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Thanksgiving in Africa



Yellow Rice & Raisins


Thanksgiving in Africa 

BY TEREZ ROSE, San Jose Mercury News, November 17, 2001 

In 1621 a band of weary Pilgrims celebrated their meager harvest with their newfound friends and gave thanks. It had been a hard year for them, having arrived the previous December on Plymouth's rocky shores after 9-1/2 perilous weeks at sea. 

A hundred idealists escaping religious persecution, they now were free to worship as they pleased. Sadly, they were unprepared for the challenges. The harsh winter and environment took their toll, and by spring half the Pilgrims had died. 

However, when given the choice to admit defeat and return to England with the Mayflower, everyone decided to stay. 

In 1985, I had a few things in common with the Pilgrims. With a band of 30 other idealists, I left Kansas to join the Peace Corps in Gabon in Central Africa. Initially fired by enthusiasm, our number quickly diminished because of disillusionment, homesickness and health issues. Within six months, a third had returned home. At my post, an aching homesickness replaced bewilderment as I taught English at the local high school. 

My white skin stuck out like a beacon, and whispers and stares accompanied me everywhere I went. The students seemed to find my teaching efforts entertaining rather than educational as I struggled to maintain discipline. 

November came and my homesick thoughts turned to the approaching Thanksgiving holiday. Back home, Mom's delicate china would adorn the linen tablecloth and the rich smell of slow-roasting turkey would pervade the air. Laughter would fill the dining room as ravenous eaters stuffed themselves into a stupor. 

As I reminisced in Gabon, sweating and slapping at mosquitoes, a longing for home engulfed me. Clinging to memories, I decided to host my own traditional Thanksgiving dinner. My announcement to the other Peace Corps volunteers, however, was met with skepticism. 

``Where are you going to get a whole turkey?'' was one's response. 

``Last year we just drank beer,'' was another's. 

``The rest was too much work.'' 

I was further disheartened when I perused the local store. No whole turkeys, only wings. No fresh vegetables and no potatoes, only local tubers. Not a chance of a pumpkin. 

``Forget it then!'' I exploded to one of the volunteers later as we sat at a neighborhood bar. 

His Gabonese friend took pity on me. ``But does it have to be a traditional dinner?'' he asked. 

``Well, that's the point, to do it the way it's always been done, with the turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.'' 

``Maybe if you compromised, you'd have better luck,'' he gently observed. 

His words struck a chord in my heart and I mulled over them the following week, observing my actions more clearly. Maybe in the classroom my expectations, based solely on my culture, were causing me to fail. Perhaps this was the realization the Pilgrims had in the spring of 1621. 

So compromise it was. I sought the advice of the Gabonese teachers at the school, who told me to focus on discipline first and fun second. I began by throwing out the British lesson book that taught words like ``vicar'' and ``perambulator,'' replacing them with everyday words like ``market, pineapple and rooster'' and phrases like ``Have you got any yellow bananas?'' 

The students responded and overnight the classroom environment improved. 

Thanksgiving dinner, I decided, would include turkey wings, mashed local plantain bananas and sliced mangoes. For pumpkin pie, I boiled green papayas from the local market, spiced them up and proceeded with the traditional recipe. 

On Thanksgiving afternoon, I was too busy with preparations to be homesick for family. In my rickety house, I pushed the wobbly dining table against the desk and flung a bed sheet over them. Tapered candles poked out of yogurt containers. 

My guests arrived, American and African alike, and the immediate multi-cultural camaraderie warmed me. After cocktails of local beer, I lit the candles and invited my guests to sit on the chairs and stools that leaned toward the table. 

The Thanksgiving ``feast'' was not like any I'd had before, but it was a reassuring combination of home and my adopted culture. 

``I've never had turkey wings prepared this way before,'' said one Gabonese guest. 

I thought of the first Thanksgiving dinner, where the Pilgrims cooked unfamiliar food using familiar recipes. 

Maybe a Native American invited to the feast tasted a dish and said, ``Hey, I never thought of doing that with corn before.'' 

When the green papaya pie was served, I watched everyone's expression as they took the first bite. I saw trepidation change to amazement. 

``This tastes just like my mom's pumpkin pie!'' one of the volunteers exclaimed. 

``How did you do it?'' Tears stung my eyes and at that moment I felt happier than I'd ever felt in Africa, and more fulfilled than by any other Thanksgiving dinner. 

For the first time, I truly gave thanks: for friends, for bounty, for opportunity. 

In this holiday season of 2001, in addition to celebrating, we Americans will be mourning the death of fellow citizens and a more carefree way of life. In most of us lies an unsettling fear of not knowing when we will be attacked again by people who threaten our lifestyle and values. 

The Pilgrims knew all about living with insecurity. But in spite of it, they managed to focus on what they were thankful for: good health and the fruits of their labor, for friends still living and the goodwill of new friends who had crossed over the cultural barrier. 

I think I'll make it my goal this year to try to give thanks for the same things. I want to cross over the cultural barrier that some would have us believe is insurmountable. Maybe it will be something as simple as serving couscous with dinner, or inviting foreign friends to Thanksgiving dinner. Regardless of what I eat or with whom, I'll pause to remember those who have gone before us and I'll give thanks.


As Thanksgiving, isn't celebrated here in South Africa - It was thought of sharing a special Sunday celebration meal with all of you...
The main course, being "Bobotie", pronounced BoobooTee
It is usually served with yellow rice & raisins
Now, as we all luv a lil sweetness after a meal - "Souskluitjies", or maybe better known to you as Dumplings, will end this Menu...

~~ Bobotie ~~     >Back to Top<

2 tablespoons oil
1/2 tablespoon butter
500 grams mince (combination of beef and lamb)
2 onions -- chopped
2 cloves crushed garlic
1 cup grated carrot or apple

~ spices ~
2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon mixed herbs
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch red chili powder or cayenne pepper

~ seasoning ~
1 tablespoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
2 slices white bread
2 bay or lemon leaves

~ topping ~
1 cup sour cream
1/2 teaspoon salt
pinch pepper
2 eggs

Stir-fry the mince in the oil and butter until loose and crumbly, using a fork. Add the chopped onion and stir-fry, until limp and glazed. Add the garlic, grated carrot and spices. Continue cooking very briefly to develop all flavors. Season with salt, pepper and wine vinegar or lemon juice to taste.
Soak white bread in water, lightly squeeze out water and mash with a fork, then add to mixture.
Spread the mixture into a flat ovenproof dish. Tuck the bay or lemon leaves into the mixture.
Beat all the ingredients for the topping with a fork. Pour the topping over the bobotie.
Bake uncovered at 190 C (375 F) for 35 minutes, until the custard topping is firm and golden-brown.

Serve with yellow rice, chutney, sliced bananas and a diced tomato and onion sambal.

~~ Yellow Rice & Raisins ~~     >Back to Top<

1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup raisins
1 teaspoon lemon rind
2 cups white rice

In a large pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Add all ingredients, except the rice and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Add the rice, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove cinnamon stick and lemon rind, before serving.

~~ Souskluitjies ~~     >Back to Top<

120 g cake flour
10 ml baking powder
2 ml salt
15 g butter
1 egg
125 ml milk
butter and cinnamon sugar to serve

Sift the dry ingredients together and mix in the butter with vinegarís until it resembles breadcrumbs. Mix egg and milk and add to above. Boil water (must be about 3 cm deep) with a pinch of salt in a casserole with a lid. Use a teaspoon dipped in boiling water to put spoonfuls of the dough into the boiling water. Cover with tight fitting lid and cook slowly for 10 minutes (Donít peek, as this will cause the dumplings to "fall down" and become rubbery) Remove from heat, pour into a serving bowl and put dots of butter on top. Sprinkle a lot of cinnamon sugar over and serve with vanilla custard.

Happy Thanksgiving from Spike & Jamie


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