I will admit, when it comes to Thanksgiving stories, people often ask me for this one. It’s pretty hard to imagine that all of these things are true, but I assure you that they are. You will not believe the crazy experiences that I dealt with when I was trying to build a Thanksgiving Dinner in a semi-industrialized country in the Middle East.
Think of your typical Thanksgiving meal with cranberries, turkey, celery seasoned dressing, pumpkin pie, corn, etc. Now imagine you don’t have any of those things because you are in Yemen. With those ideas in mind, welcome to my Thanksgiving Dinner Story about Yemen.
How This Thanksgiving Story Begins
Once upon a time, I was an Arabic Language student in Yemen. I had won a scholarship to study there for 5 months from my University. While I was excited for the whole 8 months before I left for Yemen, I was still worried about what I was going to do for the Holidays. In my family, Thanksgiving Dinner is a big deal. What was I going to do for Thanksgiving Dinner? I started looking for preparations 3 weeks before the big day.
How The Greatest Halloween Story Ever Got Its Start
I had all of my fellow international school mates excited about celebrating their first Thanksgiving ever. They all thought it was hilarious that it was going to occur in Yemen and not the United States. Fear not, I told the foreigners, Thanksgiving is about the spirit of being together with friends and family. They would always then ask me if it was about friends, why was so obsessed with finding celery for Thanksgiving dinner? .
Alas, by some fluke of vegetable availability, people in Yemen did not know anything about something called celery. Celery was the cornerstone of my Thanksgiving recipes and I was not going to be defeated. The students at the language school got tired of listening to me describe the vegetable in my bad Arabic to every vendor in Yemen.
Celery or Mistletoe? Okay, Witchcraft It Is!
When I was getting ready for Thanksgiving, I also decided to make some fake mistletoe out of some funny plant that grew in Yemen. I bundle it by the stems with a ribbon and hung it up on the wall in the kitchen. When I returned to the Language School 5 hours later, I found the fake mistletoe in the courtyard. Then, the maid and 4 of her friends took brooms and beat it to a pulp!
I was real upset, but I figured that I had no right to tell these people about what was witchcraft and what was not. So I just let them know I had no idea. It was then that I started to worry about the celery and what I was going to do with it when I took it back to the school. After all, celery didn’t grow in Yemen. What would they do if they saw me with some funky plant that smelled weird? Call the cops?
Celery Drug Smuggler
I finally found an American ex-patriot in Yemen that was also tired of the lack of celery. When you grow it on top of your rooftop, you don’t get a chance to get stalks. In other words, this celery was not blanched and long like the kind you buy in the store. It looked more like a weed but still had the taste I was looking for.
I made a bundle and my hands trembled as I thought of the maids back at the school discovering yet another bundle of witch herbs from that wacky American. Would they be understanding long enough for me to woo them with my culinary celery Thanksgiving masterpiece? I did not know.
Okay, No Turkey But Still Thanksgiving
I finally found a turkey at one of the 4 well stocked and inexpensive international grocery stores in Yemen. However, when I saw the price, I almost had a heart attack! That little chicken looking frozen turkey was $99! In other words, I talked a lot about turkeys that year and served chicken.
Celery Bundle Kidnapped
Sure enough, the day of Thanksgiving, I went to make my famous sweetened cornbread stuffing in a cast iron skillet with onions, broth, red hot pepper flakes, garlic, boiled eggs and celery. But where was the celery?
It had been taken, once again, and I was accused of re-instigating trouble. Thankfully, someone was able to make ransom on the celery and get it back just in time for dinner.
Best Thanksgiving Ever
I must admit, we even had cranberry representation at my Yemeni Thanksgiving with a package of Craisins I saved for 3 months. In addition to my make your own crazy jello “salad” contest, the international students and staff at the school loved their Yemeni Thanksgiving.
Other Special Notes:
I discovered that fake mistletoe hanging bundles, hanging pomanders, and making Jack-O Lanterns are all a serious “NO” in Yemen. I’m not sure if it’s because they are associated with witchcraft or some other reason.
In other words, all I am I saying is “When in Rome, just stick to serving interesting new food (and don’t forget the celery!)”.