Students from Africa experienceThanksgiving in Americaby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Four St. Kate's students from Africa gathered in a room at the campus student center to talk about this decidedly American holiday.
Ramatoulie Jallow is from Gambia, Aba Reindorf is from Ghana, Maureen Kirimi is from Kenya and Joanne Kabajungu is from Uganda.
Two of the students are working on degrees in the medical field, and two are pursuing studies in business and finance.
They're set to celebrate this American Thanksgiving Day in different ways. Reindorf and Jallow are going to visit their extended families in the U.S. Kirimi and Kabajunga are spending time with host families in the Twin Cites.
And while a big Turkey dinner with all the trimmings may be a different experience for them, a celebration to offer thanks is not.
Thanksgiving reminds Aba Reindorf of Farmer's Day, a holiday in her native Kenya.
"We don't have a specific food that we eat, but it's supposed to celebrate the farmers who are the main workers in Ghana," Reindor said. "It's like a potluck where people bring different kinds of food. All the men are going to buy the food the night before, and the women wake up at 4 o'clock in the morning and cook until 10 o'clock. Then people start trickling in at noon and stay until 12 o'clock at night."
For Reindorf and these three young women from Africa, the thought of setting aside one day a year, to really concentrate on giving thanks, seems a bit odd.
Ramatoulie Jallow said in her country, giving thanks is something you do everyday.
"In Gambia you're taught to always show gratitude for whatever anyone ever does for you," Jallow said. "So basically it's something we do every single day of our lives."
Maureen Kirimi agreed.
"With the Thanksgiving holiday I think ... this is a good thing," Kirimi said. "People have decided to make this one a holiday and say thank you. But at home I feel like we do that all the time."
Joanne Kabajungu said in Uganda, there's no particular day set aside for Thanksgiving.
"Sometimes these things come up randomly, say a friend has bought a new car," Kabajungu said. "You get together and celebrate that, and then you go away, there's nothing like Thanksgiving Day."
But the students admit their American Thanksgivings are actually so similar to family celebrations back home, that it can make them a bit homesick. But in the end, they do their best to enjoy the celebration, even though they're not home.
Maureen Kirimi said sometimes at an American Thanksgiving celebration she feels alone, even though she's in a crowded room.
"Even if you're in the moment for 10 minutes or 20 minutes ... you're engaging and talking having that connection, you immediately have a quick flashback," Kirimi said. "It would be great if I was there with them. That's when you also appreciate the people you have there with you."
Joanne Kabajungu is going to spend Thanksgiving with her host family in the Twin Cities, a celebration that reminds her of home.
"My host mom is one of the best cooks ever, so we are going to have the traditional American turkey dinner," she said. "I cook with her, it reminds me a bit of my mom. It's really neat."
Ramatoulie Jallow is flying to Atlanta to visit her aunt and younger sister, which also reminds her of home.
"Because they're all from Gambia as well," Jallow said. "So we cook our own traditional foods that I don't get to see at college that much. And I get to speak my own native language.
"For me I really look forward to those holidays where I get to spend time with extended family. I'm reminded of my own nuclear family," Jallow said. "It's always nice to be surrounded by people who are from the same culture or who understand you."
The four international students said after they graduate from St. Kate's they want to someday return to Africa to use what they've learned to help their countries. And they all said what they'll take from their American Thanksgivings is a new appreciation of celebrations with their own families.
- Morning Edition, 11/27/2008, 7:45 a.m.