23.11.12

Thanksgiving Away

So there is a first for everything.
Today was my first major holiday away from home.
It wasn't what I expected, in the least.
Going into this week, I predicted a few things about celebrating Thanksgiving: I would experience my first bought of true homesick-ness and would be rather somber, but otherwise would have a pleasant day celebrating with the other American staff on campus.
Well, you would think by now that I would realize that nothing goes how I expect.
Today didn't go how I speculated it might.
To start, Monday morning I woke up with a pretty bad cold. I have been dealing with it all week, but expected that it would go away.
Nope.
Starting yesterday afternoon, my voice started to disappear and I was slowly being bogged down by an overwhelming feeling of lethargy. I shook it off.
We will come back to this.
For our Thanksgiving celebration, all of the American staff on campus - and a few foreign staff/friends as well - planned a big dinner at Pastor Tom and Gladys' house. We all volunteered to bring different dishes based on our cooking/financial preferences. I am not much for cooking, but I do enjoy baking and since living in Egypt do so quite often.
So, I did the obvious thing.
I signed up to bake apple pies.
Now, this isn't immediately a terrifying idea. It's just apple pies, right?
I forgot one major detail though.
I live in Egypt.
One place in the world no one has heard of pies, or of the ingredients required to make them.
Well I spent all week planning my attack: I would use my great-grandmothers super secret pie crust recipe, my aunt-the-baker's pie filling recipe, and astound everyone on campus with my spectacular baking skill and finesse.
Oh yeah, I've never baked pies before.
Ever.
I have no idea what is required in terms of knowledge or talent, to bake a pie.
I probably should have thought that one through a bit better.
So yesterday, Mrs. Peggy (our school nurse) spent all day gathering the ingredients for everyone's Thanksgiving food ventures. All day. She had so many things to get, that she did not make it back from Cairo until 10:30pm.
So now, it is 10:30pm, and I have to start my first ever attempt at baking apple pies, with my perfectionist notion that they will be the delight of the holiday.
I few things got in the way of this working out. 1) our fridge broke. So my Grandma Graham's pie crust recipe directing me to use only "ice cold" ingredients was thrown right out the window. 2) Half the ingredients I needed aren't available here, at all. Like shortening. Instead I get to use "ghee" a type of oil/butter combo that smells and resembles baby vomit. 3) many of the required tools needed for proper pie-baking I overlooked acquiring. Like a rolling pin. Or pie pan. I had to find a pan near midnight from other staff.
Let's just say that by 1am, my kitchen was covered in flour, sugar, and a sticky ghee coating, my apple pies were something of my own creation that may vaguely be recognized from my original recipes, and my frazzled mental state and frayed nerves had me just about ready to throw the dumb pies out the window.

Live action shot! Taken at 1am as I struggle to complete my baking adventure. Oh, since I haven't yet given you a tour of my house, I also forgot to note that the counter space in my kitchen = non-existent. Also, look at my water-bottle turned rolling pin, as well as the light dusting of flour on all visible surfaces. I felt like a cartoon character. 

 I was determined to make the pies work though. I wouldn't give up! So the only way I could partially salvage them was to do the one thing I am good at: make them look pretty. So, I spent the last of my energy manipulating the pie crust into a lovely lattice top. If nothing else, my pies would be deceptively attractive.
Finished. Finally.
Nearing 2am, I hit the hay, to finish baking my pies in the morning.
Oh, what would await in the morning.
So, remember when I said that I had been dealing with a cold since Monday? Well, Thanksgiving morning I woke up bright and early at 7am to throw my pies in the oven before class...with a significantly worse cold, and the voice of an 80-year old chain smoker.
I love it when that happens.
So my morning was already off to a not-so-wonderful start.
I went and put my pies in the oven though, seeing as I still had to work all day and they had to finish before my classes so they could cool.
As they did their thing, I started to get ready.
Seeing as this is my first major holiday away from home, I wanted to have some semblance of normalcy to make it at least remotely sentimental.
I love Thanksgiving, and I didn't want the fact that I am half-way around the world to ruin that. Surprisingly enough though, I had yet to feel homesick. I knew that I should, and I certainly missed my family and the holiday atmosphere, but I didn't feel terribly depressed about any of it.
I was aware though, that there would be many things preventing the day from feeling like a "real" thanksgiving.
1) I'm not even in the states... that takes a lot out of the holiday. Also, everything is still warm and green here - there isn't really a seasonal change. So it doesn't "look" like Thanksgiving outside.
2) I had to work. Thanksgiving isn't a holiday here, so I still had to go to class.
3) Everyone here is vegetarian, and many traditional holiday foods can't be found in the country. So most of the food wouldn't resemble a usual Thanksgiving dinner.
So, keeping these in mind, I tried to bring consistency into the day to make it feel normal.
One thing that is consistent about holidays in my family is that we get dressed up. Thanksgiving is an excuse to put on our nicest clothes and spend time looking decent. Maybe it's all a big facade to cover up how lazy the holiday makes us, but I enjoy getting gussied up every once in a while.
My mother sent me a beautiful new dress last week, and I was intent on wearing it. I was going to do something with my constantly-up hair, and maybe even throw on a little makeup.
So I set out with flat-iron in hand to smooth down my lengthy locks.
I have used this flat-iron in Egypt several times this year already, and it has worked well in the past.
I don't know what happened.
Maybe there was a power surge, as is common, or maybe my flat iron decided to just give out, but something went wrong.
Because the first strand of hair I attempted to straighten... came right off.
I burnt off about six inches of hair with my faulty flat iron.
I lost it.
Now, I don't have complete melt-downs that often, but I did then.
I think I was so overwhelmed by the complete and total failure of all my holiday attempts for the week, that I could no longer contain my frustration.
I stay up until 2am baking stupid pies, spend all week suffering with a cold, wake up with no voice, and then burn off a significant portion of my hair? Enough, already!
Granted, the whole situation was pretty funny.
I mean, for me it sucked, but the hot-mess tantrum I threw, complete with alligator tears and all, does hold a good amount of comedic value.
Sara was the only one home, and got her fair share of laughs as I angrily scraped off melted hair from my smoking flat iron, crying with my non-voice about how I was just trying to look pretty for the holidays.
She also had a camera.
The whole thing is documented on video, which I watched and laughed at later. She also got a few pictures.

My immediate reaction. If you look closely, you can still see some of my hair glued on the plate of the iron.  It's okay, you are allowed to laugh.
At this point, I threw my hair in an angry ponytail and moped off to class.
I desperately wanted to just curl up in bed. My cold was exhausting me, and my inner perfectionist was more than slightly annoyed that nothing I had planned was going anywhere near as perfect as I had intended.
I didn't want to teach any of my classes, but I couldn't just cancel them, so I did the next best thing.
Art day.
But not just any art day.
I had my ESL class make hand-turkeys.
Best. Decision. Of. The. Day.
My cute little ESL class, full of 17 sweet little non-English speaking Egyptians, put all of their little hearts into pleasing me with their adorable little hand-turkey creations.
Sara says that I was being cruel and demeaning, because I gave my class full of 16 year olds + an assignment we give to kindergartners back home.
I say you are never too old to make a hand turkey.
So, I set out with colored pencils in hand, to show them how to draw a bird they have never before heard of.
Keep in mind, they speak an incredibly small amount of English.
And have never heard of "Thanksgiving" before.
Among their limited vocabulary words, however, are the terms "big" and "chicken."
So, I showed them how to draw a "big chicken" (arm motion gesturing a large sized bird, included) using their hands as a template.
I showed them two different ways to draw a hand-turkey: one, with the head on the thumb (as per usual), and another, with the head in the center of the palm.
I drew both on the board, and had an example on paper for them to look at.
Well, some of my art lesson was lost in translation.
Please look at the results of my hand-turkey class, and laugh contentedly in extreme amusement.

Apparently, trying to get across that I wanted them to draw the turkey's head on the thumb was misunderstood as wanting a turkey on the thumb... I laughed so hard when I saw this drawing of his hand with a tiny turkey on the thumb!

A similar thing happened in this one. Instead of drawing the head of the turkey in the center of the palm, he drew an entire small turkey inside the center of his hand. So funny!

This student got pretty crazy with his hand and filled it with three turkeys.

I thought I finally had one student who understood my directions and drew a turkey-head on the thumb...until I saw the fish in the center. He was so excited to draw the fish inside his turkey though! Somehow, I am really pleased by the eye/eyebrows he drew too. They look so sassy to me. 
I finished off my classes incredibly pleased, despite my less-than-pleasant start to the day. I was still suffering from my cold though, so I spent the rest of the afternoon in bed.
Come dinner time, I put on my fancy frock and headed to the Decker's house for the evening's festivities.  Dinner ended up being very pleasant, and everyone laughed at my burnt-hair story told in my raspy geriatric voice.

Sporting my pretty new dress with my finished apple pie. I dislike the degree to which I look reminiscent of a housewife in this photo. My apple pie ended up being pretty good, despite my lack of ability to follow directions.

Austin, Sara, and Maryam before we started the feast.

My elbow-bumping companions at dinner. Even though it wasn't what I was used to, the food ended up being really good!

The most amazing girls I could ask to spend my time with in Egypt! The three of us ended up matching for the evening, too. Great minds think alike.
We finished stuffing ourselves with dinner, and then watched "Its a Wonderful Life" to start off the Christmas season. The day had a rough start, but it ended very nicely with a group of lovely people. I am thankful that I am spending my time away with a group so much like a second family to me. I didn't end up getting homesick like I expected, but that may be because my subconscious is aware that I will be traveling home for the holidays in less than a month now. I am greatly looking forward to seeing all my friends and family again. Maybe my next major holiday will be less of a snafu than this one turned out to be :) Inshallah.
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1 comment:

  1. Oh girl! I understand very well about the "cooking's thing", my homemade pizzas are not working like I waited for! so dissapointing :( and sickness? I can tell you about sickness! haha anyway I'm so happy to know people like you, so funny and great. It makes my days more easy to take. I hope you have a better week, so do I! =P "Welcome to Egypt". Pry

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