didn’t have a meat thermometer. I laughed at my outrageous expectation. Then, oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-this, I found a meat thermometer in a draw. I took it as a sign that everything would work out.
Kate arrived with the cranberry sauce, that we had to open with a knife because neither we nor our neighbors had a can opener, and the pie filling that we had to also open with a knife. The guests arrived. We laid out the most elegant Thanksgiving repast that I’ve seen in at least four years, and maybe forever. It was incredible to savor those hot, rich, full flavors; reaching to the depths of American distinction and culture.
After dinner, we needed to open a bottle of wine. We had no corkscrew. Here’s what you don’t do. Get a long screw. Twist it into the cork with a ratchet bar. Grab it with a pair of pliers and yank. As I applied pressure upon the screw, it forced the screw and cork into the bottle. Everyone had a good laugh as we reveled in the extravagance of serving “Vino de Tornillo” (Screw Wine).
Well, I am thankful. I’m especially thankful for being in Honduras and enjoying this crazy journey. I am tremendously thankful for having made such great friends; people with whom I am comfortable and confident to spend my Thanksgiving. Though they don’t appear to be at first glance, they are truly family. I am thankful for my work, knowing that every day I put into action an intention to make the world a more just place in which to live. I also have to say that I am incredibly thankful for all of you. You have given Laura and me leave to follow our hearts. What a blessing this is.
Whenever we have asked, you have always supported us. Thank you all so very much.