It’s been a few years since I had anything like a real thanksgiving, but I really don’t consider that a bad thing. I used to enjoy it, the food, relaxing, talking to friends and family, but we never really had any solid traditions beyond eating. Turkey and gravy, potatoes and rolls. I have been to friends with Mexican traditions, Filipino traditions, simple dinners, complicated feasts, long walks, and always good times. There are things I miss, but there is something great about having again after such a long time away.
We were lucky enough for former volunteers to buy us a turkey, a 14-pound monster that was bigger than the toaster oven I was supposed to cook it in. Yeah, I got stuck with bird duty, but honestly, I think that worked out pretty well in the end. I remembered my Alton Brown and took the bird apart at the joints. I took some flack for not taking pictures of the bird before I took it apart, but it never even occurred to me. Whatever.
I drastically underestimated the amount of seasonings needed so I had to go out for more. It was a good time to get lunch and wander a bit anyways, talking about everything and nothing with the other volunteers. We walked about an hour across Tianshui 天水 to find coffee and grocery store, then I headed back to keep working on the pieces of turkey.
Each pan could only hold two or three pieces, but it cooked in about an hour so the time wasn’t so bad. Just the issue of keeping everything warm until it was all done hours later. There is also the benefit of being able to change the flavor of everything as I went. Dark meat with sage, white meat with rosemary, just garlic on the wings, collecting the drippings as I went to make gravy in the end. I was never really sure if it would work out, like when I draw, it’s never really finished, just abandoned before I ruin it.
It has been a while since most of us have had Turkey. There wasn’t any last year, and even the new volunteers have been eating mostly Chinese food for the last few months. The best part of the night was seeing the beautiful faces light up when they tried the turkey and gravy. That moment is always my favorite, when someone finds something that amazes them, when everything begins to shine.
We spent the night laughing too much, eating too much, staying up too late, and enjoying it completely. There were some amazing moments, like when someone said they didn’t trust me, half-jokingly. Then I convinced them to eat durian cake because they believed me when I said it was mango. The woman who was saddened after dropping her plate, and seeing the joy in her eyes when I replaced her food with a whole turkey leg. She didn’t realize to finish it was a trial of strength. Some philosophy, some stupidity, but all in all a true thanksgiving.
It was hard coming back to Lanzhou, back into the dust storm we have had all week. Everything here is brown, and the air makes it hard to exercise. I have spent too much time indoors, but going out is deeply unpleasant. It has finally started to get harshly cold, and the air tastes like sand. But the memories are still there, and for the first time in a while I really connected to a group. It’s easy to connect to individuals, to students, to teachers, but days like that are what remind me that I am part of something more.