Yesterday morning after I’d made the pastry for the pumpkin pies and put it to rest in the fridge, seen the kids off to school, and had coffee, Donn and I headed up to the Takkadoum market to buy a chicken. Earlier in the week I’d gone there hunting turkey and I’d found one all right—over 13 kilos, pure white, gobbling at me from its cage under the counter. I eyed it askance, while Khadija laughed heartily at the thought of Donn and I and 3 kids needing a bird that big. I don’t think it would even fit in my oven!

So Thanksgiving morning found Donn and I at our old friend the chicken seller’s, eyeing the white chickens hopping about and pecking each other. I tend to be somewhat tender-hearted and was tempted to choose the scrawny one being attacked by bigger birds before common sense intervened—first of all I was choosing a bird to EAT, hardly an honour for the chicken set, and secondly, well, I was choosing a bird to eat.

We’ve come a long way quickly from that first experience of choosing our pretty pretty chicken. Turns out we, in our ignorance, bought a stewing chicken. We made a lot of jokes about how we’d ended up with the marathon-runner of free-range chickens—that thing was skin and bones under all those feathers, tough and sinewy. Now we know. Take the white ones in the little yard, the one the slaughterers are tripping over.

We picked out the chicken, watched it die, let them pluck it in their machine, brought it home. Donn left to deliver some photos to a client and I finished baking the pies and then dumped the bird out into the sink. Surprise! It still had the organs. I’m a strong believer in my right to be a Victorian female if I feel like it so I left it for Donn to deal with. (aside: yes, I know REAL Victorian females would have had no problem with chicken innards, but I am using the term to mean helpless and feminine and I can squeal at mice and climb on chairs if I feel like it. I am Woman!) Once he’d come home and done that, and we had forced Ilsa to take these organs in a bowl outside our gate for the feral cats to enjoy (Us: Think of the great stories you’ll have to tell your kids! Ilsa: yeah… I dunno), I was ready to cook it.

I must admit that I have come around completely to Khadija’s way of thinking. By the time I was done with it, the chicken was tender and juicy and falling off the bones and tasted way better than the frozen, shipped-from-Brazil chickens available at the supermarkets. I rubbed it with rock salt, let it sit an hour or two, rinsed it, and stuck garlic slivers, s & p, thyme and rosemary all over the outside and inside. In my fear of it being dry, I poured a tiny bit of olive oil over it, stuck it in the oven, and basted faithfully. It was perfect. The meat tasted subtly of herbs and garlic. The house smelled heavenly. Of course we had dressing and mashed potatoes and corn soufflé and fresh peas and green beans to go with it. (I shelled the peas myself and they were perfect) We even had a tin of cranberry sauce, thanks to an American friend here who took pity on us.

What’s to say about Thanksgiving besides being thankful and eating a lot? We did those things. We followed up with a cheese course (we learned good things when we lived in France) and then pumpkin pie for dessert. We spread this meal out over about 4 hours, so we were comfortable. The kids skipped afternoon school—and you’d better believe that made it on their list of things they’re thankful for. When I wrote their excuses this morning, I wrote “Thanksgiving” in the “reason for absence” line. I wonder what the French will make of that?

Of course today isn’t a holiday. It very nearly was. Tomorrow is the biggest Eid of the year—Eid Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice, Eid elKbir, the big feast. In Mauritania they used to call it Eid elHamm, Feast of Meat. (Like Americans calling Thanksgiving “Turkey Day.”) Our neighbours bought their sheep last Sunday; we heard it arrive, lowing and bleating and protesting. It’s settled down now, resigned to its fate. (In fact, I haven’t heard it since yesterday—perhaps it is already in pieces in their kitchen)

The Muslim calendar is based on the moon, so holidays move throughout the western calendar—approximately 10 days a year. Our first year in Mauritania, the end of Ramadan coincided with Christmas-time; this year it was mid-September. So, for the first time in about 30 years, this Eid has nearly coincided with American Thanksgiving. I ask, why couldn’t it have been just one day earlier so we could have had an American Thanksgiving weekend? At least Elliot has Saturday morning off school.

Ismail’s mother has already sent us a plate of goodies. I will never lose weight living above this woman!

Eid Sayeed! Because I know you secretly want to see this, I’m attaching a video a friend took during last year’s Eid. This is a river flowing red with sheep’s blood, washing into the Atlantic. The sheep are slaughtered in the street and the blood rinses down into the little tributary. Mmmm. Guess Donn better not go surfing this weekend!

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