Monday, December 13, 2010

An American Holiday Comes to the Pacific

Thanksgiving 2010 was one I will not soon forget. It was my first Thanksgiving away from my home and family, my first Thanksgiving without a turkey, strangely NOT my first Thanksgiving meal cooked over a fire, but the first where I actually did some of the cooking. Although it lacked the cold winter weather, the good china, and the pumpkin pie that anchor the classic American holiday, it was a fantastic day that will stay in my memory as one of the best Thanksgivings I’ve had.

On Wednesday, Megan came from Lolowai, Kara from Luvunvili, and Melissa from Vureas (all in East Ambae), and together with Nancy made the trek up my hill to see Quatamwele. My village gets ridiculously excited when we get visitors, so they planned a whole welcome ceremony for the girls filled with classic rambling Ni-Van speeches and way too much food. We left soon after in order to get down to Nancy’s village of Vandue before dark. That night we laughed and talked and broke open one of the cherished bottles of wine the girls had foraged from the few sparse stores in Lolowai.

Thanksgiving dawned cloudy and rainy and in good holiday fashion we lazed around the house all morning, until the food preparations began. We carried spices, pots and pans, various ingredients, and all the necessities over to Nancy’s kitchen and started the fire. Over the next few hours we slaved over a hot fire and were rewarded with a home-made feast of curry pumpkin soup, beans with island cabbage (similar to spinach), mashed kumala (sweet potatoes), bread (not an easy task when you don’t have yeast or an oven. But doable!), two chickens, gravy, yams fried with onions, mac and cheese (not a Thanksgiving classic but just so American that it made the cut), and a banana cake for dessert. It was a challenge, but we had a blast and celebrated by eating a feast, drinking wine, and lying around like true Americans on Thanksgiving.

The next day Nancy and I followed the boat with the girls back to Lolowai to use some internet and eat something other than our usual diet of simboro and lap-lap (more on the food here in a later post). Although the weather looked ominous, we only get a chance for a cheap boat ride once every two weeks, so we decided to go for it. Small amounts of rain came down on the two-hour boat ride to Lolowai, but nothing too dramatic. However, on the way back the skies opened up and buckets of rain fell on us. The ocean became very rough and waves crashed into the boat soaking us to the skin. The weather continued to get worse until we were in the middle of strong winds, crashing thunder, and the kind of rain I had never seen before. I later learned a hurricane was in the area and that we were catching the fringes of the wild weather. At this point my biggest concern was for the infant that was in the boat, coming back from being immunized at the hospital. The only place that has vaccines is the hospital in Lolowai, and the only way to get there is by boat, so the mother didn’t have any choice. Everyone was trying to shield him from the rain and the waves as much as possible, but I was terrified the boat was going to flip and send us all into the ocean. The men in the boat told me that in times of heavy rains the road up to my village turns into a river and is impassable, so I continued on to Vandue to stay the night with Nancy. After getting the baby out of the boat safely, jumping onto the shore amidst crashing waves, and helping to pull the boat up a hill and out of the ocean’s reach, Nancy and I finally slogged back to her house. By this time we were so wet we might have well have jumped in the ocean, and the rain was providing better water pressure than we’d seen in months, so we decided to wash our hair outside in the rain. Then we changed into warm clothes and huddled under blankets, drinking hot chocolate and watching a movie on my laptop. The next day the rains subsided a little and I could finally go back up the hill to assure my worried parents I had not gotten swept out to sea.

Like I said, a Thanksgiving I will never forget!

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