American Thanksgiving(s) Abroad

I was happy to participate in two very different Thanksgivings this year. I had originally thought that I would be celebrating alone here in Damascus, where I know very few people outside of my office. So, as you can imagine, I was incredibly thankful that I had the opportunity to get out of my apartment and do something new.

The first, on Wednesday night, was with a great group of Fulbright participants in a tiny apartment off Baghdad Street, sharing ad hoc food assemblages with each other, including a massive turkey procured from the Old City, while I doubled the people I knew in Damascus over dinner, shisha, and several rounds of Mafia. It was exciting, and it felt normal – like it could have been picked up and transplanted anywhere in the world. We were all just thankful to be together when we were all grouped in this one place and one time. I learned a lot about their time here so far, where they were heading, and how they ended up in Syria.

On Thursday, I was invited to spend Thanksgiving with the Chargé d’Affaires at the Ambassador’s House. (A side note: while there is no Ambassador assigned to Syria, the Chargé is temporarily appointed, without need for approval from the Senate, to serve until the Ambassador is confirmed, a date that seems not that far off, from what I have heard.) While I began the night nervously, it turned out to be pretty exceptional. It certainly was, more than anything, an opportunity to meet some extraordinary people. I was introduced to the British Ambassador, had a lovely conversation with the director of IRC’s Iraqi resettlement programs with an invitation to go and observe their work in the refugee camps, discussed the possibility of collaborating on a future event with the Danish Ambassador (who remembered me from earlier in the week when I had attended a conference on the impact of climate change on Syria, in preparations for next week’s COP15 in Copenhagen), introduced the Turkish Ambassador and his wife to their first Thanksgiving dinner, and had dessert with a Syrian-American doctor who worked with the Ministry of Health on developing legislation and programming on disabilities and bioethics. Like I said, it was quite an evening.

It was an interesting comparison between the two evenings, but in reality – they weren’t that much different. Both were opportunities to gather groups of people together who might not otherwise have a chance to say how grateful they were for the opportunity to share food and conversation with someone else. Whereas I was just reminded how grateful I am for all of the opportunities that have seemingly landed in my lap.

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