Thanksgiving in Ecuador
When Melodia and I lived in Ecuador, American Thanksgiving was almost never remembered. We were far removed from American traditions and cultural events. The date for Thanksgiving came and went each year, but I was usually unaware. Some years my husband Raul would lament, “Hey, I just realized Thanksgiving already happened. That was my favorite holiday when I lived in the States.” I think he missed it more than I did.
In Ecuador turkey was not usually thought of as food. Occasionally I saw one or two wandering freely in the countryside. Once I tasted some that had been roasted for a Christmas celebration, but the flavor was gamey and the meat was tough. I donʼt remember ever seeing turkey meat for sale there. In Ecuador, it is not like it is in the United States where turkey is the centerpiece of the meal.
There will never be a Thanksgiving like the surprise Thanksgiving Raul concocted for us in Ecuador. It was a day like any other day. I had no thoughts of Thanksgiving on my mind. Like all of my previous years in Ecuador, I had forgotten it was that time again. Apparently, Raul had not forgotten, and he had a secret.
When Melodia and I took our daily morning trip to shop at the outdoor market, Raul surreptitiously stole away on his motorcycle . His very covert mission was to pick up the live turkey that would end up being our Thanksgiving dinner. A live turkey in a knapsack on the back of a motorcycle would have been a sight to behold, but not necessarily in Ecuador. There it was more the norm to carry your provisions in any way possible.
Later that morning when Melodia and I arrived home from the market, we were greeted by a ragged turkey running wild in our yard, circling back and forth to greedily slurp something from a soup bowl. Melodia was charmed by the scene. I was befuddled. I cautiously approached to get a closer look. The odd bird was drinking beer from the bowl.
Nothing made sense. I looked up at the porch and saw Raul standing above this circus, grinning proudly, and grasping a cold Pilsener. “Happy Thanksgiving to you!” was what he said, and then the uncomfortable truth became obvious. Somehow that turkey was going to end up roasted and carved and eaten for dinner. I knew Iʼd be doing the roasting, but who was going to get the thing from running drunkenly around our yard to ready for roasting? Those were a lot of messy steps to complete. I knew Raul had never slaughtered any sort of animal, and knowing him, it was not anything he would ever want to do.
It soon became a drinking contest between Raul and the bird. I started to comprehend. The more alcohol in the bloodstream of both, the easier to complete the slaughter. As the day wore on and the drinking continued, I saw Raulʼs bravado begin to take shape. First, he paced with machete in hand, back and forth along the length of the porch, eyeing the strutting, stumbling turkey.
Later, he began confronting the bird similar to a matador with cape facing off with the bull. Instead of a glorious matadorʼs cape, hat and uniform, Raul wore swim trunks, sneakers, and a fishermanʼs cap. Rather than a matadorʼs threatening posture, Raulʼs face-off seemed more like an advanced apology, “Pavo! Thank you for your sacrifice. Today we will celebrate our first Ecuadorian Thanksgiving. Iʼm sorry it will hurt a little. Drink up!” The turkey responded by wobbling toward his beer bowl, dancing an inebriated turkey trot, long, wrinkly turkey neck jutting out ahead of himself, legs dragging a bit, and sad turkey gobble croaking weakly from his gullet. This turkey was “bien borracho”, feeling no pain.
Melodia and I kept our distance, mesmerized by the drama unfolding in front of us, a drunken “paso doble” between man and bird, each one eyeing the other, approaching and retreating, circling and bowing, marching comically the length of the yard. As Melodia and I cheered “ole!” from the porch, the realization came to me that Raul was going to have to get very drunk before he could muster up the courage to whack the head off the turkey. That day Raul faced his fear of killing our Thanksgiving turkey the best that he knew how with his main ammunition ready: several cold beers in the refrigerator and one well-used machete (usually reserved for cutting down banana stalks and opening coconuts, and once for trying to kill a bat that invaded our house).
As Melodia and I watched the drama unfold, I could see Raulʼs plan was to get the turkey so drunk it would pass out. Then Raul would move in for the kill. My concern, though, was that it looked as if the turkey was going to win the drinking contest. It was at this point that the beach seemed the best place for Melodia and me, and Raul agreed. None of this was in my hands, and I was just as scared as Raul that the beheading of the turkey would turn into a traumatic bloody mess.
I gave it a couple of hours before Melodia and I returned to the house where I found Raul asleep in the hammock and the turkey lying headless on a platter, with all of its feathers and innards intact. I decided to plan on a late dinner, but first things first. Melodia and I were off to the beach again, this time to find a fisherman, our friendly provider of the daily fresh catch. When we found Don Miguel enjoying his siesta, I explained the situation at home. He agreed with me that if a fisherman can clean a fish, he can certainly clean a turkey.
That night, Raul, Melodia, Don Miguel, his wife and seven children and I sat down to enjoy our first Ecuadorian Thanksgiving.
In loving thanks to Raul, Melodia and Don Miguel and his family…oh, and of course, to the Ecuadorian turkey, “el pavo borracho”.