Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey kills and Grease Fires

December has arrived with the furry. Today is definitely the coldest day since last winter. I naively stepped out of my house this morning headed to work in jeans, boots, and a fleece only to be abruptly halted by arctic winds blowing at a bone chilling 20 degrees F. Immediately I retreated back inside to imbrac mai bine and put on long johns, a scarf, gloves, and a soviet aviator beanie. Last week we had our first snow(s) and on Black Friday the clouds dumped nearly three to four inches of snow only to have it melted away Sunday with a heat wave. Today is snowless, however all the melted snow puddles left in the pot-holed riddled streets are frozen solid. The long autumn is officially over. Hello five months of winter.

Life on this side of the pond has been as caprice as ever, although now that I’m well into the second year of my service there is a more routine resonance to my life. I was right in the middle of finishing up a project to replace corroded pipes and refurbish a water tower/well when my partner on the project landed herself in the hospital. From the differing stories, hearsay rather, I have pieced together that she either had spleen surgery or a kidney transplant. Either way it doesn’t sound ideal. Selfishly irritated that the one person that has constantly been my professional guide and partner for a year and a half now is indefinitely out of the office, I am worried about my productivity and effectiveness as a volunteer for the next seven months. That sounds terrible to actually admit, but this woman, who is like my Moldovan grandmother, has been a godsend to me and is the shaker and mover in our office. We’ll have to wait a see how her recovery and my remaining service pans out.

This year Thanksgiving was much more comfortable and forgiving than the previous year’s. It might have been due to the fact that I’m now settled into my life in this country, the gathering was smaller, the food was indescribably better(sorry PSN), it was at my house, and my closest friends, except one that met up with his parents in Israel, were there with me to celebrate the holiday and give thanks to everything we are blessed with. While I’m writing this I can’t help but compare and contrast Thanksgiving to Ramadan. While we pile our plates to the brim with turkey and gravy to give thanks for our cornucopian lifestyle, our health, and our family, the period of Ramadan similarly gives thanks and recognizes the fact that they are alive, healthy, and grateful for all that they have. Strikingly enough though one culture fasts for a month to appreciate the fact that they have been blessed, and another culture binges. Strange.

This year I had five of my friends come up for a Thanksgiving meal in my village. Because of the workweek we decided to have Ziua de Mulțumire, Thanksgiving, on Saturday. Friday morning my friend Dan and I set off for the market to pick up our 8-kilogram live turkey. Talk about an experience. We paid the man, threw the turkey in a sack, and headed home giggling like schoolgirls because we were totting a live bird Santa-style. We waited for everyone else to arrive before the turkey kill, because truly that is one experience that you have to witness at least once in your life to fully appreciate where your fat, perfectly plucked turkey with a pre-inserted thermometer comes from each November. We were gathered around the chopping block with cameras out when I got cold feet and had to delegate the first blow to my old, weathered Moldovan neighbor. I was charged with the task of cutting the head off before the bird had succumbed to its sacrificial Thanksgiving grave so blood could drain out. After the turkey-kill, we brought the headless bird into my kitchen where we were instructed how to pluck the feathers, eviscerate the innards, and lightly torch the small hairs and feathers that were impossible to remove with our hands.

For two days we slaved in my ill equipped kitchen. We prepared mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, cornbread, stuffing, deviled eggs, gumbo (although that was first dinner Friday night), mac and cheese, chocolate chip cookies, chicken salad, and of course, turkey. I will never, ever, take for granted the ladies (and men) charged with preparing Thanksgiving feasts, or any celebration, from here on out after experiencing this arduous process first hand. The bird was alone a chore and a half. I would like to note that my oven is not what you would exactly consider up-to-code. Quite frankly, it’s a piece of shit. The dials on the stove are falling off, the stove has to be lit with a match at the open flame located at the bottom of the oven cavity, and it is virtually impossible to guess the setting or temperature of the stove besides gauging how high you set the flame. Occasionally the flame will go out without warning, and everything has to be removed to light it again. A meat thermometer proved to be too large a request for Moldova, so we charged forth with slight reservation but no hesitation. Three hours into the cooking time we were putting the bird back in the oven after a basting when the pan fell off the stripped guides in the oven. Dan and myself were both scrambling to retrieve the bird off the ajar oven door when an enormous grease-induced fireball exploded out of the oven singing the hairs off our arms and eyebrows. One of the girls screamed and ran looking for a bucket to throw water on the fire, but was halted by our screaming protests not to put water on a grease fire. After the fire died and the grease was left smoking, we cautiously decided to commence the cooking and we nervously eyed the oven while airing out the smoke from the house.

After five hours cooking the birded we pulled it out only to find it TV-worthy golden brown and succulent. The meal was a huge success and at four in the afternoon we all sat down to a feast fit with all the trimmings, and 20 liters of house wine that I was forced to carry around in old gas cans. We all toasted and individually shared our blessings of thanks, and proceeded to savor the fruits of our labor. Afterwards, in a tryptophan and wine induced delirium, we all took a two-hour nap before I had my Moldovan friends come over to share another Thanksgiving meal. I have never seen a group of people rally so fast from a comatose state to setup for meal number two. The second meal was as wildly successful as the first, and it was just as jovial and merry in Romanian as it was in English.

The holidays are always peculiar when spent away from family in another country, but I’m thankful to have such close friends, American and Moldovan, to share a meal and make this year a very special Thanksgiving for me. No telling what the future Thanksgiving holds in store for me. I only hope that wherever I am, whomever I’m with, it will come close to the joie de vivre that this Thanksgiving will always mean to me. Happy holidays everyone, and thank you for reading.

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