Thanksgiving In Iraq

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

I have commented on several occasions and through different media platforms that as strange as it may sound, some of the best holidays of my life were spent in a combat zone, and Thanksgiving is one of them. I have been reflecting recently on the fact that it was during the Thanksgiving season of 2003 that the process of preparation to go to Iraq began, and I finally got there in June of 2004. To say that twenty years have zipped by and that they flew like the wind is a colossal understatement. But, you might ask, how in the world could a holiday spent in the vicinity of literally having neighbors who would just as soon separate me from my head and then store my head in a refrigerator or bake me in an oven, be considered some of the best of my life?

It was precisely because the possibility of death was ever present, and that possibility causes one to get really focused on living. Or perhaps a better way to put it is that when day after day you know it could be your last day, you have to make a choice between becoming better or bitter. I chose better, not because I am so noble, but one of the great gifts of my near three years in Iraq was being introduced to the work of Dr. Caroline Leaf, a now famous cognitive neuroscientist, whose work has greatly impacted my life.

But back to Thanksgiving itself, specifically Thanksgiving in Iraq. In theatre, the D-FACs or dining facilities were run by workers mostly from India, and when I say they went all out for Thanksgiving, I mean they went all out. Even though this specific holiday was not indigenous to their nation, they made sure to wish us “Happy Thanksgiving” as they dished up a meal that rivaled that of anybody’s grandma. Such abundance in the midst of such danger was heady stuff.

But, irrespective of the fine components of the literal feast, nothing could top having a day to give thanks, and to do so with boldness. We sang our thanks in church; in my case church was held in what had once been Saddam Hussein’s fishing lodge. We greeted each other, whether we knew each other or not, and no one was there to try and take the day away from us through some goofball revisionist reason for sullying the sacrifice of those who nearly died just to have a chance to worship, and the honor of the native people who helped them.

I am a descendent of people who came here on the Mayflower, and I will never forget what it felt like to walk to the D-FAC with a young man who was Navaho and to sit at the same table, fellowship and feast. I get it that the Navaho tribe was nowhere near the location of my forbears, but we thoroughly enjoyed the moment, and the invisible gifts of that day that still warm my heart nearly 20 years later. No price can be put on liberty, and as you enjoy this year’s feast, I hope you can take a moment to remember what it cost for you to have what you have, and more importantly, to have the opportunity to be what you were made to be. Happy Thanksgiving.