I did not plan to spend Thanksgiving Day in Yemen. As a matter of fact, I had ordered a fresh turkey from the Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm that I support. I was ready to brine the turkey, whip up some potatoes, and create a variety of side dishes from the new edition of Bon Appetit magazine. I looked forward to sharing the meal with my family. But in my line of work, sometimes plans need to be changed.
We had planned to travel to Yemen earlier this month but there had been a serious increase in violence, leaving many dead in Sana’a, Yemen’s capital. This would not only make security a challenge, but would signficantly decrease freedom of movement around the divided city with armed checkpoints indicating the pro-government and pro-opposition factions. In this environment, meetings would not be productive. So we regrouped and rescheduled as soon as a “calm” window appeared open.
And so here I am, in Yemen, on Thanksgiving Day. It is one of the biggest holidays in the US where we gather with family and friends to celebrate such relationships and for what we are grateful in our lives. Being in Yemen where so many have suffered greatly, yet stand resilient and in search of stability, justice and peace, I am ever mindful of how I have so much to be grateful for. (I was just watching Al Jazerra and a piece they covered emphasized this modern gratitude aspect of Thanksgiving but also discussed its historic tie to Native Americans and the lost of land and lives that they suffered at the hands of America’s early settlers. Here is wikipedia’s description of its origins:
Typically in Europe, festivals were held before and after the harvest cycles to give thanks for a good harvest, and to rejoice together after much hard work with the rest of the community. At the time, Native Americans had also celebrated the end of a harvest season. When Europeans first arrived to the Americas, they brought with them their own harvest festival traditions from Europe, celebrating their safe voyage, peace and good harvest. Though the origins of the holiday in both Canada and the United States are similar, Americans do not typically celebrate the contributions made in Newfoundland, while Canadians do not celebrate the contributions made in Plymouth, Massachusetts.)
So on this Thanksgiving Day, in the spirit of its modern meaning, I express gratitude for my family who are sharing this year’s feast without me. At the same time, I thank my new friends in Yemen for sharing a wonderful traditional Yemeni meal with me. Our Thanksgiving, Yemeni style. It was a truly amazing feast and I plan to find a Yemen food cookbook and pick up some spices before I leave. So I suspect a future blog will report on how my attempts to recreate traditional Yemeni food. So stay tuned….
In conclusion, on the day after the power transfer agreement was signed between the Yemeni President and opposition groups, I wish a peaceful transition for all Yemenis. I met with many brave and amazing youth over the past few days. They have protested peacefully for positive changes in Yemen, despite suffering violent attacks on themselves and witnessing the killings of their friends. The youth in Yemen are an inspiration. They are committed to a peaceful process. As one impressive young woman activist said today, darkness cannot be changed by darkness, but only by bringing in the light. May we all follow this path.