An American Thanksgiving
A tale that could only take place in Georgia
Retold by a Canadian
Disclaimer: Animals were harmed in the making of this story
When I first came to Georgia I spent my first week in a cold ritzy hotel called the Bazaleti that served bad food. I spent this week with about 30 other English-speaking foreigners from all over the world. Their places of origin included America, England, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Romania and Canada. We spent this week ‘training and preparing’ for the world outside and forming the kind bond that only comes from learning far too much and yet not enough about each other. We were part of a government program to teach the Georgian youth how to speak English. We were group 13.
Georgia’s whimsical grace and charm was not enough to entice all 30 of us foreigners into returning to Georgia for another semester. There are now only 13 of us left (how odd, another 13, it is a little unnerving!) In truth I almost didn’t return, but there was something about this country that drew me back and I am glad I did. There are adventures that I had here I doubt I could have had elsewhere. This is one of them…
Seeing as most of the teachers that stayed here were American, we decided to celebrate American Thanksgiving together! We were dreaming of renting a private cabin in the woods, cuddling by a fire, sipping hot cocoa and cooking a proper Thanksgiving dinner. I mean a real Thanksgiving feast including mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, veronyky (perogies—my addition thanks to my Ukrainian roots, love you Baba!), coconut rice (from Erica’s Latino roots), apple pie, pumpkin pie and but of course a turkey! We looked for a cabin with an oven, stove, pots and pans. We wanted a cabin with enough beds and utensils for 9 people. Initially, six of us met in Tbilisi and took the night train to the village, Zugdidi, where we would await the rest of our friends from our cabin in the woods… however this is Georgia, so of course things aren’t exactly going to go as planned…
We arrived in Zudidi at 6 am and not wanting to wake the Georgian ladies that were graciously renting the cabin to us we walked around random streets outside in the damp, cool air trying to keep warm while a reasonable disturbing hour came. Finally 9 am arrived! We arrived at an ordinary house on an ordinary street in the middle of town. Not exactly a cabin, but it’s a roof over our heads. Unfortunately it turns out that’s all it was, a roof over our heads. We entered the house and realized that there was no heating and it was late November so it was frigid inside. Instead of getting the privacy that we sought for, the two Georgian ladies renting the house sat in a separate room in the house with the only source of heat, a wood stove. I had prepared the perogies a week before and froze them. The problem was that after 8 hours on a train they had thawed and there was no fridge in the house. In order to keep them cold I put them outside, then I realized it was colder inside so I brought them back in.
Exhausted from the train ride we decided to take a nap. There weren’t enough beds for 9 of us, there were only 4 single beds and a futon. No problem, it was so damn cold that we pushed two beds together and all 6 of us crawled in. Due to lack of space we spooned in hopes that we would gather enough body heat to get some sleep. You know what I said about forming a bond, well that bond just went to the next level.
When we got up, we decided to go eat at a restaurant, then go shopping for the next two days. Our friend Orlando, who was in charge of buying the turkey, met us there. He bought the turkey at a market and showed up to the restaurant with it, in a plastic shopping bag, from some mall. He set the bag down on the ground and we continued our conversation. At some point in the meal someone accidentally nudged the plastic bag and the bag started moving and making muffled sounds. Jessica looked into the bag and said “Oh my god! It’s alive!” Orlando kind of gave a look as if to say, yah it’s alive, I got it at the market!
So here we were, 10 minutes later, walking around downtown Zugdidi with a live Turkey tied up in a plastic shopping bag. When we brought the Turkey back to the house, we had the task of killing our meal. I am sorry to say that there was a failed attempt with an axe. Thankfully Andy put the poor thing out of its misery quickly with a knife seconds afterwards. With a freshly killed bird the next task was to drain it of blood, so we hung it upside down on a clothes line and went shopping. When we returned the boys plucked and gutted the turkey. I may be vegetarian but I can appreciate when someone is self sufficient enough to pluck and gut their own meat. After this long and time-consuming was completed Bethany came outside and said “Umm… don’t be mad but… the gas stove and oven don’t work…”
This is where panic and anger tend to set in.
Thank heavens for a beautiful thing called Georgian hospitality! Fortunately the neighbour came over to visit the ladies and after hearing about our predicament and seeing our Turkey hanging from a clothing line she graciously offered the use of her stove. So we gathered in the woman’s tiny kitchen, and by us I mean all 9 of us! Mostly because it was warmer in there then it was at our ‘cabin’. Problem was the neighbour’s stove didn’t have a thermometer so we had to gauge the temperature of the stove with our faces. I have quite a bit of experience with baking and thus I am well acquainted with the feeling of heat hitting my face when opening an oven door, not the greatest measure, but what else did we have. We needed the oven to be at 350 Fahrenheit, it was maybe 200. So what could have easily taken 2 hours, took 6!
Meanwhile we discovered that there were 5 plates and a handful of fork, knives, spoons and cups. So we had to buy plastic plates, cutlery and cups. After cooking all day the meal was finally finished around 11pm. I can proudly say that we still managed to make mash potatoes, veggie stuffing, meat stuffing, veronyky, coconut rice (I will never quite fathom how we managed to burn it with the limited stove space and lack of heat), gravy, pasta, garlic bread, turkey and apple pie. Take note that Maria had to flatten the dough with a wine bottle; she even braided the top of the pie crust!! I can’t say that all the food was piping hot due to limited stove space and the cold, but it was delicious. The fact that we had ate so little throughout the day may have something to do with it. As I got into bed that night, trying not to shiver from the cold, a brief thought crossed my mind before I drifted into a fitful slumber: “Thank god this is the last time I will ever have to celebrate American Thanksgiving.”