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That Year I Cooked Spaghetti Omelets In Benin For Thanksgiving


One of my best Thanksgiving memories was just last year, sharing a feast of spaghetti omelets in a village in the West African nation of Benin.


In 2017. I began my two-year service as an Education Peace Corps Volunteer. I expected to feel lonesome during the holiday season, longing for the traditions and comforts of home – which for me is now Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.



But my fears of holiday loneliness couldn't have been farther from reality.


From the first Thanksgiving to the last Christmas of my service, I felt more thankful and loved than I remember feeling in a while, mostly due to the people I was surrounded by — and not necessarily what was on the table or gifts given.


Life in Benin was definitely challenging. I was an English teacher at a secondary school in Gouandé, a rural village of some 20.000 people. In addition to teaching three classes on my own and two with my colleagues, I had to adjust to a different living situation. My accommodations were relatively spacious – a three-room concrete house. But there was no electricity or running water.


I quickly fell into a rhythm at home: fetching water from the neighborhood pump, doing laundry by hand, sweeping Saharan dust off every surface, attempting to cook nutritious meals on a gas stove with the few ingredients available in a food desert (mainly tomatoes, onions, corn, beans and rice).



As I grew more comfortable with life in Benin, I wanted to share American culture with the community. Those moments of cultural exchange helped me discover that we all had a great deal in common.


Last year, I decided to invite colleagues, supervisors and friends to my house for a feast of a Beninese favorite: spaghetti omelets, the Italian classic of pasta and tomato sauce served with an oily, spicy omelet on top. It's considered a scrumptious and filling treat, both among Beninese and Peace Corps volunteers.


Though my American family wasn't able to visit during my time in Benin, I felt as if I had new circle to celebrate with — my host family, whom I lived with for two weeks and stayed in touch with, as well as colleagues and friends I'd made.


Since Thanksgiving is just another Thursday in November in Benin, I didn't have lots of time to prepare the meal. I started during my three-hour lunch break between the English classes I taught.


I recruited some of my host family's brothers and sister to chop onions, tomatoes and peppers for a savory sauce. I was grateful for the assistance, which made the job so much easier. And my host siblings loved being included in the creation of a holiday meal.



Two hours flew by, and the tomato sauce was simmering up familiar flavors of both a Beninese "sauce tomate" and my great-grandfather's Italian pasta sauce. After teaching an afternoon class, I rushed back home to set up seating in my living room, make some sweet potato gnocchi (an added treat) and cook the pasta and omelets.


I took a few moments to say why I had invited them all for a feast for a holiday that was new to them. I explained that every November, Americans gather with their families to enjoy a meal and share gratitude for each other and blessings in their lives. I said that Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because you can celebrate with friends as well as family.


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