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An exceptional turkey day in Turkey

By Stewart Burns
On December 1, 2011

  • Kate Hendrickson. TheDePauw Editor

An atheist, Jew, Christian and a Muslim all walked into a room and sat down at a table. No, this is not the start to a bad joke, but the beginning to one of my most memorable Thanksgiving dinners. It was not until the end of the meal, 5,500 miles away from my middle American home, that I realized the significance of this exceptional evening.

The night began on a winding bus ride down the seaside hills of an Istanbul suburb. What were once church steeples at home are now mosque minarets that define my new skyline. Two American girls had taken it upon themselves to cook dinner for 20 exchange students, most of whom were experiencing Thanksgiving for the first time.

Politically, religiously and even academically, my dinner companions fit no mold. Yet, our clear differences made no difference. Discordant debates with no possible solution were avoided. Lighthearted banter about the superiority of American football over soccer was the only reason voices were ever raised.

My brief, religiously ambiguous blessing was followed by the customary proclamation of the many things for which we were thankful. One by one we shared our thoughts. The broken English and assorted accents were secondary to the importance of what was being said. My foreign friends were thankful for this new opportunity and for the people that were sitting beside them. The Americans were thankful to be surrounded by people who helped them to forget that they were away from home over the holidays.

Many of the new Thanksgiving celebrants declared that they were very fond of this American holiday. Together, we enjoyed the friendly environment and home-cooked meal. Although there was a turkey shortage in Turkey this year (truly), the substituted chicken was just as satisfying.

For a few brief moments, we took a step back to our childhoods and invited the newly converted Thanksgiving followers to make paper hand turkeys and share the pumpkin pie. Fellow DePauw student Katie Logan had recently received a shipment from home, which included the essential ingredients for this necessary dessert. The white pumpkins found over here would clearly not have had the same effect.

A very welcomed absence from this Thanksgiving was the materialist attitude that tends to accompany the holiday back home. It seems that Thanksgiving Thursday has evolved into an advertised pregame to the appalling displays of animalistic behavior that occur on Black Friday. This celebration focused on the essence of Thanksgiving and avoided the idle distractions.

Although brief, that evening was a removal from the realities of our world.  For a few hours we lived in an ideological vacuum that allowed people to simply be people. Personal differences that prevent necessary attempts at societal progress, or at least compromise, were absent. Unfortunately, divisive mentalities and impediments to any attempt at civil debates are what grab the current headlines. Members of all political parties, faiths and nationalities are guilty of this plight.

As supposed leaders and holders of power throughout the world become more deeply entrenched in their ways of thinking, the thought of progress becomes more unfeasible.  Instead of traditional attempts of extending olive branches to our adversaries, maybe all we need is a Thanksgiving dinner.

— Burns is a junior from West Lafayette, Ind., majoring in political science. He is studying abroad in Istanbul, Turkey. Senior Katie Logan, who is also studying abroad in Turkey, contributed to this article. 


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