It’s Thanksgiving, and I had high hopes that the other teachers would participate in my holiday lesson. I arrived at school to find Govinda, Laximi, Guru sir, and Rita Madam already in the office, each at their usual stations. They seemed reasonably enthusiastic as I described Thanksgiving and my plans for class. Encouraged, I sorted out a few last vocabulary words and assigned various roles to everyone else. Even though my lesson wasn’t usually until recess, we decided to start Thanksgiving early because nobody was teaching their regular classes anyway and the kids were all running about.
I walked across the yard and burst into the classroom, declaring joyously that today is an American festival. Govinda and I wrote “Thanksgiving” in big letters in English and Nepali on the board, and below that, “I am grateful for____” in Nepali. Then I explained the purpose and practice of Thanksgiving: how we gather with family and friends and think about the things we are thankful for in our lives. I described a turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. I briefly re-enacted the story of the Mayflower and Plymouth Rock, albeit in a simplistic way that swerved around colonization and focused instead on legendry itself. The usually chattery room of lit faces quieted and watched me closely, with that deliciously infuriating mix of doubt, amusement, and insatiable interest which has driven me to madness a million times over.
When I finished explaining Thanksgiving in America, I declared that today we would have Thanksgiving in Nepal. First, I asked, what should we eat?
I got a lot of blank stares.
Listen, it’s important that there’s a lot of eating, I insisted. It’s Thanksgiving.
“…Rice?” someone finally ventured.
“Rice!” I agreed enthusiastically. Govinda wrote it on the board. The answers began to pour in.
“Excellent idea. But what kind of roti?” I asked.
They went for them all. “Fried roti! Rice roti! Millet roti!”
Soon the kids were shouting out every food they could think of too fast for Govinda to write them down. “Rice Pudding! Noodles! Curd!” The bare room clamoring with noise. For encouragement, I swayed in anticipation of our upcoming feast.
When the menu was complete, and I passed out notecards so everyone could write what they were thankful for. This took quite a while and, sadly, ended up being the least successful part of our Thanksgiving. They didn’t understand it. Maybe being thankful for certain things implies being less grateful for other ones, which upon reflection is something of an indulgence.
Finally all the kids stood up and we rearranged the benches into a makeshift table with everyone sitting along the sides. I was surprised at how satisfied I felt by the result. It looked less like class and more like Thanksgiving, all these small bodies crammed in around our long table. The stone walls became our castle and the dirt floor quieted down to observe with us.
Guru-Sir was in charge of the legend. I don’t know what it was because he told it in Nepali, but all the kids listened with rapt attention to some story about the history of Nepal and Kaskikot. Then we gave thanks—and while this was not, as I said, entirely satisfactory, most were thankful that Laura-Miss had come from America, so I forgave them for copying each other.
At last, it was time to eat.
Leaning forward from my seat on the bench, I reached for an invisible bowl in the center of our improvised table. I heaped a spoonful of air-rice on to my imaginary plate, piled a few kinds of roti next to it, and started eating. Everyone blinked at me.
“Aren’t you all going to eat?!” I said through a mouth full of fruit. “There’s a lot of food here.” I indicated our scribbled list on the blackboard.
There was a bit more silence while I stuffed myself hopefully.
“THIS IS AN ORANGE!” Krishna shouted. (Krishna is incapable of speaking to me without shouting.)
“Oh! Give me one!” I cried, cramming it into my face. Soon I had kids shoving food at me from every direction. I did my best to add each offering to my plate, but the treats were coming at me so fast that I began to slouch, holding my stomach. I took a bookbag and shoved it under my shirt, eliciting a satisfying explosion of laughter. Then I couldn’t convince them I was full. So I tried swaying, then sleeping, and then fainting, but I was still pressed to put some rice pudding in my pocket for later. I finally had to stand up and say firmly, “Thanksgiving is over! Go outside and play.”