Sunday, February 1, 2015

Stories from My Mission: Thanksgiving in Argentina

In my second area of my mission in the city of Sáenz Peña I had been in the country for about nine months. I was with my third companion, Elder Palazuelos, in the area. The neighborhood where I worked was generally very poor, and most of the streets were unpaved. So when it was dry, which was often, we were very dusty, and when it was raining, which was often, we were very muddy. But it was a relatively large city (about 80,000 people) and "el centro" (downtown) area was richer than the rest of the city. Richer is a relative term since it meant that some people were not in danger of starving and may have even had a small disposable income. My area didn't cover el centro so I really didn't get to talk to people who had much money or access to basic resources.

One of the members that lived in el centro, who had plenty of money, had heard from different missionaries about the American tradition of Thanksgiving. He wanted to give the American missionaries a treat so he told them that he could prepare a Thanksgiving dinner for all the American missionaries in the zone. The member happened to live in the zone leader's area so our zone leader let us know that there was a member who was willing to fix us a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We were all excited to hear this because generally Argentine food was not know for being particularly tasty. We were all looking forward to having something different and to celebrate Thanksgiving half a world away from our families.

As Thanksgiving drew near our zone leader let us know the details about when and where the dinner would be held. Unfortunately for our zone leader, Elder Adams, he found out that he had a zone leader conference he had to go to so he was quite disappointed that he would miss it all. The day before Thanksgiving Elder Adams left for Resistencia and his companion stayed with Elder Palazuelos and me.

The entire week of Thanksgiving was wet and rainy and miserable. My companion was sick a lot so we couldn't get much done. I think that week we only managed to log 18 hours of actual missionary work with one lesson taught the entire week (it turned out that my companion really was really sick, he wasn't faking it, he eventually had to go home because of it, like it was potentially life threatening kind of sick).

Thanksgiving day I spent with my companion and with the zone leader's companion. At one point the other Elders in the zone showed up and my companion went with them to take care of business and I was left with the zone leader's companion, and that is another story for another day.

When the zone leader had arranged with the member to have Thanksgiving dinner Elder Adams had clearly told him, "The most important part of Thanksgiving dinner is the turkey. You have to get a turkey." The member told Elder Adams that he would have no problem getting a turkey since he knew a farmer who raised turkeys and was willing to sell him one. Elder Adams explained to the member the importance of the turkey and said, "If for what ever reason you can't get a turkey, then get a duck. If you can't get a duck then get a chicken. The important thing is it's a bird. It has to be a bird."

So in the evening we traveled to the member's apartment (bigger than most houses in Argentina) to have Thanksgiving dinner. All of us were thinking of turkey, which had been promised to us, rolls, mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, pumpkin pie, and all the other goodies that somehow are entirely absent in the Argentine diet.

We got to the apartment and the member and his family greeted us warmly and then said, "Sorry Elders, we couldn't get a turkey. So we got a pig. It's in the oven."

Fortunately they didn't speak English so they couldn't understand what the American missionaries said. We were good natured about it but we were all a little like, "Really? You couldn't get a bird? Any bird would do." Further more the "rolls" were standard Argentine stick bread (bought by the kilo). The potatoes were boiled but not mashed (and not seasoned, not even salt). The pumpkin pies were bought from a local bakery, where apparently the baker had never heard of the invention of sugar, or salt.

Then the pig came out.

It still had the hair on it.

Not that it had much hair to begin with, but what hair it had was still there.

Then they served it to us.

My slice came from right near the surface. It had about 3-4 inches of fat covered in 1/2 inch skin (still with the hair on it) and then the barest trace of meat on the bottom.

I didn't eat it.

I think the only thing good about the dinner was the canned corn.

Then for an after dinner treat they served us a drink called Anana Fizz. The members in Argentina like it since it's like Sparkling Cider, but pineapple flavored. The great selling point for members of the church is that it is "alcohol free", which as I found out later, "alcohol free" in Argentina means less than 3% alcohol. So not really "alcohol free". I think all the other Elders woke up the next morning with headaches. They blamed it on the food. I read the label on the bottle carefully in the middle of my second glass, and I didn't have any more after that. I woke up the next morning just fine.

Elder Adams, who was so upset to miss Thanksgiving dinner returned the next day. Heard all about our misadventures, and then didn't feel so bad about going out of town for a zone leader conference.

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