Two Dinners, a Washing Machine, and a Pool: or How I Spent My Thanksgiving in Ghana

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, hands down. It used to be Halloween when I was a kid, but Thanksgiving represents everything I love – food, spending time with family or friends, and the mindless slaughter of poultry. (Chicken tastes so much better here, mainly because every time I eat a bite I imagine the chickens behind my house keeling over.) I used to HATE Thanksgiving, because I hated turkey. My mom used to cook me a separate cornish hen IN ADDITION to the turkey on Thanksgiving. I was a tad bit ridiculous, but eventually I realized turkey tastes amazing and I shouldn’t be such a selfish, spoiled brat.

Let me go ahead and send a big “sorry” to my friends and family, who I did not talk to on Thanksgiving. Which is basically everyone. I was busy the entire day and just didn’t get a chance to phone. I’m truly sorry, I’ll make it up to you in two years (because I’ll still be here for Thanksgiving next year).

So here’s how my Thanksgiving went down. On Wednesday, I woke up incredibly early because I couldn’t sleep. Surprise, surprise. Around 6:30, I headed over to Techiman to give a session to the new Peace Corps Trainees on Business Literacy. I taught them all about Business Literacy in the exact way I teach my farmers, translator and all. I hope it was a good lesson for them, otherwise it would have been really painful to sit through. After my training I left for Accra. I hopped on a tro towards Kumasi and boiled in the sun for a good 20 minutes before we left. There was no breeze and it was probably 100 outside. I was slowly melting until we finally left. I was pretty lucky though, I got the front seat and I had really good leg room. Our driver was fast too and we made it to Kumasi around noon. I headed over to Asafo station to catch a VIP bus and my luck doubled. I stepped out of the taxi, walked over to the bus, was instantly seated (in the jump seat, again), and the bus left maybe 30 seconds later from the station. Fastest turnaround ever.

It rained along the way to Accra though, so obviously that slowed us down. Dear World, how do your people still not know what to do about rain? I mean rain has only been around for what a couple hundred million years? How is it possible that when humans see rain, they still freak out and have no idea how to function? Whatever, so the rain slowed us down a bit, but we finally made it to Accra. I was really excited at this point, because I wasn’t staying at the office this time. I got a homestay family from the Embassy!

Every year around Thanksgiving, American Embassy workers open their lovely mini-America homes to poor, starving, dirty Peace Corps Ghana Volunteers. They allow us to take 20 minute hot showers, sit in front of their Air Conditioning units, raid their fridges, and happily use their washer and dryer. And that’s exactly what I did. I got in around 7pm to my expat’s compound. I was afraid the security guards were going to question me, pat me down, and throw me out but after checking with my family they let me in. I walked just a few steps and then I was back in America. It was rather magical, like I was beamed back home. My expat family was fairly young, still in their 30s. They had a 5 month old Shih-Tzu named Pepe, and he was probably the cutest thing I’ve seen in this country. My expat family were both foodies, which means I was paired with the perfect couple. They also had an incredibly affinity for amazing red wine, which made me appreciate them so much more. For dinner we had salad (with dressing!), fried chicken, and french fries. For dessert? REAL Ice Cream. Butter pecan with homemade candied walnuts.

The next day instead of going and doing anything in the city, I just sat around the house and enjoyed being American. After all it was Thanksgiving. In the morning, me and the other PCV staying at my expat’s house went to the pool and I got to actually swim. I wasn’t just standing in the water, I actually swam around. Oh so enjoyable. That morning I also did a load of laundry in a machine with real detergent. I had completely forgotten what super clean fresh out of the dryer clothes felt like. I have to admit, I was incredibly shocked. It had been so long since I had felt something so soft. How could it be that soft? I’m still a little amazed, plus the clothes came out and they weren’t standing up by themselves. I’ll always enjoy machine washing clothes from now on in my life.

It isn’t Thanksgiving if I don’t get to help cook, so my family let me make the hummus. And I was actually impressed with myself, I made it from memory and didn’t use a recipe. I did get to use a blender though and what a difference it makes! Normally when I make hummus I soak the chickpeas overnight, boil them for an hour, and then manually mash them with a mortar and pestle for 2 hours. The blender was much faster. The hummus turned out excellent, if I do say so myself. I’m just glad I was able to help out. Being able to stay in a beautiful, giant, clean house with access to all these comforts from home was amazing, but I felt so guilty. They basically let us have/use anything in the house – including the liquor cabinet. It was incredibly generous of them and they definitely didn’t have to host Peace Corps Volunteers over a holiday. I tried my best to be helpful, at least to ease my conscience.

Oh I forgot something important, for breakfast on Thanksgiving I had cereal and turkey bacon. TURKEY BACON. Okay, so around 11 I started getting ready for party number 1. Thanksgiving at the Ambassador’s house. I washed my hair in hot water and then dried it with a blow dryer. The last time I personally used a hair dryer was in 2008. Over FOUR years ago. I slipped on my super amazing incredibly stunning Thanksgiving dress and did my makeup like no one’s business. Pop on the earrings and bracelets and we were in business, ready to roll. We cabbed it over to the Peace Corps office to meet up with some people before we headed over to Thanksgiving dinner/lunch. I had never been to the Ambassador’s before so I was pretty excited. We had a new Ambassador too, he had just arrived maybe 2 months ago. Turns out he too is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer – he did his service in Afghanistan!

Socialize, socialize, socialize, size everyone’s outfits up, take pictures, and free drinks. Good times. Food comes out and suddenly you remember what crowd you are in. A crowd of Peace Corps Volunteers who cry at the prospect of cheese, drool over pie, and will beat you up senselessly for the opportunity to eat something besides chicken or fish. So getting in line was a bit of a mad dash combined with a glaring eye brawl. If anyone even attempted to cut in line, I’m pretty sure a large group of people would have just shoved the person to the back of the line. We are so civilized.

When I saw ranch dressing I lost it. Turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, salad, green beans, carrots, sweet potatoes – all of it I drenched in ranch, including the gravy. That’s what I like to call an Oklahoma Thanksgiving. I don’t know why I ate so much honestly, but my eyes tend to be bigger than my stomach. It doesn’t help that there is something still living in my stomach, not sure what, but I can’t eat near as much as I normally can. If I have an arch nemesis, his name would be whatever is living in my stomach – salmonella, a parasite, an ulcer – whatever the hell it is, because honestly we don’t know. Anyway, I got super full and had to loosen my waist belt just a bit. Then I ate pie. Pie, pie, pie pie pie.

It was fun seeing everyone all dressed up and getting to see everyone period. But honestly, it was a little overwhelming. So many PCVs in a somewhat small space. It didn’t really feel like Thanksgiving, probably because we were standing under fans and it was hot outside.  Also, there was something about it that just didn’t feel right. I think I was missing that family touch. The idea of sitting down to eat after having cooked all day. I’m still not sure what it was, but even sitting with my friends and having a good time – it still felt very contrived. Which lucky for me was remedied soon. My expat family was more than gracious and invited me to eat Thanksgiving dinner with them as well. They were hosting dinner at their house for about 10 people, which quickly morphed into 19, then settled to 14. So I had the option, go out partying and drinking with all the other Peace Corps Volunteers – or have a second Thanksgiving with Embassy workers. I chose the later. There was supposed to be at least 2 other PCVs joining me, but it ended up being just me.

At the Ambassador’s, we were joined by some Marines and unaccompanied Embassy workers. One of them just so happened to be going to my expat’s party, so they drove me back. We got back to my expat’s house and I’m so happy my family sort of put me to work. Now it was starting to feel like Thanksgiving. I lit the candles, put food on the table, cut up last minute veggies, and greeted people. Finally, a family Thanksgiving!

We sat down and the spread was impressive. Two turkeys, a ham, three stuffings, fresh cranberry relish, pumpkin lasagna with homemade noodles, homemade bread, two types of gravy, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, carrots, and more. The table was full to the brim. It was lovely. I was surrounded by expats, almost all of whom had been Peace Corps Volunteers. It was truly incredible. I loved talking to everyone and hearing about their jobs. I wasn’t able to eat much, but I tried. I definitely made room for some hot apple crisp though. After dinner and desserts, it was time for drinks. I tried some Crystal Skull/Head Vodka and was most impressed, especially after a year of drinking alcohol from plastic bags.

The next day was very low key and chill. In the evening I went to a cashew party hosted by ACi. Honestly, it was a bit boring – older Germans and lots of Ghanaians, plus high life music. It didn’t help that I was recovering from a non-hangover associated migraine. As I started to feel better, the high life music ramped up and the Ghanaians started dancing. I pulled out my best village moves and showed everyone how a white girl turned African dances. Turns out next door was having salsa dancing classes, so I bowed out early and headed over to learn some salsa! It was really fun, but man am I bad at formal dancing. It was the first time I had ever actually danced with someone formally. I’m going to need a lot of practice before I’m not a total buffoon.

So, my Thanksgiving was interesting, exciting, and a lovely taste of home away from home. Oh yeah and I looked utterly fabulous.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s