How do Calvin faculty and staff produce a traditional feast when they travel outside the country?
After the feast
In November 1998, we were on a Fulbright in Mauritius, a small (25 miles x 40 miles) Indian Ocean island that's about 500 miles east of Madagascar. We had been there about four months, so we decided to celebrate Thanksgiving by inviting some Mauritian friends and all the other Americans we could find on the island—which turned out to be a Fulbright student, a young couple, the U.S. ambassador, the U.S. cultural affairs officer and his spouse, and a Baptist missionary family. The ambassador was away, and we had not met several of the others before, but they all accepted our invitation, so we had about 20 people around our dinner table. The Baptist family brought cornbread stuffing —a southern Thanksgiving tradition. Others brought breads, salads or desserts; we provided mashed potatoes and turkey. Finding turkey in the middle of the Indian Ocean was a challenge. We checked at the supermarket, and a whole turkey was $25 a lb, so a turkey large enough to feed that many people was going to cost over $300. But we happened to walk past the deli, and there were gigantic turkey legs cooking on their rotisserie cooker, and they were much more reasonably priced, so we bought a bunch of those and enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving feast in Mauritius. Our bungalow was 50 meters from the ocean so we'd told our guests to bring their swimsuits, and after the cleanup, we all went snorkeling to view the beautiful corals and tropical fish: Clownfish, Parrotfish, Moorish Idols, Starfish, etc. I've often wished we could make that part of our Thanksgiving tradition here.
Getting to the feast
Most memorable Thanksgiving on a semester abroad: 17 Calvin students and the prof and "the wife" (to use a common Ghanaian phrase) traveled to the home of Theresa Kwakye, a wonderfully hospitable African-American who married a Ghanaian, settled in Ghana more than 30 years ago, sent one of her sons to Calvin (he graduated in 2008), and in her graciousness and hospitality— and her willingness to let life unfold in its own time—has become more Ghanaian than most Ghanaians. She had invited the students from another exchange program that she coordinates and all the Calvin students to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with her family and friends.
Theresa and Richard's home is a handsome and spacious complex west of central Accra near the shore of the Gulf of Guinea. With light traffic and a knowledgeable cab driver, it's a 30 to 40 minute trip. But as in most residential neighborhoods in Ghana, there are very few street signs or house numbers, and the directions we were given involved turning at the big police station, not the small one, and looking for various landmarks whose description seemed to work equally well for half a dozen candidates.
Susan and I set out with more than an hour to make the trip, in our own car with several students along. All the other students set out about the same time from the University of Ghana campus in several taxis. All went well till we reached the coastal road, which was worse than we had dared to imagine: construction projects and disabled vehicles and very heavy late-afternoon made it much slower than getting out to walk, but we had several miles to cover.
Our car arrived about an hour and a half late—our “40-minute” drive had taken two and a half hours. One taxi of students arrived earlier, another shortly after we arrived, but the remaining five students didn't show up. Eventually, they phoned me with their plaintive tale: “Prof, our taxi driver insists on turning at the little police station, and he doesn't understand what you told us about the tailor shop, and he doesn't really speak English at all because he's from Togo. Can I please hand the phone to him so you can explain the directions in French?"
That seemed to help, but half an hour later another call followed. They were lost. I managed to talk the driver back to a main road with landmarks I could recognize. (This was a challenge: Togolese French, unlike that spoken in Burkina Faso and Mali and Senegal, is very heavily accented, and it wasn't really evident that the driver and I were speaking the same language.) Another half an hour, another call. Finally it appeared from their description that they were exactly one block off course, so I walked over to the nearest intersection to what I guessed was their location and, sure enough, there was a taxi full of American students nearby. But the driver was by then so frustrated with them, and they with him, that they paid his fare and jumped out to walk back with me.
So five of our students arrived about 9:30 for our 5:30 dinner, but this was not a problem at all—they were warmly welcomed and well fed. Theresa and her sister and numerous other relatives had laid out a sumptuous buffet of turkey, ham, fish (a gigantic roasted ocean fish), fresh vegetable and just-picked tropical fruit, bread and rice and fufu and banku (Ghanaian starch staples), pies and cakes—enough food for a hundred people. There was plenty left, and the stragglers enjoyed their Thanksgiving dinner, while the rest of us had seconds on dessert.