We arrived in Israel in late summer 1983 with five ingenuous kids in tow. Actually, not one of us knew what we were getting into. Culture shock set in quickly and lasted a long time. Although there was a kindly community of savvy Mormons there to help out (just as there was in Cyprus, Ireland, Malaysia, and every other country where we later traveled or lived), one still has to personally develop new tools to cope in a foreign environment.
Funny thing about your first foreign culture — you spend so much time and effort seeking the trappings of home. I found myself craving French’s mustard and American cold cereal. In fact, boxes of American cold cereal made welcome Christmas gifts for our kids, who normally wanted bicycles, skates, or Star Wars paraphernalia.
We knew Israelis ate turkey. At the suq (open-air market), we had already found the best turkey sandwich meat on earth. But turkeys didn’t seem to be available whole.
That Thanksgiving, we were invited to join another Mormon American family for the feast, so our turkey adventures didn’t begin immediately. Our host actually served a decent looking and tasty turkey, though small. I learned that it had cost them the equivalent of sixty American dollars from a Palestinian butcher in East Jerusalem near the Garden Tomb. Whole turkeys, if you could find them, were going for well over $4.00 a pound.
The following year, my husband was travelling on business. In fact, he was going to be IN Turkey during Thanksgiving. We had a pending invitation from another Mormon American family, but knowing the price turkeys were going for, and expecting another small offering as the centerpiece of the meal, I thought maybe I would prepare and bring one, too.
I went to the Arab butcher across from the Garden Tomb, and ordered a 4-Kilo (about 10 pound) turkey. My teenage son would pick it up the day before Thanksgiving. I prepared the stuffing from scratch, bought celery and onions to mix in, and anticipated the arrival of the bird.
Ian was attending school and intended to go afterwards. School let out earlier than we were accustomed to, because Mediterranean countries schedule everything to avoid hot afternoon weather. When he arrived (after a long journey on foot and by bus), the butcher was closed for the Mediterranean equivalent of Siesta, and Ian had to wait for hours until the shop reopened. When it did, I received a telephone call.
“Mom, the bird is frozen and in a black plastic trash bag. I’m feeling it, and I think it’s a buzzard. First of all, it’s huge! It’s gonna cost over eighty bucks. I can feel through the bag that it still has its neck, head, legs, and feet!”
We were in a pickle. I REALLY didn’t want to pay that much, had ordered a small bird, and certainly didn’t want the neck, head, lower legs, and feet. Still, I didn’t want to make the decision sight unseen, so I paid over the phone and had Ian tote that bird all the way home on the bus, poor kid. He was right. I had buyer’s remorse right away and vowed to return it.
We had a little Citroen car at the time, but I hated driving into Jerusalem and usually took the bus. There was never anywhere to park, and the traffic was crazy. The car was having trouble with one window, and I didn’t want to leave it open and the car insecure.
The turkey was too heavy for me to carry very far. Plus, I didn’t know if the butcher would accept it back. You don’t usually return food products in America, maybe it was the same in Israel. Also, I was female (still am), and culturally then, not expected to storm into a butcher shop and demand my money back. I wanted to return that turkey to the butcher very badly, but was super-fearful of doing it.
It’s Easier with a Nubian Guard
Our neighborhood was about 3 miles west of Jerusalem. I set out from the house in the funky Citroen with the frozen buzzard/turkey in the back seat. At the bus stop near the highway, our American friend Lee was waiting for a bus. I pulled over.
Now, this was a golden opportunity. Lee was in Israel on a Christian hospitality mission, but he also worked with my husband professionally. He was an African American and built like an NFL linebacker. I was about to use him as my personal Nubian Guard.
Lee, one of the most gentle and kind human beings I’ve ever met, agreed, and off we went. Everything went right. A parking spot was available right in front of the butcher shop, the car window stayed up, the shop was open. Lee hefted the black plastic bag full of buzzard and held it on one hand above his shoulder as he stood behind me in the butcher shop, a stern expression on his face.
“I want to return this turkey,” I said to the butcher. “It’s not what I ordered.”
“But it’s Thanksgiving.”
“I want to return this turkey.” The butcher glanced up at Lee.
The butcher counted out my money and sent me on my way. Thanks, Lee.
The following year, I vowed to try again. I set out to another Arab butcher and received exactly the turkey I wanted. Actually, it was beautiful. I was full of the holiday spirit as I stood at my kitchen sink and prepared it for the oven. I reached inside to search for giblets, and brought out…its head!!!!!!!!!
It coincidentally was positioned in my hand to stare me down, its blind, white, ghostly eyes meeting mine. I screamed and instinctively threw it into the air. Ian came rushing downstairs. An evil grin appeared on his face when he saw the macabre source of my fright. He grabbed the turkey head and ran through the house. I could hear his sisters screaming upstairs.
Never mind. There were no lower legs or feet. The turkey was gorgeous and delicious. All’s well that ends well.
Turkeys #3, 4, 5, and 6
About this time, our fortunes improved. A new job increased our income. We began to travel more. We flew to the island of Cyprus, and while there, bought four beautiful frozen American Butterballs for a great price and brought them with us on the plane back to Israel for our gracious American friends who had hosted us for the holidays in years past.
Turkeys #7 through 582
I discovered that I had a distant cousin who lived on a moshav (like a kibbutz) in northern Israel. Lo and behold, this moshav raised turkeys! I felt like I had discovered the source of all things. There they were, hundreds of them in a covered pen, gobbling in absolute disarray.
I commented to my cousin. “Wow. It’s chaos. But at least I know where Israeli turkeys come from.”
“Not always chaos,” my distant cousin assured me. He led our 7 year old daughter to the side of the pen. “OK now, really loud, yell matai Purim!” The phrase meant “When is Purim,” the spring holiday that celebrates the Book of Esther. Tia yelled, holding out the second syllable of matai as long as she could.
Instantly, in perfect unison, every one of hundreds of turkeys stood at attention in perfect silence, turned toward Tia, and gobbled directly at her. It was uncanny. Surprising. Comforting. I now had a Source. There would always be Thanksgiving turkey, prepared to order.
(Disclaimer: It may not matter what words you yell to turkeys. Here’s an example…)
Turkeys #583 through 590
I was traveling alone through Prague and, being commissioned to bring electrical parts for the mission home phone system, I got to stay there overnight. And it was Thanksgiving. An American Mormon man living there had been willing to drive hundreds of miles through several countries to procure multiple turkeys for a feast for all the missionaries. The meal was delicious, being around all those missionaries was memorable in many good ways, and Prague was delightful.
Turkeys #591 through 593
Malaysia is home to many manufacturing plants, and plenty of US companies have a presence there. The supermarket is called ‘Cold Storage’ in Penang, therefore, had many foods meant to remind foreigners of home, including Thanksgiving turkeys.
We spearheaded an American holiday dinner for our Mormon branch there, and it was very enjoyable. But I had changed. I had become globally-oriented enough that I didn’t much care. I missed felafels (deep fried chickpea balls) from Israel, dolmadas (filled and rolled grape leaves) from Cyprus, Irish food, French pastries, Finnish Nakki (sausage)…. And besides, Panang had thousands of eateries with every sort of food imaginable. During our turkey feast with our Chinese and Indian friends in Penang, I was actually craving chicken tikka.
Now, we’re back in the States, and Thanksgiving is approaching. Maybe it’s because our kids are grown, but maybe it’s because portions of my heart are with the festivals of foreign cultures. The holidays catch me unprepared and almost somehow unaware. That’s what happens when your heart (and your focus) is everywhere.
Gale is a former fibro and CMP sufferer. She hopes this information will help other sufferers on their journey to good health.