Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tokens of Thanks

It's Thanksgiving! Yayyy! Or at least I think it will be soon in some corners of the world. I hope you all have lovely plans. I plan to chill out by the pool during the day then make dulce de leche served with spiced apples and accompanied by (store bought!) chiffon cake. I know it's not the most Thanksgiving-y of offerings to my lovely friends hosting a 20+ person bonanza tomorrow night. But there's no available oven, all the veggies are spoken for and we're catering the turkey. So it will be my homage to America's ethnic cultures otherwise unrepresented on Turkey Day. That sounds like a good excuse, right?

Apropos of the holiday I've been thinking about the idea of giving thanks. It's been a stretch, as the weather is beautifully warm and I wager there's not a crisp leaf within miles of this city. However, doing a little meditation on the topic isn't as difficult as it would seem, even without the seasonal reminders. Cambodians are so wonderful about saying thank you that it's hard to ignore.

When I taught twice a week at A New Day Cambodia students went nowhere when class was over if they didn't give thanks first. At the first sound of my bare feet padding into the classroom they'd all stand att attention and clasp their hands in front of them. I'd walk to the front of the class and they'd harmonize a good morning greeting. I'd smile and tell them to sit down. And at the end of the lesson they'd once again pull themselves to their little feet then give a chorus of thanks for the class. It felt kind of like having Happy Birthday sung at you. I just stood there, flattered and pleased, with a goofy grin. Even though their words were a drone and it was more mechanized than human, it was a sweet gesture and a good lesson for children. One that American schools might do well to replicate.

Living at Harpswell I receive thanks in a different form. The girls delight in presenting me with little gifts from time to time. Most typically it's a piece of fruit timidly cupped in outstretched hands and paired with a shy smile. Once I woke up from a nap to find a warm baguette steaming on my desk. Though their gestures are sweet I don't know if I'll ever get use to it. These girls come from extraordinarily impoverished families, often with many members subsisting on one miniscule income. They get very little allowance and the fact that they wish to use their disposable pittance on me is a little overwhelming though very flattering. Although it does get a little sticky when a student proudly offers to split her fried frogs with me. But now I know that fried frogs are not that bad! Although I've had to say no to further frog sharing. I do wonder though if my efforts here equal the volume of their collective and consistent gratitude. I hope so.

Life here been been a humbling reminder to say 'thank you' more often. Not just in the context of a family gathering or a decadent feast, but in small ways every day. I always prided myself, a good Southern girl, on my prolific thank yous and great gratitude. But after my Cambodian encounters I am thankful to have such sweet reminders to give thanks more often.

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