Thanksgiving dinner for 90 people in a third world country

Ever wonder what it’s like to have Thanksgiving in a third world country? With close to 90 people? As you can probably imagine, it’s a bit of a challenge. And we really only decided to have a Thanksgiving dinner three days in advance. Once it was official that we were actually going to do it, several of us GRU volunteers signed up to be on the “committee”, which involved keeping track of the guest list, making the menu, shopping, and cooking. By Wednesday morning we had almost 70 people on the guest list and it was time to send our Base Manager, Samuel, to the market to get the turkeys. By early afternoon, we had three live turkeys on base looking confused and probably not too happy about being tied to a grill.

There was a lot of back and forth about who should do the job that nobody really wanted to do. Even our Haitian security guards wanted nothing to do with it. Haitians always look perfect, with some of the cleanest clothes I’ve ever seen (I don’t even look that good when I have access to a washing machine), so it’s no surprise they weren’t exactly pumped about killing a bunch of giant birds. Finally one of our volunteers stepped up and killed the first turkey that afternoon. A while later I had my first experience with de-feathering something, which is surprisingly easy after dunking the bird into boiling water for a minute. And not to sound creepy or anything, but it was actually kind of therapeutic. What wasn’t therapeutic though was watching the turkey get gutted. That was both disgusting and fascinating at the same time. I’m sure I looked horrified but I just couldn’t look away.

For some reason, Sierra and I volunteered to put the first turkey in the oven at 4:00am on Thursday. Two people who’ve never cooked a turkey before. But there we were, preparing a turkey in the middle of the night, just us and the cockroaches. Finally the bird was in the oven and I was able to catch a 20 minute nap before waking up to start my day. Unfortunately I had to abandon the rest of the Turkey Day committee to go into the ProDev office for a few hours, but when I returned in the afternoon it was back to work. Joanne had gone to the market that morning so we had an absurd amount of veggies to deal with. Have you ever seen potatoes for 70 people? It’s a bit overwhelming. Oh, and by that point the guest list had gone up, so we were now preparing food for almost 90. Thankfully though, about 40 of those were Haitian and since they tend to be picky eaters, Joanne prepared Haitian food (rice, beans, chicken) while we prepared the American stuff. Turns out we were correct in assuming that most of our Haitian guests would prefer to eat what they normally eat.

In the last few hours before dinner was served, everyone kicked into high gear and whipped up a feast. Every table we could find on base was carried out to the slab and arranged in a circle. I always get nervous when I have to cook for lots of people, but somehow everything came together perfectly. Dinner was served somewhat on time (thanks to this being Haiti, no one was expecting to eat right away) and no one went hungry. I’m not sure the people behind the Hole in the Wall quite knew what to make of what was going on, but at least we warned them a couple days earlier to make sure they had enough beer.

Later on in the evening, Cyborg, a break-dancing crew from Cite Soleil, entertained the crowd. In the end, the GRU Thanksgiving dinner became more of a Thanksgiving party, and probably the only ones who didn’t enjoy themselves were the turkeys. By 1:00am, most of the guests had left and it was definitely time for me to go to bed after being awake for 21 hours.

Even though the turkey was a bit chewy (damn those athletic Haitian turkeys!) and I could have eaten three times as much as I did, it was still really cool to see it all come together the way it did. Without a doubt the most interesting Thanksgiving I’ve had in a while.

2 Responses to “Thanksgiving dinner for 90 people in a third world country”
  1. Elizabeth says:

    What memories! What experiences! What hilarity! I LOVE your blog!

  2. Sue says:

    Sounds like quite an experience!! You are a braver person than me! I hate to even find a stray end of feather on a piece of chicken!! See you on Sunday! Love you.

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