Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
The Barbecued African Turkey That Helped Me Appreciate Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving morning in 2014 found me on a small Kenyan army training base outside of Nairobi. I was serving as a public affairs mentor for an African Union staff officer training course. It was hardly a foxhole Christmas, nor even my first holiday on active duty, but there was something about spending most of the day away from other Americans that was bringing me down.
The day passed exactly like every day before it had. My team was a bright, inquisitive and lively group from Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi, countries that, logically, do not celebrate American Thanksgiving. I found myself in that special kind of self-pity where I not only wallowed in my homesickness but grew irritated that other people were happy.
I sought out the company of one of the other American officers at lunch. We had standard Kenyan chow hall food for lunch: a stew of meat and vegetables, rice, and greens. We joked that since we couldn’t identify the meat, we’d say it was turkey, content it would be our Thanksgiving meal that year.
The African Union officers at the table started asking questions. They seemed really confused by our particular fixation on turkey. Some knew of Thanksgiving from American TV, but it was entirely new to others.
“So it’s a feast?” one asked. I thought that Americans only used the word “feast” sarcastically, but I had to admit, that yes, it was. Another thought it was lame that we only had one feast a year. We started telling them the lore of Thanksgiving in the most general way, but the further we got into the conversation the more we worried that the cultural issues involved in the Thanksgiving story might be a little awkward and inappropriate to bring up with foreign officers.
We tried to explain that most Americans understand the Thanksgiving story they learned in school with the “pilgrims and Indians” to be more symbolic, a story of unity and gratitude. The senior officer at the table, a lieutenant colonel from Uganda, ended the conversation by saying, “Yes, yes. We also had trouble with the indigenous people and the colonials.”
They still didn’t understand the turkey, though.
Thanksgiving coincided with “Africa Night,” a large barbeque held at the end of the course with a band, drummers, and traditional dancers. I had been to Africa Night before and enjoyed it, but was mostly excited this time because I hoped with everyone at the celebration and off the wifi, I might get a strong enough signal to be able to Facetime with my family — a big luxury for someone without a global cell phone. I forced myself into a party dress to make an appearance, but planned to slip away quickly.
I arrived as the cooks were starting to lay out big trays of all kinds of grilled meats — chicken, goat and warthog. Most of the class was already there, chatting and drinking sugary sodas or Tusker beer, hungrily awaiting the formal remarks that would begin the meal.
The base commander appeared, a dapper man with a slight British accent and a salt and pepper mustache who liked to carry a swagger stick. He made a few comments about the course and participants, the kind of thing that every military mandatory fun event starts with. Then he stopped and signaled to the cooks, who had donned white chef hats for the occasion. From the corner we saw them wheel out the unmistakable shape of a Thanksgiving turkey. It was small, and had been rubbed in chili paste and barbequed on a spit to a dark crisp. It was laid out on a silver platter, artfully surrounded by lettuce.
It was, without doubt, the ugliest turkey I’ve ever seen. We loved it immediately.
Photo courtesy of the author.
The senior American came up to carve the turkey, and it was then I learned that he had worked with the base commander to get the bird. This was a possible, but not common, thing to ask for in Kenya, and it required sending a cook to a farm outside of town — a wild turkey chase, if you will.
By the time the turkey was carved and our bellies were full, our African colleagues understood that the Americans were missing a holiday. I hadn’t given enough credit that in our shared military experiences, these African officers had all had to miss holidays with family. In my idea of “sucking it up,” I had missed a big chance to connect with my peers in the class, soldier-to-soldier.
The band started to play, and the traditional dancers performed, pulling everyone onto the dance floor. Everyone wanted to make sure that the Americans celebrated well, if not necessarily in the way we were used to. Soldiers from half a dozen countries, many in their traditional dress, were teaching each other dance moves. I spent that Thanksgiving dancing late into the night to songs I’d never heard before, though our African friends from every corner of the continent knew them.
There may be many layers of myth to the Thanksgiving story I learned in elementary school, the one that I had tried to explain at lunch, but that Thanksgiving I experienced the truth of it. I was a stranger, and many people took me in. I felt ungrateful, but blessed, and just needed to remember my blessings. I missed my family, just as those pilgrims must have missed theirs, but I was spending it with a larger family, my brothers and sisters in arms. I could say, unsarcastically, that we had a feast.
All of that can make an ugly turkey really beautiful.
‘Take what’s inside and get it outside’ — Air Force psychologist reminds airmen of mental health resources
Kirtland Air Force Base isn't much different from the world beyond its gates when it comes to dealing with mental illnesses, a base clinical psychologist says.
Maj. Benjamin Carter told the Journal the most frequent diagnosis on the base is an anxiety disorder.
"It's not a surprise, but I anticipate about anytime in the population in America, about 20% of the population has some form of diagnosable anxiety disorder, and it's no different in the military," he said.
Leading the way among the anxiety disorders, he said, were post-traumatic stress disorder "or something like panic disorder or generalized anxiety disorder."
The DNA of a niece and nephew, who never met their uncle, has helped identify the remains of the Kansas Marine who died in WWII.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that 21-year-old U.S. Marine Corps Reserve Pfc. Raymond Warren was identified using DNA and circumstantial evidence. Warren had been buried in a cemetery in the Gilbert Islands, where he was killed when U.S. forces tried to take secure one of the islands from the Japanese.
The Battle of Tarawa lasted from Nov. 20 to Nov. 23, 1943, and claimed the lives of 1,021 U.S. marines and sailors, more than 3,000 Japanese soldiers and an estimated 1,000 Korean laborers before the U.S. troops seized control, the agency said.
Arizona lawmakers are vowing to fight a plan by the Air Force to start retiring some of the nation's fleet of A-10 Thunderbolt II ground-attack jets — a major operation at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base — as part of a plan to drop some older, legacy weapon systems to help pay for new programs.
U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., a former A-10 pilot, and U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Ariz., both vowed to fight the move to retire 44 of the oldest A-10s starting this year.
During a press briefing last week, Air Force officials unveiled plans to start mothballing several older platforms, including retiring some A-10s even as it refits others with new wings.
MOSCOW/SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea, whose leader Kim Jong Un was filmed riding through the snow on a white stallion last year, has spent tens of thousands of dollars on 12 purebred horses from Russia, according to Russian customs data.
Accompanied by senior North Korean figures, Kim took two well-publicized rides on the snowy slopes of the sacred Paektu Mountain in October and December.
State media heralded the jaunts as important displays of strength in the face of international pressure and the photos of Kim astride a galloping white steed were seen around the world.
North Korea has a long history of buying pricey horses from Russia and customs data first reported by Seoul-based NK News suggests that North Korea may have bolstered its herd in October.
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - A high-profile local Taliban figure who announced and justified the 2012 attack on teenage Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai has escaped detention, Pakistan's interior minister confirmed a few days after the militant announced his breakout on social media.
Former Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan, who claimed responsibility on behalf of his group for scores of Taliban attacks, proclaimed his escape on Twitter and then in an audio message sent to Pakistani media earlier this month.
The Pakistani military, which had kept Ehsan in detention for three years, has declined to comment but, asked by reporters about the report, Interior Minister Ijaz Shah, said: "That is correct, that is correct."
Shah, a retired brigadier general, added that "you will hear good news" in response to questions about whether there had been progress in hunting down Ehsan.