Wow, how things have changed over the past two years.
I remember my first Thanksgiving in Kazakhstan. It was a rough, lonely day. I printed off small cards and gave them to all of my co-workers in an attempt to celebrate the holiday. That night I went home and timidly asked my host mom if I could make mashed potatoes. When they were all mashed, I remembered I needed to add butter. However, we had no butter, so my host mom threw in a large chunk of lard, and the mashed potatoes then tasted like everything else I had in Kazakhstan.
That weekend was much better. It was the first time I met my future friends of Dave, Susannah, and Matt. It was also the world premiere of the Hotard casserole. And at the insistence of locals that we must play some sort of game, we devised Bear, Pilgrim, Indian, a variant of Rock, Paper, Scissors, although you must perform your character. The next day, Susannah rushed off to comfort her then-boyfriend in North Kazakhstan and we were left alone to wander the mysterious city of Taraz.
Two years later, and most of the mystery, confusion, and wonder are now removed from celebrating this holiday in Kazakhstan. I just get pumped that we are going to pig out on kilos and kilos (oops, pounds and pounds) of delicious homemade food.
For Thanksgiving Day itself, I got to teach one of the preschool English classes my organization runs with sponsorship from the US Embassy. We made cut out turkeys, played Thanksgiving memory game, and even made Pilgrim and Indian hats. When I wore my pilgrim hat home, I was stopped by the police, but that wasn't really a surprise. I did look pretty ridiculous in it. They looked at my documents for a few minutes before finally getting to the larger issue: Why are you wearing a paper hat? It's a holiday in America, I told them. This is the hat we wear. Their attitude warmed up immediately, and they even wished me a happy holiday!
Of course, Thanksgiving in Taraz always falls on a Saturday rather than a Thursday, so the whole oblast can come and celebrate. Before the big day, Mark was able to secure two turkeys, although he did this way too easily. Two years ago, Dave had to kill the turkey. Last year, Jenny had to find one using her local network of friends and colleagues. This time Mark bought the birds frozen at a local super market. (He did have to go to two supermarkets to find them though, so life is a little harder here than in America.)
After a bazaar run to get all of the needed ingredients, the cooking commenced. We worked from 1PM until 7PM. And our spread this year included:
Cheesy mashed potatoes
Mac and Cheese
Sweet potato casserole
Corn pudding with a chocolate waffle crust
Everything was absolutely delicious and wonderful. Noticeably missing is the annual Hotard casserole, but I did prepare the sweet potato casserole and corn pudding with chocolate waffle crust in its place. We invited some locals, but only about 7 people came. The total number of eaters was 14, but we had planned for 20. Asela was pushing hard for a game, but we didn't bring back Pilgrims, Indian, Bear. Instead we let her play the traditional "Wishbone" game with Chris. Food, friends, and more food. I can't imagine a better holiday here.