Thanksgiving in Ghana!

Thanksgiving, like in America, started a few days before. Janette and I were the main organizers for Thanksgiving. We planned out the menu, figured out amounts, and had people sign up to help. The Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Janette and I went shopping for all the food we would need. We dragged Ernest the greatest driver ever with us to negotiate prices and get some dashes. (TRANSLATION: Dashes – noun/verb/awesomeness: definition – providing a person with additional amounts of items when asked. For example, I buy 10 carrots, I say dash me – the seller adds 2 carrots. Now I have 12. Now I am super happy.) Plus, it was nice to have an extra two arms to carry all our crap. We went around the Bolga market and purchased so much food. 16 sweet potatoes, 6 potatoes, a bag of green beans, 10 onions, 3 cucumbers, 16 tomatoes, 4 squashes, 2 heads of cabbage, 10 carrots, 5 green peppers, 1 bunch of green onions, some other little things, and a LIVE TURKEY. The turkey was the big ticket item. The lovely turkey cost 90CD, which is roughly $60. It was fun buying everything, but it was noon, so it was HOT as hell outside. We took all the lovely things back to our site and paraded around like happy peacocks with all our purchases. Okay, I did – I can’t speak for Janette. It was super fun though.

Wednesday, I baked the apple pies. I had a lot of help from Mary and Cara though. Okay a crap ton of help from them. They really did all the work. The hardest part was the oven in our kitchen was “spoiled” so we had to use the father’s oven. The father (catholic priest) lives about a quarter mile down the road. So we had to run around back and forth from the father’s house. I was so nervous that I was going to burn the house down and go straight to hell, don’t pass go, don’t collect 200CD. Richie helped me haul ass back to the kitchen with the piping hot apple pies. OMG, after being here for almost 2 months, smelling apple pie was just short of standing at heaven’s gates. I was going to say something else, but I know my dad reads these posts 🙂 Hi dad!

Thursday was Thanksgiving, in case you didn’t know. So here was the menu:
Turkey – alla Mozambique – marinated in deliciousness
Stew – rice, wine, squash, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, green peppers, onions, and deliciousness
Mashed potatoes
Sweet potato casserole – this was heavenly and I think I had thirds
Cucumber, tomato, and onion salad
Coleslaw
Caramelized sugar biscuits
Fruit salad – watermelon, bananas, pineapple, and apples
Guinea fowl – the funniest looking chicken-demon-unicorn on the planet
Apple pie
Apple crisp

So there was a lot of stuff on the menu. My favorite thing was the apple crisp and the sweet potato casserole. There are 25 of us in our training group. We invited our technical trainer, APCD (boss), and our two drivers. There was a group of people from Portland, OR and we invited those 5 as well. So total, we had 33 people at Thanksgiving. It was a packed house. I posted a photo on facebook of everyone at dinner. Since we are in Ghana, of course we decided to have a costume contest for Thanksgiving. Pilgrims and Indians. Of course! I was from the 2 yard tribe. I wore a handkerchief on my head and turkey feathers. From the turkey we killed the day before! I wore yellow rope on my arm and finally some super awesome Ghanaian sandals. A 2 yard is 6ft of fabric, which you wrap around like a towel. It is basically the best thing ever invented. Imagine pure comfort and ease. Now imagine being lazy. And finally imagine happiness. That’s a 2 yard. So here is how Thanksgiving went down:

So we started out the day at the Paga crocodile pond. Paga is 1km from the border of Burkina Faso. Paga is in the Upper East region of Ghana. I was really excited to see the crocodiles and get to take a picture with one. Tourist trap? Yes. Awesome? Definitely. The story about the crocodiles has something to do with a crocodile saving a man who was running from his enemies, the crocodile let him ride on his back to safety. So this man became the chief, and he told his children to never harm the crocodiles. His son encountered a crocodile and he was starving, so a crocodile led him to food. So, the people of crocodiles consider the crocodiles sacred and they are not to be harmed. The people of Paga can swim in the pond with the crocs and they will not harm them. We did witness people bathing that day in the pond too. It was really fascinating. Please keep in mind, I was super excited to see the crocodiles and half paying attention to the guy telling the story about the crocs, his English wasn’t the greatest either, so the story about the crocs may be ridiculously wrong, but it is close enough!
So, the men go out to the pond carrying live chickens and start whistling. After some time, we see the water start to move. They said they were calling the big ones. Out from the middle of the pond, you see this giant ripple moving towards us. The ripple is moving slowly and you can see it sway back and forth. The ripple disappeared into the water lilies and then about 2 minutes later a giant croc comes out of the water onto the grass. Another one, a smaller one came out too and it was hungry. It looked like it was stalking us ready to attack. The men though did something to them and they basically laid down like dogs and played dead. It was really fascinating to watch. So, we were able to approach the big croc and pick up its tail. We were then allowed to squat over its back legs and pose. It really was a pure touristy thing, but I loved it. Almost everyone went before me, and I snapped pictures. I may or may not have scared a few people by calling out the crocodiles coming their way from behind them. I know, I know, I am still meanspirited and won’t be on Santa’s nice list. Anyway, it got to my turn and I was so excited. It really was an adrenaline rush, because this wasn’t a zoo, these crocodiles were still CROCODILES with giant teeth and crazy strong jaws. So I posed on the crocodile putting chapstick on, I wish I had a mirror too so it would look more like I was doing my makeup while squatting over a crocodile. Because that’s what I do, put on makeup while hovering over a live CROCODILE. Wtf is wrong with me? Don’t answer that.

So after that a guy brings around a horse and offers rides. Well duh, I jumped on the horse and trotted away into the sunrise. What else did you expect? I didn’t get to ride far, but it was really nice to be back on a horse again. I used to love horseback riding. Another volunteer got on and obviously had never been on a horse and had only seen it in movies. It was pretty funny to watch 🙂
We watched the men feed the live birds to the crocodiles. I hope to post those photos on facebook and flickr at some point. I snapped some pretty good ones mid CHOMP. After we had our fill of crocodile rockin, we headed to the border of Ghana and Burkina Faso. We waved at the border and then headed back to start cooking Thanksgiving dinner! Now, I can say I have been from top to bottom of Ghana. Accra is on the coast and Burkina is to the north. I really have seen a lot of Ghana during training. Anyway, cooking dinner!
Having descended from two lines of master logisticians, I have to admit that I did a pretty damn good job of organizing timing and help for making dinner. I had food teams going for all the dishes. There was a dishes crew and a place setting crew. I can’t forget the decorating committee, who did an excellent job making hand turkeys. I helped clean and chop some veggies. I later worked on the apple crisp. I also dragged Janette out of the kitchen when I realized it was becoming too “Thanksgivingy” in the kitchen, aka stressful. No man is a turkey island, or a coleslaw, or a stew, or a guinea fowl island either. The food was all done on time. I MCed the dinner, Janette did the prayer, and Richie gave an excellent toast. The most interesting part of the evening was when we were finishing putting the food on the tables for serving and the power went out. Suddenly, everything plunged into darkness and all hell broke loose. Okay, it was pitch black, but hell didn’t break loose. Luckily, we had literally just finished everything so it was excellent timing. So we ate dinner by candlelight and flashlight. I said to a few people, “watch, the power will come on about 2 minutes before we are all done.” Here is proof that I am omnipotent: I was passing out the apple crisp – dessert, when the power came back on…That’s right, I control the power grid in Northern Ghana. It is a tough job, but someone has to do it.
We all went around the table and said what we were thankful for, which I am glad was a tradition for a lot of people. I am glad the Ghanaians participated as well. This year I was thankful for my family and friends back home and for turkey! The turkey was incredibly stressful figuring out everything with it, so to have turkey was wonderful. We served everyone to ensure that everyone got an equal share. Luckily, one of my favorite dishes, the sweet potato casserole had tons of leftovers, so I gorged myself on it. I was so afraid the food wouldn’t go far enough. It really did though, everyone left stuffed, which was our biggest concern. I also got to give the Ghanaians a taste of their own medicine at dinner. When passing out the desserts, they didn’t want any because they were full. Um, no, that’s not how it works. So I put it on their plate and told them to eat all! I only hear that 3 times a day, it was nice to dish it back. (Pun intended)
Let me give you this piece of advice though: hot apple crisp, fresh out of the dutch oven, tastes great with fan ice melted on top. (Fan ice is our version of ice cream, it is basically like a semi-frozen or sometimes semi-cold milk shake. It also comes in a strawberry yoghurt and chocolate flavor.)
So with the costumes, the decorations, the food, having to go out and buy food in an open air market, the live turkey, and the new friends I would rank this Thanksgiving in the top 3 of all time.

In no particular order:
Ghana
Martha’s last year
All the cruise Thanksgivings combined

If you are still in any way, shape, or form still not clear about what I did for Thanksgiving…well I don’t know, I think this pretty much says it all. But if you need further information, leave me a comment and I will be happy to clarify. For example: yes, the crocodile tail is heavy and felt weird. It was still wet. No, I didn’t lick it. Yes, I was tempted to. Yes, I have tried alligator. No, you can’t eat the crocodiles. Okay, I hope that clears up the remaining Thanksgivingness.

I wonder what next year’s Thanksgiving will have in store!

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