Holidays I: Thanksgiving

Yeah, it’s safe to say the last month-plus has been a busy and interesting time, while this medium for sharing about busily interesting things I experience has been unfortunately neglected. Oops. But now I’m on break, and I can tell any of you who read this about it.

So, late November to the beginning of January is what we call ‘the holiday season,’ because, well, there are holidays then. None of them went unappreciated by my teammates or me, no matter their relative weight to Russians. The first big one in line is Thanksgiving, which is simply not a thing to Russians, though they’ve heard our (ridiculously inaccurate, but whatever) story of the Pilgrims with shoe-buckle hats and Indians eating turkey. I did lessons in classes about things like gratitude (earlier students) or commercialism and Black Friday (more advanced classes that had had Teach Overseas teachers before and knew about Thanksgiving).

That’s not the exciting part, though. The fall conference for all Teach Overseas just coincidentally (not really) landed on Thanksgiving week, and we all had a few days off and chances to get together and do things. The main location included teachers from three other countries and the large contingent in Turkey getting together for four days. About thirty of us, no work, and sunlight and warmth. And an American-style Thanksgiving dinner. And worship times and sessions about teaching and teammates and culture and ministry: it all sounds pretty excited. We’d been excited for weeks. Even at training, before we’d even left the friends we’d met only a month earlier, we’d looked forward to meeting again.

It didn’t disappoint. The food was awesome, especially an impressive Thanksgiving feast for all of us. The cultural center run by some American ex-pat Christians that provided meeting space and most of our meals received hearty praise.

The tourism and fun activities were amazing. We stayed a five-minute walk from the Mediterranean (and a ten-minute walk back uphill). There was a two-hour boat trip one afternoon at sunset out on the sea, getting to a nice waterfall and cutting through a stiff breeze coming back. My favorite fun activity was to some ancient Greek ruins of a mountain city. A short hike took up to endless climbing over walls that go back well before the time of Jesus. A large a well-preserved amphitheater was the highlight, with room for probably a couple thousand audience members and vivid imaginations of dramatic possibilities. We couldn’t resist: several, (including myself) took center stage and gave dramatic performances or poetry and song. It was basically perfect.

The trip wasn’t just for fun, though. We had many sessions for our improvement as teachers and encouragement in our greater work. Our leaders exhorted us to greater work, to supporting each other, and to finding ways to serve. Our peers led sessions on teaching or managing classrooms at different age and language levels. We all had chances to learn, to listen or to share, and to benefit from this time. The worship sessions were also highlights, with all of us able to sing praises to God – openly, together, and in English. These were special times.

My favorite part of all of it, though, was the simple fact of all of us being together again for a bit. I wanted to hear others’ stories: what was life like for them in these first months abroad? What did they love, or struggle with (or just hate)? What were they up to? What was God up to? I heard lots of answers to these questions. I was reminded of all the types of people to whom God had given similar calls to mine, to teach and learn and serve and love in countries most of didn’t know much about a year or more ago. We were able to commiserate: transport problems, language problems, schools communicating about schedule changes, disrespectful students, substandard housing? No one here was alone with these things. And successes: how did you figure out to get there, to communicate that, to deal with that one guy, to explain this word or that grammar rule? Awesome, good job, I’ll use that. Having us all together was the greatest blessing. The Turkey teachers showed us around their home turf, the CIS teachers could wear short sleeves, we all took pictures (except that my camera was fritzy, so I stole everyone’s from Facebook later) and laughed and ate and didn’t sleep much, and easy jokes about "Turkey for Thanksgiving" were funny every time, and we took deep breaths after coming so much of the way through the first semester of teaching (and even for the many second-or-more-year teachers, a break was needed and welcome, I’m sure). It felt good.

I came back and slammed immediately back into a long week of teaching, and I was awfully tired to start, and the combination of excitement and information input and sleeplessness and sudden overload of good friends made it a whacky time for me all over the place and finding myself as scattered around the emotional map as I was on an actual map, but it was a time as worthy of effluent thanksgiving as any fourth-Thursday-in-November I can remember.