Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thankful for all I miss

Fifteen years ago this time of year, I could reliably be found reading Enid Blyton books by the fireplace while eating sunflower seeds. It was not unusual for one of my cheeks to turn bright red from the heat and my lips to taste salty for hours because of the sunflower seeds. Although the spirit of gratitude is universal, the rituals of Thanksgiving are thoroughly American, so they did not come into my life until college. As I sit in Jerusalem, virtually hugging the space heater whose orange glow and ability to make one cheek blush remind me of the Enid Blyton fireplace of my childhood, I look back on the Thanksgivings that have shaped my life. 

The first one
The first 'adult' post-graduate Thanksgiving [photo by Allie, a brave guest]
There is a lot of posturing during the first year after college graduation. It felt like we were "playing adult", not much unlike the way we used to put on our mothers' shoes and jewelry when we were nine. Part of playing adult for me involved offering to host my very first Thanksgiving. A Swiss, an Israeli, a Hong Konger and a Greek gathered in my DC kitchen. That sounds like the beginning of a joke -- and it was. It is no secret that cooking is not my forte, but I was not about to serve cereal and popcorn to my guests. So we peeled garlic for two hours, then peeled potatoes, then chopped, marinaded, basted and roasted until I ran out of culinary verbs I knew how to use. We drowned everything in wine and candlelight, loaded the dishwasher, danced in the kitchen, clogged the toilet, YouTubed "how to plunge a toilet", plunged, and fell asleep knowing that we all ate some garlic peels and a few undercooked potatoes and we were all the happier for it.

Our first one
It was not as strange for us as it was for our Jewish friend who had celebrated Yom Kippur in Cairo earlier that year, but it was strange nonetheless. Dahab is a former Bedouin fishing village on the Sinai peninsula and current haven for hippies and divers. Most everyone I came to call family in Egypt descended on Dahab to celebrate Thanksgiving that year. It was my last day in the country and, having completed my very first placement with the UN, I was on my way to Uganda. Dahab became the unlikely site of firsts and lasts: After months of a modest romance in the streets of Cairo, Elijah and I kissed in public on the streets of Dahab. In the sea of women in bikinis, Bob Marley lovers and Indian food, our affection was not incongruent or taboo, and we welcomed the change. 

Those were to be the last kisses for a while, as conflict zones would continue to swallow me over the next year. And so we kicked our flippers in the waters of the Red Sea, kicking extra hard to make memories, as though that would soothe the pain of missing one another that was to come. I saw my first coral reefs and lion fish. I saw the coast of Saudi Arabia across the water. And I became a sight to behold as well: On my way out of the water, my flipper got trapped in the wooden platform and I fell forward in my pale pink bikini with bows. Splat! Face down. Egyptian men and diving instructors were some combination of bemused and aghast as I, the human iteration of a beached whale, crawled out of the water and onto the dry land of mortification. By dinner, the power had gone out in Dahab, so we all found ourselves at an Indian restaurant by the sea, eating naan cooked in a wood stone oven. Thanksgiving that year tasted like curry and nostalgia. 
Last night in Egypt - A low-light, no electricity, fishy, Thanksgiving in Dahab
The last one?
I seem to have returned to the Thanksgivings of cereal and popcorn. Our home in Jerusalem has no oven, toaster oven, gas stove, microwave or any cooking appliance other than two electric burners. Thanksgiving is likely to taste like falafel, like that Christmas in Bethlehem a couple of years ago. My gratitude is impatient this year -- impatient to return to the United States, to an academic study of conflict, to the communities for whch my heart longs. I have a stretchy heart these days; I miss everywhere. I miss Colombian Creole potatoes and think of how wonderful an addition they would be to any Thanksgiving dinner. I miss the beachy and fishy Thanksgiving. I miss the toilet-plunging Thanksgiving. I miss the fireplace in Greece and the best friends in America. Secretly, I hope that this is the last Thanksgiving I spend outside the US for some time, as I dream about wearing layer after layer of wool sweaters on a New England campus and debating my selection of holiday pie. 

Thank you, world, for giving me so much to love and so much to miss. For giving me love and memories from sea to sea.

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