Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving Overseas

Those of you who've known me for a while will know that Thanksgiving is my least favorite holiday in the year, placing behind the annual All-Nation Orphan Scrimmage and even Kick Puppies for Jesus Day in my calendar.  It's a sign of how divorced I am from daily life in the States that I hadn't really realized that Thanksgiving was upon us until I got slammed on the same day with four invitations to Thanksgiving dinner at my coworkers' homes.  I managed to make two of the gatherings, and for once I had a good Thanksgiving, perhaps because I wasn't surrounded by the horrors of Black Friday advertising and squabbling family members - or maybe it's that some aspects of American culture look better from afar.  We just did our best with what American foods we could find, faked the rest, and peacefully dispersed after six hours of food and board games.  Next year I'll be back in DC for the winter holidays, but let me go ahead and extend my invitation to you all to eat turkey with me in Turkey for Thanksgiving 2010.

In this spirit of goodwill, I'm inclined to list a few things for which I'm thankful.  However, I'm cribbing the idea from a friend of mine serving in Embassy Sanaa, Yemen.  He and I left DC on the same day in August, and his embassy was attacked at the end of his second week at post.  Here are some of his points.
  • I'm thankful to be reminded of the value of a dollar, in a country where more than half the population lives off $2/day.
  • I'm thankful to be serving my country in a difficult part of the world and to have the job I have worked so hard to get. 
  • I'm thankful for the Yemenis who risk their lives everyday to protect us, and especially to the one that gave his in the defense of our embassy. 
In that spirit, here are mine.
  • I am thankful to have been born and educated in the United States.  Every day I see people struggling as hard as they can to gain the opportunities that I took for granted.  It's easy to look down on the universities that Saudis choose to attend, because they aren't as good as the ones that I and most of my colleagues attended.  However, when you see how excited these students are to go to any small-town college, without caring if the school is in the top ten or twenty or fifty, it becomes a little less laughable, because any US school - and the life of a student in the US - is likely to be better than the options here.  
  • I am thankful that, by whatever accident of genetics and birth, that I am treated better and live better than most in this country.  Poverty among Saudis, while not imaginary, is certainly nowhere near as prevalent as it is in Yemen.  However, poverty among the millions of guest workers here is rampant, just as there is widespread abuse and discrimination against them.  As an American, I am given more freedoms and less harassment than nearly anyone in this country (Saudis and non-Saudis alike), even though I'm female.  
  • I am thankful that I am employed, well compensated for my work, and have excellent insurance.  So many of my friends did not find employment after college, and so many more people I know exist from paycheck to paycheck, hoping that aspirin will cure their ills.  I am truly lucky to have the financial security this job grants me.
  • I am thankful for the layers of security schemes, developed by professionals and enforced by legions of guards, that keep me safe.  I often chafe at the restrictions placed upon us, but at the end of the day, I'd rather be bored than maimed or dead.  As my friend in Sanaa knows too well, the threat is real.
  • I am thankful for the many friends and family members back home who love me, who worry about me, who send me care packages and silly jokes, and who miss me.  You're the anchor that has kept me sane for these past three months, which have been the most challenging of my life.

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