Not every Thanksgiving includes turkey, gravy and pumpkin pie. For the many Americans in residence around the world such things can prove difficult to come by.
In Japan, they'll probably have to eat chicken; in Kenya, there are no cranberries; in Germany, flaky pastries might serve instead of pie. Still, no matter where they are and no matter what they have to eat, Americans all over the globe will sit down Thursday to a Thanksgiving dinner.
"We try to maintain our traditions for Thanksgiving as much as possible overseas," says Deedee Blane, wife of the U.S. ambassador to Chad and an Agency for International Development employe. Their posts have included Rwanda, Chad and Kenya.
"We have to plan ahead for such occasions as Thanksgiving and Christmas and bring a lot of the foods we want to serve into the country. I'm packing up cans of pumpkins now so we can have pumpkin pie. We also bring cans of reconstituted milk." She will be joining her husband this week in Chad.
But some things are just not available. "There's a woman I heard about in Chad that may be able to get us some turkey -- if not it will just be plain old chicken," she says. "And of course we are very short on cranberries," Blane adds with a laugh. But no matter what they have, she says, "It's very important to celebrate the tradition, especially when you don't have a season to mark it by."
"Yes, we tried to do the whole bit with the turkey and pumpkin pie," says Robert McHenry, former provencial public affairs officer for United States Information Service in the Hiroshima prefecture in Japan. "They smiled so politely, but we found out later that they hated it. It seems it reminds them of the sweet potatoes they had to eat when they were going through tough times and there was nothing else."
To get their traditional turkey, the McHenrys made special arrangements with the PX (the post exchange). Turkeys were not available in the local markets, McHenry explains. "No, those places had sweet little fish with little eyes staring out at you."
Like most expatriates, the McHenrys "were trying to explain our customs. And our guests just grinned and bore it."
Mary Lou Weiss has lived in Yugoslavia, New Delhi and Bonn, where her husband, Leonard, served in the Foreign Service, and in Bangladesh, where he worked for the World Bank.
"In Bangladesh we were with the World Bank and we didn't have access to the commissary. We had to order our food from Bangkok. We couldn't get turkey and I remember being very nervous because we had invited some American friends for Thanksgiving who had invited us over for dinner so many times to share with us their commissary food. The chickens in Bangladesh were like scrawny little pigeons. Fortunately, at the last minute, one of the embassy wives kindly brought us a turkey."
Although the Weisses did their best to serve American food, at times some of their Thanksgiving trimmings were a bit out of character. "We had mangoes and guavas and a fresh pineapple for a centerpiece one year," Weiss says. "Another year we had a big bowl of frangipani, which are white waxy tropical flowers." And after dinner the Weisses and their guests retired to sit on the terrace in the hot sun.
"We always made an effort to invite some locals or other diplomats," she says. "We were Americans representing America.
"When we invited non-Americans, we tried to serve American foods. That is what they expected. They didn't expect me to serve curries and wear saris."
Below is a recipe from Lucy Killham, a foreign service wife of 33 years whose posts have included Moscow, London, Copenhagen, Brussels and Madrid. No matter what country she found herself in, however, she always served her Tangerine Sweet Potato Casserole for Thanksgiving. So if you have salt and butter at home, it will take only a moment through the express lane -- that is if your local market has one. It has been reported, though, that in Nepal most of the lanes are express.
EXPRESS LANE: Sweet potatoes, brown sugar, bourbon or orange juice, cinnamon, nutmeg, tangerines, pecans. LUCY KILLHAM'S TANGERINE SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE (6 servings)
2 pounds cooked sweet potatoes
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted
6 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon or orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup chopped pecans plus 6 whole pecans for garnish
Whip together sweet potatoes, butter, 3 tablespoons sugar, bourbon or orange juice, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Peel tangerines and section. Fold half the fruit and chopped pecans into sweet potato mixture. Turn into a 2-quart casserole. Arrange the remaining tangerine sections and whole pecans on top and sprinkle with remaining sugar. Bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees.