Away From Home for the Holidays
I’ve never spent more time preparing a Thanksgiving meal than I did that year, and I’ve never been more thankful for a taste of home. It was our first Thanksgiving in South Asia and my family of four was still living out of suitcases in a bedroom of a coworkers flat. It was a day of many firsts. I hadn’t cooked on the small gas burner in the kitchen before, had never made biscuits in a pan because there was no stove, and was new to boiling then filtering water to cook with. I took a bicycle rickshaw to a market to buy ingredients that didn’t look like the ones back home and thanked God for an entire day to prepare the meal.
We didn’t eat the traditional Thanksgiving foods we would normally have at my mother and mother-in-laws tables each year. But I scoured the shelves for ingredients that looked like they just might work for a home-cooked southern meal. For weeks, my five and seven-year old children had bravely tried spicy curries, picked the tiny bones out of their fish, and eaten unrecognizable meats. They needed something familiar. I also wanted to give our Brazilian coworkers living in Bangladesh a taste of Georgia.
I spent three Thanksgivings outside of the U.S. and every one of them involved tears. As grateful as I was for the hospitality of friends, amazing food, and new experiences—it wasn’t home for the holidays. That day felt a lot more like home, though because of the welcome of new friends. Fried chicken, gravy, mashed potatoes, and biscuits never tasted so good. The can of cranberry sauce an American co-worker left with us the one touch of Thanksgiving to the southern meal. I’ll never forget the generosity of near-strangers who let me tear apart their kitchen that day to feel a little closer to home.
Welcomed Home For a New Holiday
My favorite holiday away from home wasn’t the recreation of an American celebration in a foreign land, though. It was the invitation into the home and traditions of another. My first Eid-al-Adha is the holiday I will always remember. We were living in Egypt when the Feast of the Sacrifice approached that year, the biggest feast of the Muslim year. Pens of sheep, goats, and cows lined the streets as families prepared for the feast. The animals would be the main course of the Eid dinners, the meat divided into three parts: one for the family, one part given to friends and neighbors, and the final potion kept aside for those who do not have meat that holiday.
Twinkling lights hung from buildings and people shopped for new outfits. You could feel the excitement in the air. We were honored when our landlady who had become a friend, invited us to celebrate the holiday in her home. She welcomed me into her tiny kitchen to help prepare the meal. We crowded together around a small dining room table, passing the plates and sampling everything. She explained the traditions and beliefs surrounding it as we ate liver, rice, dates, cookies, and drank many cups of tea.
We were still sitting around the table when a knock came at the kitchen window. I understood a few words of the exchange in Arabic and watched as our friend retrieved a bag of meat she had set aside. She passed it through the window to the man who would take it home to prepare for his family. He would get to enjoy our feast as well. I’ll never forget the generosity of near-strangers who invited us into their home and extended welcome to unknown members of their community as well.
Open Eyes and Hearts to Those Who Need a Taste of Home
As we prepare for the holiday season, these two feasts stick out in my mind. They remind me of what it is like to be the outsider, what it is to be welcomed in. I pray and ask God to open my eyes and my heart to those who need a taste of home this year, who need an open door or perhaps a kind exchange at the kitchen window. May I never forget. May I live this kind of generosity to those far from home.