Monday, December 27, 2010

The Boy Who Saved Thanksgiving

Written December 20, 2010

As my first major holiday away from home, this Thanksgiving could have gone really good or really bad. Thankfully it ended really great…even though the beginning was a bit rough.

In case you weren’t sure, Tanzania does not celebrate American Thanksgiving! So to be able to include volunteers who work a 9-5 as well as a new batch of education volunteers placed in our region on Thanksgiving Day, we all planned a potluck dinner on Black Friday at a volunteer’s house in Mbeya town.

Turkey is crazy expensive, especially as we’d need enough for about 20 people. So my duty was to get chickens- preferably already slaughtered, plucked and cut into pieces ready to be baked. I was a little unsure of the sanitary aspect of traveling down a mountain on a dirt road with raw chicken, but I figured the large Ziplock bags brought from the US would do well enough.

As often occurs, a simple job turns out to be not so simple. My neighbors had explained while back they sell their chickens and ducks for meat. I started with them, but they did not have any big enough to sell. I spoke with my Village Exec Officer who turned to the shop owner standing beside him at the time and said this guy could provide the chickens. The guy looked surprised but agreed so I went with it. We settled on priced and arranged when I would pick up the meat. I even checked back with him the next day to confirm and was quite proud of my Swahili.

This ended up being my first major case with a common cultural obstacle. Most Tanzanians are very indirect with communicating. They would prefer to keep you initially happy by agreeing to something they may have no way of following through with. When I arrived to pick up the chickens on my way out of the village to town, I was informed they would not be available. Sorry.

While waiting for a ride to come through my village, I explained my problem to the women at the market. A positive cultural difference here is when you voice a problem it becomes everyone’s problem. Unfortunately no one could come up with four full grown chickens for sale….a hard fact to digest when chickens are constantly roaming.

It was decided I would have better luck finding what I needed in the larger village at the bottom of the mountain where I usually change from the truck to a dala to get to Mbeya town. Though I was a bit concerned if they would as accommodating with the whole killing, plucking and cutting.

Here’s where my luck started to change- I just happened to sit in the truck next to a boy of about 14 who spoke really good English and was from this village. I was able to explain my problem and ask for directions on where to go for all I needed. He was not sure where to go, so he decided to go searching with me. Like I said, your problem becomes theirs.
He found a restaurant where workers could buy three chickens at a nearby coop and would kill and pluck them for me. At which point I was happy to get that and was not going to worry about the fourth chicken or having them cut. How hard could it be to cut chicken? I found out the next day.

The chickens were kept fresh in a fridge another volunteer has. I was able to bake them in her stove right before the dinner. I could identify the legs and wings. Everything else was just pieces of bones and meat. It was actually fitting because Tanzanians also cut chicken like this to feed more people off fewer chickens….so really I did it all on purpose!

The dinner turned out amazing with tons of good food. A couple of volunteers had stuffing mix sent from America as well as the crunchy onion things to go on top of green bean casserole. Others baked bread and mashed potatoes as well as fixed a few non-traditional Thanksgiving foods like gaucomole and chili. For dessert there was a really good mango cobbler made with oatmeal. We also got to taste new homemade wines made from rice and mangos. I have not yet made any wine myself but thinking I am going to try soon!

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