Thanksgiving is an American holiday.
The impact of those words hit home for me this week, as I'm celebrating it outside of the U.S. for the first time. I'll be dining tonight with my American roommate, a Canadian neighbor, several other American friends, and several Cameroonian friends and colleagues. It's exciting to be able to share this holiday with people here, just as I'm sure it was exciting for my Asian university friends to tell us about their holidays. But it's so different.
To give you a taste of the differences, let me share the last 24 hours with you.
School yesterday was normal. No tropical rains, a pleasant temperature in the afternoon. I went to a meeting about middle school final exams until about 4:15, and then Heidi, a missionary friend, gave me an informal haircut. As she chatted, I sat on a folding chair under a tree, watching brown tufts lift in the breeze and drift onto the green grass. A Cameroonian friend walked by with a grin, possibly thinking that we were starting to fit right in. Here, it's normal for friends to braid each others' hair, often sitting on their porches for hours, depending on the intricacy of the design. Soon after she finished and I checked the finished product, we headed home. Dinner was reheated avocado pasta (recipe coming soon), eaten comfortably in a comfy green disc chair while watching Seinfield episodes with my roommate.
After dinner, Thanksgiving preparations started. Well, really, they started several weeks ago, when I asked my househelp to get a squash that I baked and pureed to use in pie. Last night I thawed a 15-oz bag of it that I'd been keeping in my freezer. Also from the freezer came a pie crust that I had leftover from a dry run a few weeks ago. No matter how many times I've made something before, making it here is like making it for the first time, using new equipment and sometimes different ingredients. A practice pie had banished any worry that my star dessert wouldn't come out. I pressed the crust into the pan, as my test pie had revealed the difficulty of rolling out a crust made with our margarine here. At the same time, I mixed up a chocolate cake. Cameroonians don't usually eat pumpkin pie. Really, nobody but Americans and maybe Canadians eats pumpkin pie, to my knowledge. It's kind of a strange idea, making squash into dessert, so I decided to add a chocolate cake to the menu. Friends that have been here longer have assured me that my Cameroonian friends will enjoy it. So the cake and the pie were finished last night, my only contributions to our potluck meal today.
My alarm went off in the dark this morning. Waited for my shower to heat, knowing without testing by the buttery clay smell dissolved in the warm liquid that it was. I washed, paying special attention to my feet as they're always dirty from being bare, or at most covered in sandals. Dressed in short sleeves and a skirt, washed my hair and put on a favorite pair of elephant earrings, so African that nobody wears them here. Realized that I didn't have bread for breakfast, so I mashed half an avocado with lime and trotted over to the corner store, where the owner, Silas, sold me a baguette for 150 cfa (less than 50 cents). I met the other teachers at our van and chewed my bread with guacamole as we drove to school. A hectic morning ensued. I had two classes to teach, an independent Spanish student to meet with, and needed to finish preparing materials for a professional development session about English language learners that I'll be helping with tomorrow.
But one moment morning stands out. In my Spanish class, in lieu of writing the date as usual, I wrote "El Día de Acción de Gracias.¨ I paused to consider the phrase. Spanish-speakers don't say "Thanksgiving." They call our holiday "The Day of Action of Thanks." And fittingly, "Acciones de Gracias" are commonplace in Latin America. Many churches ask for them every Sunday. ¿Alquien tiene una acción de gracias?¨ And people walk up front, sharing what God has done in their lives. Safe trips. Healing from disease. Beautiful families.
So this is my action of thanks. I thank God for those of you that are reading this. For my family, who may have a harder time than me, celebrating while I am millions of miles away. For my churches, the brothers and sisters there who sent me here, who are praying for me, who encouraged me and keep my spirits high. For all the missionaries who have gone before, the people who invented airplanes, the doctors that developed antibiotics for when I got skin infections and antimalarials to keep the chills away. For my ex-pat friends here, the other teachers, my Yaounde brothers. For my Cameroonian friends, those that put up with my poor French, my constant questions about how to act, that have braved my cooking. And most of all, I thank God for himself. That he lives here, too. That Jesus ensured that no matter how far I travel, no matter what I do, no matter how hard things seem, I can always walk into God's presence.
Thanksgiving may be an American holiday, but all of God's children have cause for an Action of Thanks.