Thanksgiving is one of my all-time favorite holidays, primarily because it involves some of my favorite things in life: cooking, dining, being thankful, and spending time with friends and family. Living abroad, thousands of miles from my family, can be difficult at times, especially around the holidays. Thank goodness for Skype, email, facebook and messaging apps, but it’s still not the same as spending time together. Of course I had pangs of jealousy that my entire immediate family was spending thee week together at my brother’s home in North Carolina. Thankfully, I have friends in the same situation throughout Turkey, so Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to get together and celebrate.
After joining a jovial Thanksgiving feast with new friends in Adana Thursday evening, I decided to make my way to a feast up north in Erzurum. Being a rather out-of-the way location, I firstly had to fly through Istanbul. I departed Adana early Friday morning, where temperatures were cool in the sixties (Fahrenheit). Upon landing in Istanbul I added another layer, as temperatures there were in the high forties and drizzly. When my airplane finally emerged from the clouds just over Erzurum, I was in a completely different place. The ground was white, already covered from that morning’s snowfall (and only the second one this year… I was in luck!). By night time, temperatures had dropped to -22 Celsius (-8 Fahrenheit). It was COLD. But the snowfall was delightful. There were snowball fights all around and snowmen and women (and teyzes) came out. I was here to meet with good friends, enjoy a bit of winter, and prepare a feast, and that we did.
The first evening, we partook in the mandatory dinner of cag kebap, the local specialty. I must admit, I have come to appreciate it more, especially with the new knowledge that one is allowed to order skewers without the additional clumps of tail fat. My dear friend Emily prepared some stellar apple and pumpkin pies, and we spent significant time indoors. Thankfully, Emily and Elizabeth’s apartment is on campus and their heating expense is subsidized by the government. Believe me, their home is always toasty.
Saturday was spent preparing various dishes for that evening’s meal and also catching up with friends. Elizabeth spent the day running back and forth to a local restaurant who had so graciously offered to let us prepare and cook the two turkeys we had come by in their kitchen. I accompanied her on the last run, and this was quite the oven our little (or not-so-little…) birds were roasting in! It’s not a far stretch to say the oven was about the size of Emily and Elizabeth’s entire kitchen.
After a stream of adventures at the restaurant, our birds were eventually wrapped up like Christmas presents and ready for us to transport back to the apartment in a taxi. We were greeted by scents of fresh baked delights and a home full of guests, about half Turkish and half American. Soon, the feasting began. We were honored to be joined not only by friends and colleagues of the Erzurum crew, but also by our wonderful Fulbright coordinator, Mevlude, who had flown out from Ankara for the occasion, with sweet potatoes from the big city in tow. That evening I also somehow managed to end up with a çay demlik (a Turkish-style tea pot) and it’s steaming hot contents (tea leaves and boiling water) on top of my sock-clad foot… but thanks to the local burn expert (having endured his own much more severe burns while we were all in Ankara months before) my foot was treated appropriately and long-term damage should be mild. If anything, the burn will provide lasting memories of our enjoyable time together.
The festivities carried on, and we ended the evening in a ski lodge at the base of Palandöken, the domineering mountain that makes Erzurum a hot spot for skiing. Our group joined some birthday revelers dancing to live music in the small bar Rosebud (Citizen Kane?) and managed to not freeze between Point A and Point B. Overall, a success!
* For more on skiing Palandoken, see this previous post.
Sunday we gathered at a local restaurant for a Turkish breakfast, and then trekked around town in the snow, making stops at Taşhan and Erzurum Evleri, an old series of houses converted to a tea house/restaurant and filled with antiques from the area.
Before heading out, we dined on hamsi brought in from the Black Sea, a delightful delicacy of the season and the region. Travel—on an airplane, in a bus, train or car—always gives me time to think. There is so much to be thankful for, including the unceasing coincidences that creep into my life on a regular basis in Turkey—and this weekend allowed for plenty of opportunities to ponder all my blessings. Thank you to the entire Northeastern Region conglomerate of Fulbrighters who hosted and made this weekend memorable!
* For further reading about Erzurum, see this previous post.
* For more about this particular Thanksgiving, read Elizabeth’s post on the occasion.