An American Thanksgiving

by Esmat

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with my host family in Connecticut, as their guest. Although I had a clue of what Thanksgiving was about. I had never experienced it before. I knew that it was not religious. I knew that it is about “spending time with family”. I knew that it was about eating food and gaining weight, although looking at the statistics of how much Americans are obese, I don’t know why this aspect is still kept.

We went to a dinner party with some friends of my host family in Bedford, New York, which is a few minutes of drive from where my host family lives in Connecticut. I had been “cautioned” that their friends were Trump supporters and most of them voted for Trump, and I was fine with that. I was interested and curious to see which kind of people supported and voted Trump. As I have previously stated, I was not a supporter of Clinton or Trump, but I was stuck with “choosing the lesser of two evils”. I was disappointed in Americans being left with these two candidates which made them support the lesser of two evils. However, there are reasonable explanations as to why it turned out this way.

As we arrived at the dinner party, I could notice how affluent these people were who hosted the dinner party, later on when I spoke with the man of the family, I got to know that he had quite the affluent background to have this wealth, as they say, “he came from money”. I was speaking to some of the kids of theirs, who were about my age. They were talking about how much confused they were about what to do with their lives. One said that he is “not sure” if he wants to go to college, although he had spent most of his life going to a boarding school that is prestigious. When it was time for them to talk about my country, they were impressed how much I knew about it, and my response was, “yes, because it is my country and I have lived most of my life there”. Then when they asked what I thought of Trump, I said: “I do not think that he makes sense for America and I do not think that Americans were left with good choices in this election.”

Then one of the hosts interrupted the conversation and gave instructions to an interesting procedure. On one end of the room, there was a table with two baskets, some index cards. One basket was labeled, “What are you grateful for?”. The other was labeled, “Moving forward, what aspect of the American culture would you change?”. Each person was supposed to fill out an index card for each of the baskets. At first, I did not think that these were going to be read out. I thought this was for the hosts, maybe they were interested in a social experiment. So I became real honest and quite blunt. For the first basket, I wrote, “I am grateful for having a good family and friends, who support me.”, for the second basket I wrote, “I would definitely change the culture of having conversations about superfluous things.”

Then dinner was ready. I had heard about how much food there was going to be at these sort of gatherings. Most of them meat. Me being a vegetarian for few years, I was not content with the reality that even the salad had crab or bacon in it. Fortunately, my host family had prepared some fantastic Greek Salad to take to the dinner party. All I really had was several servings of that salad, which I found really healthy and was happy about that. I looked around the table, to see what other people was having, and it was meat and all kinds of it. I thanked myself for being a vegetarian and treating my body the way I think it deserves to be treated and saving myself a disaster the following morning when I would probably be groaning for how much I had eaten. Afterward, there was the dessert. Alongside with my host family, I had prepared some Afghan custard dessert called Firni, which turned out to be a hit and was finished very quickly. Then they brought over the two baskets and started reading the index cards that everyone had filled out. I did not expect that, and so I was hoping that they would escape what I had written. But then the turn came to what I had written and when it was read, almost everyone stopped their side conversations to hear my response to what I meant with the word, “superfluous”. Since I was put in the spotlight, I did not know what to say, so I simply said, “the definition of superfluous varies…”.

Then the conversation went to politics. Which I did not expect, since I think there are other casual topics discussed at holidays such as Thanksgiving, like baseball, or other quintessential American thing. But this was not your typical American crowd, these people were concerned with all sorts of things, some of which I found odd or honestly inappropriate. I tried very hard to abstain from this conversation, as I did not want to use this opportunity to discuss something bland as politics and current events. I just wanted to observe how Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving. It started with the election of Donald Trump, and quickly went to the Middle East, ISIS, and terrorism and obviously Islam. I felt awkward for not saying anything at this point. I had come from a place that was dealing with some of these issues every single day. Since I had remained quiet, few people started asking me to say something. I did say a couple of things, and I first started with the election of Trump, then went on to express my views on Islam and how this it is not supporting terroristic acts. I did agree that there are certain things wrong with Islam as is wrong with any other religion. I think I have expressed that here in this blog as well, but if not, let me make it clear: coming from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan does not mean that I necessarily agree with everything in its society or that I represent the views of everyone in my country. I think to think that way is absurd. And to be honest, your typical American will assume that way, which I again find absurd and ridiculous. It shows you how ignorant some people can be. So these people around the table were thinking that I coming from an Islamic country, might be a die hard supporter of Islam and would be a sympathizer with those supporting extremist views. If I truly was an extremist sympathizer what would I be doing at a Thanksgiving dinner party with Trump supporters? Those of you who know me on a personal level can see how ridiculous that assumption is.

So I talked and talked and responded to some comments. And then at one point, a gentleman, who shall remain nameless for the sake of his dignity, said, “I think we should start with a clean slate, drop a nuclear bomb in Middle East, Afghanistan, and I am sorry about your parents.” Looking at me. At first, I was about to say, “Sir, are you intoxicated?” I thought twice about that, and I thought that would make things explosive and would make the matters worse. So instead I remained quite, looking hysterically  at him with a smirk. I thought for him, an “educated” man, with the presence of his own family around the table, to say such a thing is beyond embarrassing. Before hearing such a comment by this man, and before going to this dinner party, I knew that there are people who do think such radicle things. So in a way, it was good for me to get this kind of exposure.

There was a gasp, and everyone was quite shocked to hear what this man had said. I think he even regretted that himself. I learned that this man was a very devout Christian, and it is not in the spirit of a being a good Christian with the comment that he made. I do not feel bad for him for the embarrassment that he suffered or might have, though. Most importantly, I was not offended or insulted, even in the slightest. However, what offends me is the ignorance, and making ignorant remarks. I do not really blame these people for their’ ignorance. They have been hearing the same propagandistic stuff from the news and that is probably their only perception of an event or situation. They do not get to meet an Afghan every now and then to compare the reality with the fiction that they have been hearing or reading.

When the conversation went on to religion. One of the hosts started saying how aspirational her religion was. She was Catholic and she kept praising her religion and kept saying how there are things wrong with Islam. I do agree with things being wrong with Islam, I have never advocated on how Islam is perfect. But there is also one thing else wrong, and that is being aspired to do something good because what aspires you to do good is a religion. The same with morals. I do not think that people should get their morals from religion. Then the same gentleman who made that ignorant remark previously said, “I think Islam is the most corrupt religion…” and “There is no real historical evidence of Islam and it is a made-up religion…”. I was at a loss for words, as to what to say to this person. I was not angry or offended or insulted in the slightest. I was quite amused to be dealing with such a person. Also really overwhelmed with where to begin the explanation. I was asked to leave the table by one of the hosts and he said, “You don’t feel being picked on, do you?” and I said, “No. I really do enjoy such conversations and I am not offended.” He smiled as if to say what I had said was sarcastic. It was not. I meant it.

When it was time to leave, one of the hosts said, “Please do not think that I am ignorant as that friend of ours, we do not want to bomb Afghanistan or anywhere else…” I was amused at her for trying to justify herself. I did not even ask for her to do that, but I guess, I appreciate the fact that she was trying to be nice.

Back from the Thanksgiving break, here at Andover. When people ask me, “How was your Thanksgiving?” I say, “Not many options for a vegetarian person like me.” I say this because explaining the whole fiasco would take me a while and I will get an apology (which I think is weird). But for the few people to whom I explained the whole story, they usually say, “how rude and inconsiderate that person must have been…”.

So that was my first American Thanksgiving experience. I am already looking forward to the next.