The day begins, as most Thanksgivings do, with a last minute trip to the market. Followed by another. Then another. And, no kidding, another. By late morning we finally have everything we need to start preparing our Thanksgiving feast, including the turkey that’s been quietly parading around the yard.
I ask Sharon if we should say a prayer as she binds its feet. “Okay,” she laughs. “Thanks God! Thanks turkey! Amen.” She starts going through the process as if creating an instructional video, which she kind of is because I’m recording it to show my kids the next time they complain about, well, anything.
Watching her skill is fascinating, distressing, and completely natural all at the same time. It occurs to me that this Thanksgiving in Gulu probably resembles the American original way more than our nouveau Butterball versions.
While Sharon roasts the meat, others work on the rice, potatoes, beans, greens, and fruit salad. It’s an epic collaboration that takes the better part of eight hours.
The meal is plated and we take our places on the floor. Annet offers a beautiful prayer and the girls dig in. During dinner, Hannah, a friend from Chicago, explains the American tradition of each person sharing what they’re most thankful for. She starts by saying how grateful she is to be visiting. Everyone cheers.
One of the Kwagala girls goes next. “I am grateful to be alive.” She states plainly. “And that people care about me.” Everyone silently nods in agreement as more girls share similar sentiments. The mood is appropriately sober. That is, until one of the girls exclaims how thrilled she is to have the new “knickers” we brought them. Everyone erupts into side-splitting laughter. Mentioning underwear at Thanksgiving dinner is beyond hysterical.
It’s my turn. I, too, express how thankful I am to be with them. More cheering. I say it knowing these minutes will, in all probability, define my entire trip. Months from now I’ll still be able to recall exactly how I’m feeling looking around this room. I’ll remember who said what. And I’ll remember the heartfelt gratitude expressed for their new lives and for the basic things that make them better.
I look down at my plate of food. I’ll remember how hard it was to prepare it. I’ll think about Sharon and the turkey. When I show my kids the video it won’t be to guilt them into gratitude. I’ll show them how differently we all work to achieve the same goals. Easier is not always better, but simplicity often is.
Life, food, clothes, family – these are things we so easily take for granted. Spending time with those who don’t, makes it difficult to continuously do so. That’s what I hope to always remember. No, that’s what I hope to always do: refuse to take any of it for granted and to be as grateful for life as the girls at Kwagala Project are.
- Kristen Hendricks
From Thanksgiving 2012