There are few things more depressing than eating a can of beans for Thanksgiving dinner. And I should know because several years ago, when I was in Nigeria and my options were chick peas or grilled rat, I did just that.
Thankfully, my expectations for the holiday weren’t very high in the first place. In fact, I wouldn’t have even noticed that it was the last Thursday of November if not for all the posts on Facebook and holiday sale emails flooding my inbox.
My neighbor, David, encouraged me to treat myself to something special to mark the day.
“We can go to Abacha Barracks,” he said, referring to the fish market outside Abuja. That would have been a good idea because it was probably the best food I had while in Nigeria, but the trip involved getting in a mini-bus. And the last time we went there, a lot of time was spent driving into oncoming traffic or perched on the shoulder of the road, where we had a really spectacular view of a cliff.
When we finally got out, I cried in the middle of the street. I looked David straight in the eye and said, “I never want to do that again.” Like it was his fault. And he, with the patience of a saint, said that we would take a cab back. And then we stuffed our faces with fish and pretty much forgot all about it.
To avoid a repeat of that disaster on Thanksgiving, I decided to treat myself to an American lunch and walked two miles to and from the British super market. I bought a pita topped with tomato paste and cheese that was halfheartedly passed off as pizza and a can of soda. As I was walking out of the store with my lunch tucked under my arm, I saw the most amazing thing: a man in a Dallas Cowboys t-shirt buying Apple Jacks.
I said to him, “Are you American?!”
“YES!” he said to me. “Are you???”
“Yes!” I shouted back. “HAPPY THANKSGIVING!!!”
To which he replied, “Wait here!! I’m going to get my kids!!!”
And a minute later, he was back, dragging his two sons, also in NFL t-shirts, down the aisle. “She’s American,” he told them, and they stood there, totally and utterly bored by this strange American woman who was drinking a Pepsi in the middle of the store. They were the first – and only – Americans I met in Nigeria (aside from the people working at the Embassy who I met a month later when I, again crying in the middle of the street, went to ask them if they could ask the Nigerian government to return my passport).
I regret not staying and talking to them longer because I still wonder why they were in Nigeria and what their take on it was. And, on a more selfish level, I think they might have invited me to Thanksgiving dinner, which would have been nice because mine ended up being really pitiful. Even by Nigerian standards.
To celebrate, David, my roommate, Alex, and I went to the bar across the street. It was the first time I had been there because I was warned that if I went without a male friend, the other patrons would think I was a prostitute. David also decided to buy beef suya, which is spicy meat grilled on top of what (I think) looked like a garbage can. I wasn’t much of a fan of Nigerian food, but I still wanted to try everything. At least one little bite.
“So?” David asked. “How was it?”
I said, “David. That isn’t beef, is it?”
And he said, “I have my doubts.”
I said, “David. This is very important. What is it?”
“Oh, they say it’s beef…”
“I think it’s probably bush meat.”
WORDS. That’s what came to mind. Straight up, all the words.
I blinked at him for several seconds, then finally, just shrugged. “Oh what’s the difference? Meat is meat. Especially around here.”
And, I mean, that’s something I said to make myself feel better, but it’s also true: meat in Nigeria was, at best, questionable. It was hardly worth the effort to get worked up about it.
I asked him, “Well is the chicken at least chicken?”
“Yeah, probably,” he said. “But that’s way more expensive.”
And that was very true, which is part of the reason why I decided to eat a can of chick peas for dinner later that night – and continue to do so for the next several weeks.
This year, I will be enjoying my 100% turkey dinner – thankful that I’m not repeating 2010 when a can of Diet Coke and a hot bite of something was the best I could do.