To celebrate Thanksgiving – and to soothe our mounting pumpkin pie cravings after having taught about Thanksgiving for an entire week – Danielle and I headed down to Gaziantep. There are six other Fulbrighters posted down in Antep, and another 5 assorted American and Turkish friends also converged on the city for us all to celebrate our collective first expat Thanksgiving. Danielle and I were also pleasantly surprised by how close the city was – only three and a half hours by bus from Malatya – which is wonderful considering the amount of sights within the ancient city center that we missed out on.
This time around in Antep, we saw nothing of the city itself as we immediately headed down to our friends’ apartments on the outskirts of the city by Gaziantep University. Once we had all assembled, with friends coming in from Osmaniye, Sivas, Malatya and Gaziantep, we made an executive decision to skip Antep cuisine (a horrible crime, I’ve been assured) and instead eat at a local Syrian restaurant opened up by some wealthy refugees. I assure you, I love Middle Eastern food in America; however, this restaurant was truly the first time I have ever been floored by the cuisine. The combination of having it cooked authentically with the intended regional fresh produce made it outstanding. I just wish I remembered what the name of what I ate was… Or what it was, besides chickpeas.
The next day, Saturday, was spent in a blur of preparing for our massive expat Thanksgiving feast; followed by hours of then demolishing everything we had spent so long preparing. Although we all had high hopes, I don’t think any of us were prepared for how well the actual meal turned out. Even without access to American ingredients, we still managed to pull together a feast of cornbread stuffing, pumpkin pies, rotisserie chickens, wine, pumpkin soup, casserole and tables of other dishes. Our local Antep friend, Sinan, could not but help look astounded – and entirely satisfied – as dessert was cleared away after a solid seven hours of noshing.
One of our hosts, Caroline, also managed to emotionally tie up the entirety of the feast with a speech that I think touched upon what all of us were feeling. Remembering how the final week before leaving for Turkey she was almost in hysterics getting ready and being overwhelmed by second-thoughts, she then recounted how now she has never felt more welcomed and how this entire year will likely be one of the best we will all look back upon.
This general feeling of good cheer and happiness permeated through everyone for the entire weekend, and is still flowing strongly this week. On the bus ride back from Antep, Danielle and I decided that we should reward our students – who have all been fantastic so far this year – with team taught Thanksgiving parties. The students happily jumped on board the idea of bringing food to class for massive potlucks. More importantly, I think it helped to make them all feel more comfortable with us – something incredibly important to encourage speaking and language growth.
Who would have thought that Thanksgiving could be so beneficial?