One of my favorite holidays in the US is Thanksgiving. I love the family gatherings (though I join someone else’s family given that mine is overseas), the great food and the spirit of this holiday. However, at the same time, I’m very aware of the fact that it is not my holiday, not my traditions and not my food. Like many ex-pats, I’ve assimilated into my adoptive country quite well. I have the advantage of having spent almost half of my childhood and almost my entire adulthood in America, so I don’t really feel like a foreigner most of the time. But every once in a while, I miss home and my culture so much it hurts.
This year, I can remember smelling the typical scents of American Thanksgiving (for me, cinnamon spiced desserts and roasting turkey) wafting from the kitchen into the rest of the house early in the day, and as I pitched in with the preparations by stirring sweet potatoes in a salted caramel sauce at the stove, my mind drifted to another memory. Just a couple of months ago, during Ramadan, I stood with my mom in our kitchen in Morocco preparing our version of rice pudding scented with orange blossom water and decorated with chopped roasted nuts. Different country, different food, different contexts, but the same bonding experience. The gift of communal cooking (at least for those of us who enjoy cooking!) is that sense of camaraderie that can arise among the cooks. It does soften the homesickness somewhat, even if for just a few hours.
Then we sit and eat, chatting and laughing – it’s wonderful, and I’m grateful to have friends who include me in their family gatherings, but it also reinforces how far away I am from MY home and family. So what can an ex-pat do? I elect to make the best of things, be happy to have such amazing, loving and generous people in my life, and really really squeeze memories and joy out of my short trips home to Morocco. That helps carry me through while I’m so far away, feeling a little out of place, though always welcome.