Just like any other American family, our pre-Thanksgiving discussions involved the question: "Your family or mine?" Yet the question was not whether we would go to his parents or my parents, but whether we would share the holiday with his office family (the Pol-Mil section) or mine (Public Affairs). In true State Department fashion, we reached a compromise and brought both sections together to create a memorable Thanksgiving celebration in Kabul.
At other overseas posts, my husband and I have delighted in sharing the Thanksgiving tradition with non-American expatriates and host country nationals. In Kabul, by contrast, everyone was able to indulge on the "giving" part of the day by preparing something for the meal.
Creating a family atmosphere at Thanksgiving is particularly important at an unaccompanied post, where so many people are living on their own and separated from their families. The countdown started as few weeks ago, when the Deputy Public Affairs Officer proposed a holiday celebration for the public affairs section. Meanwhile, my husband -- as the Political-Military, or "Pol-Mil," section chief -- wanted to make sure everyone in his team had somewhere to go, and I had little trouble persuading the Public Affairs section to welcome our Pol-Mil colleagues to the table.
The next task was to find a location suitable for feeding around 30 people, plus those who might wander by. Most people serving here live in small hooches (containerized housing units), and even the one bedroom apartments would not be able to cope. We chose an outdoor area with a large firepit, and arranged for portable patio heaters to be provided. A couple of people from each section took on the task of co-ordinating food contributions, but we feared that there would be either too much or too little food.
The day was one of great friendship and camaraderie. I cooked a turkey in our apartment oven, while another colleague cooked his on the barbecue, just like he does at home in the United States. As the turkey roasted over the coals, people came and went, stopping to sit by the fire for a few minutes. Those living in apartments opened up their kitchens to hooch dwellers, so that everyone could make a contribution. I loved seeing so many people carrying their freshly cooked dishes through the apartment corridors.
By mid-afternoon, everyone had gathered at the firepit in the sunshine. The turkeys were both cooked to perfection, and an array of side dishes had appeared on the table. There was just enough turkey to go around, and more than enough of everything else. Ambassador Cunningham, who earlier had been serving turkey and roast beef in the cafeteria, came by to wish us a happy Thanksgiving, and we were also joined by visiting soccer envoy Lorrie Fair from Los Angeles.
It was one of the most memorable Thanksgiving dinners I have ever had. After the meal was over, we stayed by the fire for hours. Yes, we were missing our families, back in the United States or in other locations around the world, but we were also able to give thanks for our new friends and colleagues, and for the American values of freedom and democracy.
Editor's Note: The photograph accompanying this entry shows Ambassador James Cunningham and Public Affairs Counselor Jean Manes serving Thanksgiving dinner to staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan on November 22, 2012.