I never wanted to live in Afghanistan. The fact that I worked and resided there for seven years still causes me to shake my head in wonder.
God revealed a call, a plan that sent me to this war-ravaged country as the founding principal of the International School of Kabul (ISK), the American K-12 school, in the summer of 2005. Parts of the adventure were thrilling, others painful, and all were used to grow my faith and admiration of a global, yet personal God.
American Christians in a Muslim Culture
The ISK team consisted mainly of Christians from various church experiences, personal backgrounds, and geographic areas of the U.S. A few staff members came from other English-speaking countries like the UK, Uganda, and Canada.
When Western or Christian holidays rolled around, we had to create our own good times. The surrounding Muslim environment gave no recognition of Easter, Christmas, or Thanksgiving. Significant Islamic dates and festivals dominated our school calendar and atmosphere. Ramadan (30 Day Fast) was especially challenging with cranky, hungry, tired people all around, but the Eid celebrations were happy, social times with colorful outfits parading down streets when families visited neighbors and friends. ISK teachers and administrators received invitations to partake in these parties and gladly accepted the chance to enjoy Afghan hospitality.
Hunting for Turkeys
Afghan weekends included Thursdays and Fridays (Islamic holy day). This schedule conveniently gave us Thanksgiving off without extra planning. But, if we wanted any semblance of Norman Rockwell’s famous family turkey gathering, we had to make it happen ourselves.
ISK operated on a closed compound with most staff living on campus for security reasons. We hired a chef to prepare lunch and supper six days a week for health and convenience of the team. Our loyal cook enjoyed helping us acquire the needed ingredients for our Thanksgiving feast feeding 40+ people. Beginning in early November, he would begin the hunt for turkeys, feil murgh (Dari), which literally translates to elephant chicken.
Some years we were able to find whole, frozen turkeys from international logistics companies and pay only $6.00/lb! One year we asked pilot friends to bring turkeys back on their next flight to Kabul. Another time a family of six from our team each carried a frozen turkey in their backpack from Dubai.
Pumpkins, potatoes, and other vegetables were easy to locate and all staff members made a dish to contribute. Some contacted family members back home for a favorite recipe that brought back sweet memories of other Thanksgivings. As a seasoned homemaker, I was often called upon to mentor novice cooks how to prepare and roast a turkey, answering questions about high altitude cooking and Asian propane gas ovens.
Attitude of Gratitude
After the first year’s Thanksgiving fete, we invited our Afghan workers to join us. Over the meal we shared traditions and explained the history of the national holiday to our non-American guests. Flag football, board games, and more feasting filled the afternoon. That evening we watched White Christmas and dreamed of the few weeks left until we flew home for December break.
For two years at ISK, Attitude of Gratitude was our school theme, showing up on vinyl banners around campus to remind students and staff to look for the good even in our restricted, sometimes dangerous surroundings. Leaving behind my comfortable, empowered American life and missing my three semi-launched young adult children challenged me to be thankful daily.
But for seven Thanksgivings, gathered in the basement of a staff dormitory at gaily decorated tables with dedicated, sacrificial, like-minded team members and good food, my heart overflowed with gratitude. I felt part of something significant for the Kingdom and privileged to be part of the story of ISK that would impact lives for years to come.
We bowed. We prayed. We wiped away tears of thanks to our Father for our American Christian heritage, our provision, our safety, and our educational mission in Afghanistan.