My family is pretty intense about Thanksgiving. I mean, my Mom is pretty intense about all holidays (including her birthday, which we celebrate as a national holiday) but we’re really intense about Thanksgiving. There are family-wide email chains, duties assigned for food preparation organized on a clipboard, and an occasionally violent ping pong tournament at the end of the night. We do other holidays, but we actively celebrate Thanksgiving.

So when my second Thanksgiving in The Gambia was approaching, I was determined to take my village celebration to the intense level to which I am accustomed. The previous volunteer at my site had celebrated Thanksgiving with my host family, and they were equally as excited about the big celebration.

I invited all of the other PCVs in my region and beyond, including the previous volunteer at my site. With the promise of a turkey, 10 people trekked the 10 kilometers off the road to my village to help celebrate Thanksgiving with my family. Everyone brought materials to cook with and with the immense help of my host family we had a large lunch of turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, Mac and cheese, curry, and salad. We even baked lemon bars, squash and apple pies for dinner and finished off the leftover turkey.

Quick shout out to one of my community members Marie who raises all kinds of animals in her compound. She’s had a 9 month horticulture and gardening training at the Ag Center in my village, and now raises and sells chickens, guinea fowl, rabbits, goats, sheep, and turkeys. She also grows and sells lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and egg plants and has her own vegetable shop in her home. OH, and she just had a baby last May.

Aside from the Mac and cheese, my family loved the food (that’s fine, more for me). We played card games and drank juice and talked about what we’re thankful for. The kids especially loved painting their hands and attempting hand turkeys on the side of my hut.

While I missed my family’s annual ping pong tournament, I couldn’t help but be so incredibly overwhelmed by how grateful I am for my host family and Peace Corps community.

If you remember from my Peace Corps Cribz video, my hut is not large. We fit all 10 of us in there for two days and annoyed my family and neighbors all weekend talking about what we’re all thankful for. My host siblings practiced singing (screaming): “HAPPY THANKSGIVING” around the village. And here’s why taking a moment to be thankful is important:

Everyone came on Friday. We ate turkey on Saturday. We all got up at 4 am on Sunday and took the early car out of the village. I left that afternoon for a two week malaria conference in Senegal. As soon as I crossed the border and got service, my host sister let me know that my host father had passed away. He was the patriarch of my host family: a long-time fisherman, father, grandfather, champion for all of his granddaughters to attend school, and revered member of the community. He had suffered a stroke during Ramadan (in May) and had been ill ever since.

As I called my host family to offer my condolences, it didn’t feel like enough. I should have been there for the funeral, but I was already across the border. My only hope is that we filled the compound with laughter, music, dancing, happiness and thankfulness on his last few days.

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