a turkeyless thanksgiving in tanzania

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.



Filed under family

13 responses to “a turkeyless thanksgiving in tanzania

  1. Emily

    You are not kidding about the turkey conundrum. Apparently it’s a lot cheaper to get the turkey as a baby and then raise it- we’re really thankful that the Baileys do that and are willing to kill off Tom for our team’s dinner this year ( : We’ll be missing you and Christie as part of our gathering on Saturday and are praying every day for Baylor! (and the two of you of course as well)….
    see you 3 sometime in December (?)

  2. Emily

    can you pass on to Christie that i tried to leave a comment on her blog to enter the baby pool but was defeated. thanks. i think i am blog illiterate.

  3. Ike

    I am thankful that you and your wife are there….not for turkey…but for the glory and good pleasure of God.

    EDUCATION CREDENTIALS UNIMPORTANT; must have a deep sense of God’s calling; an awarenesss of total unability; a passion for the glory of God; an unrelenting burden for souls; a thorough knowlege of God’s Word; given to prayer; a high view of the church……….I am thankful you qualify:-)

    We are either called to go down into the well (i.e. go as missionaries) or hold the rope for those who go down (i.e. support missionaries). Either way, there will be scars on our hands.

    As Christians….we have been called to participate fully and sacrificially in the Great Commission Matthew 28: 18-20) in either going to the unreached or supporting those who go. Besides “turkey”…..what are your needs?

  4. Mark

    Hey Brett. Whenever I got frustrated bumming around Africa I reminded myself of something you said about actually giving thanks instead of just saying we’re thankful. This seems like the ideal day to mention how true that rang with me.

  5. Ike,

    Thanks for the encouragement. I especially like the rope and well analogy — unless that’s a metaphor, in which case I especially like the rope and well metaphor. Good thing you said education credentials aren’t important…

    As for needs, the most important needs we have are for prayer warriors to lift us up to God. I try to include prayer requests and prayer lists occasionally in blog posts. I’m probably overdue for that. Right now we’d love for you to pray about Baylor’s birth — that she will come soon, that both mother and child will be healthy, and that we’ll get a private room in the hospital here (otherwise I’ll be limited to visiting hours). In other areas of need, if you’d be willing to pray about fundraising (we’re still $832/month short of meeting our budget), we’d appreciate those prayers a lot. Thanks in advance for your prayers; and I haven’t forgotten to be praying for your wife also. God bless.

  6. Emily,

    Thanks for the prayers, and for backing up a fellow on the turkey thing. We’ll miss being there with all of you on Saturday, but we’ll see you in December. We’re planning on staying a night or two with you guys on our way back, if it’s convenient? Not sure when exactly. First we need Baylor, then we need a birth certificate, then we’ll at least apply for a passport, and then we’ll decide whether to leave before it’s ready or wait on it. Tell everyone in Mwanza hello… and that Geita crowd, I guess.

  7. Mark,

    How are you?! That question mark and exclamation point represent the surprise in my voice — had no idea I’d find you on my blog… And when did I say that? But if I did, thanks for using my own words to gently remind me that thanksgiving’s a lifestyle. When will you “bum” around Africa next? And what here could possibly be frustrating…?

  8. Ike


    The “rope and well” is biblical truth. There is absolutely no reason why you are $832/month short! I don’t have the time today….but I will be in touch.

  9. Brett and Christie,
    I read this out loud to our extended family on Friday evening–I had their full attention. Thanks to you for enriching our Thanksgiving and may God bless you both.

  10. I know it’s been a while since you wrote this, but darn this is great. Thanks for kicking my butt.

  11. I’d love to figure out SOME way to get you guys a turkey. I have no idea of how to do that at this point. I’d be delighted to send you $65, but don’t know how to do that, either.

    • our mission team met yesterday to set our menu (some of the items need to be bought while one family is in a larger town next week). anyway, we decided to do chicken this year to make it easier. we are going to do ham for christmas, though. so thanks for thinking of us, but we’ll be fine. it’s just being together that we all really enjoy. well, that and all the side dishes…

      i may raise turkeys at some point in the future, though.

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