Preparing for Thanksgiving in Tanzania is not an easy task… or a cheap one. Nor is it, in my opinion, fully enjoyable.
Our quest to show our thankfulness this year, by consuming massive and excessive amounts of food while praying it to the nourishment of our bodies, began last Friday. One phase of our electricity was out, leaving us with most of our lights, some of our fans, and none of our refrigeration. Friday and Saturday were intended to be our big shopping days for Thanksgiving ingredients and the like. Why so early, you ask? Well, you see, there are several indispensable Thanksgiving Day foods that are quite difficult to find here in Tanzania. So we can’t just go to the local outdoor market, or even to the slightly larger community grocer. Instead we’re forced to frequent several large chain supermarkets that specialize in “westerner” items — yet not any one of them specializes so well that we don’t need to visit the other four. [Christie and I are lucky, though, because we’re in Dar es Salaam right now. Were we in Geita, our shopping would have required an overnight trip to Mwanza.]
So our predicament is obvious. Because EVERYTHING has to be made from scratch here, Christie (who is EXTREMELY pregnant these days) needed to start cooking on Monday. But short of salting and smoking our groceries in a small wooden shack out back, there’s no way to store the various cold stuffs which are vital to a proper and fitting celebration of that for which we’re thankful — without a fridge. And so we are forced to wait until electricity comes back, knowing full well it might be barely in time for Christmas dinner — but we’re thankful for Christ’s birth as well, so that would’ve been just fine.
The electricity finally returned, and we were able to visit the five purveyors of corn meal, green beans, and turkey, in hopes that our dream of a fitting Thanksgiving dinner would come to fruition. But you would not believe what a turkey costs here! How could you?! Because you live in the land of turkey, a formidable wasteland of wings and thighs, where one could probably order a turkey online if he so desired. But here, considering the per capita income in Tanzania and that of missionaries in any country, the cost of a turkey is enough to make us wonder if we shouldn’t have ordered the bird online, and flown our families over to deliver it and enjoy it with us. The turkeys we found — and we found four of them in all of Dar es Salaam — were over $65 American money. That many Tanzanian shillings barely fits in a wallet, and would pay for about 40 African meals in a simple restaurant — or the same number divided between several different simple restaurants if you so preferred. We didn’t buy a turkey.
Thanksgiving was made for man…
And not man for thanksgiving.
Ovens here are small — most of them anyway. We can just barely get a single 9 x 13 pan inside, if we hold our mouths just right and kind of balance the pan at a slant, shutting the door very, very carefully. There’s no such thing as putting several casseroles in to cook at the same time. Each dish must travel unescorted to meet it’s fiery end in an oven that won’t hold a fixed temperature. Missionaries in Africa become experts at cooking with the oven door just enough ajar to allow heat to escape at exactly the same rate at which it enters. Until we run out of propane.
So now it’s 2:45 in the afternoon on Thanksgiving day, and I’ve just returned from exchanging our empty propane tank for a full one. Now we’re cooking. It’s our plan to eat at 6:00 tonight… Chicken… Without cranberry sauce. And our families won’t be here to enjoy it with us. There won’t be any American football on TV — there’s no TV for that matter. We also won’t have segregated adult and kid tables, or an entire room full of desserts. But as of right now the refrigerator is working fine, and we’ll have a place to put our leftovers.
We’re so incredibly blessed. Leftovers… we’ll have leftovers — while many are hungry. Our parents and siblings won’t be here, but we are with a family of sorts. Our friends can’t take the place of our moms, but they do remind us of home. We’ll be able to Skype with our families during the holiday, and I can always check football scores online (War Eagle!). Christie very much enjoys cooking, even if it does take four days for this one dinner. Soon we’ll have a baby girl named Baylor, and for that we’re tremendously thankful (and nervous). God called us to Tanzania and has been faithful to put us here; and even now he daily empowers us to serve his purposes in Geita. All three of us are healthy, and one of us is tall. I was able to go running AND play soccer yesterday, and I’m afraid Christie’s had her fill of reading already, but… she can read. We have countless Christians praying for us, and we can see the Indian Ocean from our dining room window.
Thanksgivings are great here, but a lot of hard work — maybe too much… I’ve become a firm believer that Thanksgiving was made for man… and not man for Thanksgiving. Give me God and my family, and something to eat, and I’m a thankful man. But God’s given me so much more. And I am thankful. Even without turkey.