Giving Thanks

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” – Melody Beattie

Thanksgiving is my favorite time of year and this year, more than ever, I am aware of how much I have to be thankful for. While I was sad not to be at my Grandpa’s house eating my mom’s carmel corn, aunt kelly’s pumpkin roll, playing bunco and sharing my favorite holiday with them, I did have a wonderful and very unique experience here in Costa Rica.

Celebrating Thanksgiving here with my host family was a wonderful opportunity to share a part of the US culture and my family’s traditions. After trekking all around San Ramon in the pouring rain to find two chickens, five hours of cooking with only one pot and a half working oven and converting all the recipes from the US to metric system (we all know math and cooking are not my strong suits), after a lot of improvising I was able to share a delicious meal of chicken, stuffing, yams, salad, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie and pumpkin cake.

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Sharing Thanksgiving with my host family

My host family, aunts, cousins and grandmas all appreciated the meal and the meaning of the day. There was no snow on the ground this year and instead of watching football we watched my host dad’s favorite soccer team play. While I was happy to share a taste of home, it was explaining the meaning of the holiday that was so rewarding to share.

On the actual Thanksgiving holiday I went to San Jose to meet up with other volunteers and have a real Thanksgiving dinner (turkey and all!) at the Peace Corps Country Director’s house. I hadn’t seen my Peace Corps friends in two months and was overwhelmed with excitement and happiness to see them. We met up in the morning and went to see the Hunger Games and I didn’t think we were going to be able to stop talking long enough to watch the movie. After the movie we went to our Country Director’s house where we shared a beautiful and REALLY delicious Thanksgiving dinner together. The wine, fancy cheese and football were fun reminders of things that I’ve traded for papaya smoothies, tamales and soccer. The next morning I took my first hot shower since I left the states in July and had a delicious brunch (no rice and beans for breakfast…pancakes & bacon!). It was great to have a taste of home and share the holiday with the Country Director and my Peace Corps family.

Thanksgiving dinner with my Peace Corps Family

Thanksgiving dinner with my Peace Corps Family

On Friday I met up with the majority of Tico 26 and a few other Peace Corps volunteers at Playa Uvita/Bahia Ballena. We spent a few days at the beach catching up and relaxing. The hostel we stayed at was literally made up of different tree houses and every morning I woke up to howler monkeys and toucans. The beach is most famous for being in the shape of a whales tail and what makes it even better is you can see whales and dolphins migrating right off the shore.

Bahia Ballena...the whale's tail!

Bahia Ballena…the whale’s tail!

Gorgeous beach and all to ourselves!

Gorgeous beach and all to ourselves!

I have been to the beaches of South Spain, the north coast of Hawaii, beaches on both sides of Mexico, some of the best beaches in the world in Guanacaste, Costa Rica but Playa Uvita and Bahia Ballena are by far not only my favorite beaches but the most beautiful, awe-inspiring beaches I have EVER been to in my life.

No words.

No words.

Amazing.

Amazing.

My Thanksgiving celebration wasn’t quite over yet. On Saturday night at the hostel we had a potluck Thanksgiving dinner. We all cooked together in the open air kitchen at the hostel. While the only “traditional” dish we had was an improvised version of stuffing, this was my favorite meal this year. It was not the food that made it so special.

That night 37 of us from around the world (the US, Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, Austria, England, India, Mexico and Portugal) sat down at one large table to share food, drink and conversation. I could not stop smiling as I looked up and down the large table during dinner and think this is what it is all about. It didn’t matter where we were born, what religion we practice, what our political views are, the color of our skin, our gender identity or our sexual orientation. Here we were, all 37 of us, sharing a meal and conversations together, bonding and understanding that we all really aren’t that different after all.

Why does this happen at magical little tree house hostels on a beautiful, whale tail beach but it is so difficult in our daily lives? I’ve written it before but it is this kind of human to human interaction and relationship that, in my opinion, creates a better understanding of not only each other but also ourselves and allows for peace to flourish.

This year I am keenly aware of all the friends (both new and old), family, opportunities and experiences I am thankful for. The past five months have given me more than I could have possibly ever imagined to get out of this experience in two years and my Thanksgiving celebrations this year were perfect reminders of this.

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