Thanksgiving: The Story of Hank Hindi

Let me tell you the story of Hank hindi, our Thanksgiving Turkey. First, a short summary of the last couple weeks.

Erzurum has been awesome these last couple weeks. My students invited me to a sleepover and we went ice skating and go karting. Emily and I bought some couches at a second hand store, from guys who tried to tell us that purple velvet chairs were part of the set, and we needed to buy them. I went to a Turkish birthday party that consisted of Jenga and cake. I went to Trabzon last weekend a city full of life and delicious fruit and kofte on the Black Sea. Sumela Monastery (below) was built into the cliffs starting in the 400’s of what is now a National Park. Beautiful, beautiful frescos, surrounded by intensely green treed mountains and waterfalls. I’ve continued to meet really awesome Turks who have welcomed me into their lives.


Also, Georgia killed my camera. So sorry about that.

Anyway, Hank hindi.

On Tuesday, I was in my boss’s office with another teacher named Alper. We were talking about Thanksgiving and he was wondering what Americans eat.

I said, “Usually turkey, but I think we may just settle for chicken this year.”

Alper: “I can get you a turkey. I have a friend…with a farm…nearby.”

“Awesome.”

Thursday afternoon I come up the steps after lunch and Alper tells me: “I have your turkey. But it is still alive. We should go pick it up this afternoon. Let me go settle my students and then we’ll go.”

At this point, the other Americans happily peace out. And I wait in my office until it’s time. Alper and I drive about 10 minutes and pull off the side of the highway to a group of municipal buildings for cleaning equipment, or something. We wait in the gravel between them as Alper calls his friend, who calls his friend to meet us. I tell Alper, “In America, we would say, this is where a drug deal would go down.” The man comes out and greets us.

We walk over to a gate between a warehouse and a smaller building. The man opens the gate and ushers me through first. Inside there’s one turkey standing on a porch, about 5 chickens and 10 rabbits. Is this the farm? No, these are animals who haven’t been moved to the farm yet. I keep looking around, yep, only one turkey. The turkey and I make eye contact.

The man has a big stick and ushers the turkey into the warehouse. Alper asks me, “Have you never seen a live turkey before?”

“I have, but never one that’s about to die.”

Four minutes later the man comes back holding the turkey underneath the wings and with a knife and a rope in the other hand. The turkey is chill as can be. Alper takes the knife and rope. He cuts a piece of rope. And ties the turkey’s legs together.

The man hands the turkey to Alper and we walk to his car. Alper tells me that the turkey use to be bigger, but hasn’t been eating as much lately. Yep, my turkey is the only one on a diet. He opens the trunk and sets the turkey inside surrounded by books and papers. We get back in the car and Alper says, “Now I will find someone to clean the turkey.” Fabulous. Because as much as I want a turkey for Thanksgiving, I really would rather it not be alive.

He finds a friend and a friend’s mother who will help us. We chat about the similarities of Thanksgiving with the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice. “We sacrifice a sheep, you sacrifice a turkey.” And how much closer Turks are to their food. He tells me he’s never killed anything before, but today might be the day.

We pull up to a group of apartment buildings and see his friend standing in the door with a large knife. We chat with the mother on the second floor through the window as the turkey is retrieved from the trunk, by the wings, and taken between two apartment buildings to a little patch of grass.

Alper has the knife as they stretch out the turkey’s neck and hold down the body. At the last second, his friend says something. Later I find out he said, “Man, you look like you’re going to cut a salad. Give me the knife.”

They switch places and stretch the turkey’s neck out again and saw at it quickly. I’m standing about a meter away and the blood spurts in my direction. Close enough that I jump out of the way, and think, “at least my converse are red.” The turkey spurts blood with each heartbeat as it shivers and shakes for the next couple minutes into death.

When it stops moving, the guys hands are covered in blood. One of them picks it up by the feet and hands it to the teyze (friend’s mother/Turkish for “aunt”). She tells us to come back in a half hour to an hour and that it’ll be clean.

We drive back to school, then Alper goes to wash his hands and teach his class. The next break comes and we drive back out to retrieve the turkey.

We go upstairs to teyze’s apartment and sit in the living room as she wants 10 more minutes to clean the turkey. Alper has a private class to teach and calls to tell his students that he’s getting Americans a turkey because it’s very important for us to have a turkey for this holy-day.

We go into the kitchen and the turkey feet are sitting on the counter next to a bowl with the liver, heart and other internal organs, and a bigger bowl with feathers. The turkey is in the sink and she’s scrubbing at it and picking out little black stubs of feathers. The teyze tells Alper it isn’t ready yet, and he assures her I can take it from there. She says to leave it there for another couple hours and she’ll just cook it for us.

Alper asks me, “Do you know how to cook a turkey?”

“Yeah, I do.” He assured the teyze I know how to cook a turkey. She still wanted to cook it for me. After a couple minutes, he convinced her to give it up and she grabs a plastic grocery bag. They slid the turkey inside and the wings have to be readjusted to fit inside the bag. They loosely tied the top of the bag and we drove back to school. At that point, we named him Hank hindi. Hindi being the Turkish word for Turkey.

I walked home to put Hank in my fridge. Got Turkey juices everywhere. I pulled a bunch of little black feathers out. And then it was a process of finding out he was just the right size to put in my fridge and just the right size to put in the oven. To the point where he hit the top of my toaster oven, but would fit in with some shoving.

Saturday morning came, and I made the stuffing. The teyze, probably never dreamed I would stuff Hank, so she’d cut into his chest cavity quite a bit. I toothpicked him together, stuffed him and added some more toothpicks. Then covered him in foil and shoved him in the oven.

The next five hours were full of Fulbright scholars from all over Turkey, chopping crazy amounts of vegetables, making mashed potatoes, “Ayve surprise”, apple cider and other delicious things. We made some stir-fried vegetables, corn and every guest seemed to bring a delicious dessert to go with Emily’s pumpkin and apple pies.

We went from a room full of chopping Americans, in the middle of the day, to an apartment packed with 25 Turks and Americans eagerly awaiting a Thanksgiving feast. I checked Hank and waited. And checked, and waited. Finally he was done, and we were making uber amounts of gravy, and trying to figure out how to carve Hank.

Then we ate Hank.

And well, then there was a full table of desserts, but all that was left of Hank was a carcass that will make very good soup. Since this is a story about Hank, I’ll end it here.

He tells me that the turkey use to be bigger, but hasn’t been eating as much lately.

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Bayram in Georgia: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I’ve been slacking on this blog, but for some of that I’ll blame Georgia. But since it was a couple weeks ago, I’ll forsake normal narrative form and tell some vignettes.

THE GOOD

Adventure — Yeah, adventure follows me, but I’m always surprised by it. The first night I traveled by myself I stayed in Giorgi’s Homestay in Kutaisi for $10. It was this cool old mansion from 100 years ago, built around a stove brought in by boat from Ukraine. I hung out with the grandfather — who didn’t speak any English and thought I was hilarious — and daughter, spent time with an Indonesian woman and German guy also staying there and an English Teacher from New Jersey. (Side note: German guy’s favorite part of the US is Eastern Colorado and Kansas…because you can see so far and there are no tourists.) Anyway, trying to decide what to do the next day and New Jersey asks if I want to teach English to elementary school kids in a village. Heck yes! That’s what Georgian life is really like. The village, the family, cows staring at you after using the outhouse, toasts over dinner…

Georgian people — Are engaging, friendly, hospitable and very emotive. I cut onions for Grandma at the house I stayed at in the village and we were fast friends. I stopped to smell flowers at a flower market in Kutaisi and take this picture…she gave me flowers. I struggled with 10 words of Georgian, a babushka on a marshrutka (bus) would adopt me for a couple hours or someone younger would chat with me and tell me everything I needed to know about buses or sites. Georgians are also very loud and emphatic with each other. There were some serious raised voices multiple times during my trip.

Cheap Transportation — Cheap everything really. But a 7 hour train ride ran me $3. Four hour bus (marshrutka) ride? $4. I took a cab that took me from the middle of no where to a church, waited for me and back to Kutaisi. Roughly an hour. $4. And I think he thought he ripped me off. Georgians would get this little smirk when you asked them how much something was, and then quote a ridiculously low number.

Churches — For someone who hasn’t seen an operating church in two months, Georgia has churches everywhere. Beautiful cathedrals that thousands of people flock to on Sundays. Most Georgian Orthodox Churches are usually for about 1000 years ago. And they are everywhere. And usually in the most breath-taking of locations. Tibilisi is a sweet, European style city too.

Weddings — Crashed my first wedding at Gelati church (UNESCO site). It was very interesting to watch the ceremony. Everyone had candles. The maid of honor had a seriously short skirt. There were some awesome gold crowns for the bride and groom. And after being married, they walked around the church 3 times with the priest.

Breads — Sweet breads. Spiky breads.¬†You might be able to seriously hurt yourself or others with this stuff. It’s name started with a “Z” and had a bunch of consonants. There’s also Khachapuri Cheese bread, which might be the staple of the country.. Delicious. Cheap. Everywhere. Grandma showed me how to make it.

Sulfur Baths — A Georgian babushka with rub you down in sulfur baths in Tibilisi for a pretty fair price. Cool locale. My skin has never felt so soft.

THE BAD

Alcohol Consumption — Turning down tea in Turkey is the closest you get to something forbidden. Turkish tea is also served nearly every hour of the day. I love that about Turkey. However, turning down alcohol in Georgia is nearly as forbidden as turning down tea in Turkey. It’s there way of offering hospitality….any time of the day. We’re talking elementary school teachers drinking homemade wine at 10am. No time, place or age has alcohol restrictions in a Georgian village. In the house I stayed in, Grandma wanted to do shots of cha-cha (ubiquitous homemade vodka) at dinner…but also at brunch. I prefer my Turkish tea.

Georgia’s Political Situation — Russia’s a big bully. During commie years, there was some mass migrations involved to change the demographics especially of the provinces of South Ossetia (the Russian name for it) and Abkhazia. Those were the two provinces there was a war between Russia and Georgia for in 2008. Abkhazia has it’s own language that’s dying in favor of Russian. Giorgi filled me, because as much as I learned during Extemp days, it’s really complicated. Anyway in this sunset picture you can see South Ossetia from Gori, Stalin’s hometown.

Stalin — I went to his hometown, saw the first house he lived in, and a museum with atrocious poetry from him high school days. Some old people still like Stalin for winning World War II, but none of the middle-aged/young seemed to be fans…except American expats…

THE UGLY

Georgian bathrooms — The less you know the better

Unseen Costs — Upon returning from Georgia, having spent very little cash, I learned that the costs for me were not numerical. I came back feeling sick…and with bed bugs. So the two weeks following were mainly a matter of keeping my head above water teaching and killing bugs inside and outside me. I got me a Turkish exterminator though…and saran wrapped my bed. I’m hard core. So consider yourselves caught up on my life up through the middle of last week.