Imperfectly Perfect Thanksgiving

How I learned the meaning of Thanksgiving in India:


I had never felt homesick in the eleven months I had been on the road, at least not until Thanksgiving Day approached. Aboard the crowded train headed to Siliguri, a city on the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, my nostalgic pangs worsened as I watched mothers play with children, fathers cheerfully point out passing landmarks to family, and groups of friends laughing at jokes made in languages I did not understand.

To distract myself, I struck up a conversation with a small, elderly gentleman sitting next to me. As tends to happen in India to lone travelers, within a few minutes of chatting I was invited to spend a few days with his family in Siliguri. He said his wife was a miracle worker in the kitchen and that taking on the challenge of reproducing an American Thanksgiving dinner would be an honor.

I accepted the invitation and despite my objections, the gentleman and his wife moved into their son’s apartment, next door, so that I would have my own room in their home. For the next couple of days I was treated like royalty from the time I woke up to the time I went to bed.

On Thanksgiving Day I woke up to a loud frenzy of activity coming from the kitchen. While I slept, my adopted grandmother had spent the dawn hours trying to duplicate a Thanksgiving meal from an illustrated picture on one of the pages of her grandson’s English class textbooks. With boisterous laughter she quickly shooed me out and told me things were not ready yet.

As I was leaving the apartment I bumped into one of the neighborhood boys who seized the opportunity to quiz me about Thanksgiving traditions. I mentioned that many Americans watch football. Within minutes he had gathered up a group of men and organized a game of cricket. “Cricket is India’s football,” he explained.

After I thoroughly embarrassed myself on the cricket field, we dusted ourselves off and gathered in the small kitchen. While nervously wringing her hands, my host grandmother confessed that she was not entirely sure what a turkey was since she had never actually seen one. “I think a bird is a bird. I told them to give me the biggest chicken they had at the market and I would turn it into a turkey.” She pointed to the turkey stuffing drawing in the English textbook she had been using as a reference and said, “This was tricky but I think I got it. It’s biryani, right?”

In front of me was the most beautiful turkey chicken and biryani stuffing I had ever seen, along with a feast of other delectables I wish were part of our Thanksgiving mainstays back home. We laughed, shared stories and for a wonderful afternoon, I forgot that I was in a country far from my own.

The holidays are a time to surround ourselves with those we love and reflect on one’s good fortune. It is also a time when our expectations for perfect reunions can set us up for disappointment, but maybe the true holiday magic comes from being able to appreciate the beauty of imperfection. It took a foreign family to teach me that our American traditions can, and must, be adapted to our own circumstances. After all, there’s more than one way to carve a turkey… or chicken.

Aimless Vagabond

Aimless Vagabond

Efraín Villa, the Aimless Vagabond, is an optimist, cynic, and lover of contradiction. He's also a photographer, actor, and global wanderer whose endless quest for randomness has led him to colorful roles as tourism marketing director for the great state of New Mexico, pharmaceutical salesman of vaginal cream, professional fondling recipient at med schools (AKA standardized patient), trainer in police shooting simulations, and “pseudo intoxicated patron” in federal liquor licensing studies. He has traveled, lived, worked, and volunteered in more than 50 countries in five continents. While not running his consulting firm in Albuquerque, he is busy avoiding adulthood while wearing the least amount of clothes possible... usually in far away countries. Oh, also, he writes.
Aimless Vagabond
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