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Where the turkey is called chompipe and other Thanksgiving stories

Tales from Thanksgivings on four continents, not including North America.

An U.S. Air Force soldier passes an inflatable Thanksgiving turkey in the canteen of the Manas air base near Bishkek, Nov. 27, 2008. (Vladimir Pirogov/Reuters)

BOSTON — Many of us at GlobalPost have had adventurous Thanksgiving meals prepared, against the odds, while abroad. And sometimes we've given up on the adventurous preparations and just spent time with the ones we love, giving thanks. See below for tales of Thanksgiving in Spain, France, Nicaragua, Russia, Bangladesh, Italy, Zimbabwe, Germany, Jerusalem, Switzerland and Belgium.

Emily Lodish on turkey at 30,000 feet:

Turns out Swiss Air is lenient when it comes to traveling with frozen poultry.

I know this because in 2003 I called a nice woman over at Swiss Air to ask her that very question: “What would you do if, say, a traveler tried to board with some frozen turkey?” “Hold on,” she said, barely muffling the phone receiver as she inquired of her coworker into any existing policies regarding poultry. It was OK, she said, so long as the poultry — turkey in this case — was fully wrapped. “No problem,” I said.

It was all part of our plan to import Thanksgiving to one of my dearest friends, Elisa, who lives in Barcelona. Spain’s second largest city boasts many things — Gaudi architecture and a lively nightlife — but it does not brag easy access to a turkey. So, another friend, Mike, and I had planned to fly from New York with turkey in tow. We had stuffing planned, pumpkin pie on the mind and we’d been told cranberry sauce wouldn’t be hard to get around Gracia, where Elisa lived.

The plan was to package our bird in a cooler with an ice pack or two, which, based on preliminary calculations, would keep her frozen to frozen-ish for the duration of our transcontinental flight. The idea was to arrive in Barcelona just as the turkey completed defrosting, which was, conveniently, going to be Thanksgiving morning. We’d pop her right in the oven — after removing the giblets, of course, and shoving some rosemary up her keister.

Everything seemed to be going smoothly until we got to the Barcelona baggage claim with nary a bag in sight. “Your bags are in Zurich,” we were told. “What about our turkey?” we asked. “Was your turkey in your bag?” “Yes.” “Then, your turkey is in Zurich.”

Our turkey was in Zurich, where we met our connecting flight, and there wasn’t a lot to be done about it. Mike and I were distraught at the prospect of coming up short for Thanksgiving dinner, displeased at the prospect of handling rancid poultry and just plain bummed out that our delicate ballet of turkey-related fun had been so badly bungled. “How come she gets to see the Alps?” Mike wanted to know.

We dragged our sorry selves to Elisa’s pad to think what to do. We checked in periodically with the airport, to see if our bags had arrived, explaining each time how time was of the essence where the turkey was concerned. It was, maybe the fourth time we called, when the answer was: “The turkey has landed.”

Indeed, it seems that Mike and I had underestimated how chilly the belly of the plane gets, and as a result had a still half-frozen bird on our hands.

And give thanks we did for our tasty, well-traveled bird.

Mort Rosenblum in Paris:

Back in 1979 — when all that France knew of Le Sanksgeeveeng was a chestnut Art Buchwald column about “Merci Donnant,” featuring Captain Kilometres Deboutish — a friend and I decided to cook a major turkey.

We dispatched guests on a scavenger hunt days before. Pumpkins were easy; cranberries tough; marshmallows as scarce as white truffles. Everything ready, we looked again at our apartment oven. It could have handled a partridge in a pear tree. Our turkey was out of the question.

A neighbor across the hall had the solution, obvious to anyone French: Go see the baker downstairs. Having just moved in, we didn’t know him. That didn’t matter. At 4 a.m., Monsieur Martin happily popped our 10-pound bird into his 10-ton oven.

For that, and so many other reasons linked to crispy crusts and pain au chocolat, my Thanksgiving list still includes French bakers.

John Otis in Managua, 1991:

The Sandinistas had been voted out the year before yet Nicaragua was still recovering from the Contra war and the economy had yet to fully open up to the outside world. They still had what they called "the diplomatic store" — a leftover from the country's alliance with the USSR that was the only place to buy semi-fancy foods. Still, getting cans of Libby's pumpkin pie mix was out of the question. We did, however manage to track down a turkey — in Nicaragua, it's called chompipe — which a street vendor sold us at an intersection.

Thanks to poverty, shortages and perhaps lack of imagination, Nica food can be pretty basic. The national dish is gallo pinto, which is a bland mix of beans and rice. In fact, I developed a lifelong addiction to chile peppers and hot sauce while living in Managua just to make the food a litte more interesting. For their part, Nicaraugans often fancy up the main course by stewing the meat, fish or fowl in a sauce of tomatoes and onions. Or, in a pinch, ketchup. And they often serve spaghetti with ketchup. And these customs would come back to haunt us on Thanksgiving.

I was invited to the house of the Miami Herald correspondent. Those were the fat old days for newspapers and he had a nice bungalow as well as a driver and a housekeeper. But he made the mistake of putting the cooking in the hands of the hired help and before we knew it, the housekeeper was basting the turkey in a gooey mess of ketchup and chopped onions. As I recall, we were able to save the chompipe from its unfortunate marinade. But in subsequent years, we did the cooking ourselves.

Miriam Elder in Moscow:

Growing up in a family of Russian immigrants, Thanksgiving was always a big deal. But it was a strange deal. The table would be littered with standard Russian fare: Salad Olivier (calling it a “salad” is a stretch, composed as it is of potatoes, peas, bologna and mayonnaise), herring, horseradish and pirozhki (dough stuffed with meat). The nod to the country we were living in and celebrating came in the form of slices of turkey lunchmeat.

The first real turkey I ever had came soon after I moved to Russia to report, in mid-2006. I was working at The Moscow Times then, the legendary local English-language paper that has launched the career of so many reporters around the world, and whose alumnae continuously fill the newsrooms of foreign wires and newspapers here. We all remain a pretty close-knit community.

I was new to the paper then, and one of the reporters invited me to his home for a Thanksgiving meal. I felt young and shy then, and remember walking into a Soviet-era apartment whose long table was laden with mashed potatoes and cornbread, cranberry sauce and stuffing. And then out it came: a massive turkey, missing a leg.

“It took us hours to find it,” my colleague said. “We searched all over the city.” But it was missing a leg? “We think it came from Chernobyl.”

It didn’t matter much, though, as we sat for hours, surrounded by the peeling wallpaper that Soviets loved so much, a dusty record player humming in the background and intermittent smoke breaks to the balcony that overlooked the great expanse of Moscow beyond. It was all very “an American in Moscow.” This year I’ll be heading back to New York for Thanksgiving, and back to being a Russian in America. Turkey slices await.

William Dowell in Geneva on Bangladesh, 2007:

Some American families based here in Geneva will be celebrating Thanksgiving this year with a special sense of just how lucky they are. Geneva is one of the wealthiest cities in the world for its size, but it is also one of the world’s leading centers for United Nations humanitarian operations.

Two years ago, on a different career path, I was working for Care International’s Emergency Group. On Nov. 15, 2007, a tropical cyclone labeled 06B, and otherwise known as Super Cyclonic Storm Sidr, struck the coast line of Bangladesh. The sea surge from the storm sent a wall of water 15 feet high surging across the flat coastal plains. The official death toll was 3,447 killed. Unofficial estimates ran as high as 10,000.

On Thanksgiving Day I was bouncing in the back of a jeep down a dirt road along Bangladesh’s coastline while Care’s emergency team tried to figure out how to move tons of food and drinking water into the stricken villages. Along much of the sea front, the only indication that a village had existed was a bit of cloth tied to the top of a tree to mark the spot. The shocked survivors lined the roads grabbing at packets of food and supplies tossed to them from the backs of trucks.

At least 600,000 people had been uprooted by the storm, and the water that they depended on for drinking had been rendered undrinkable by refuse kicked up by the storm and by the corpses of drowned animals. Bangladesh is a victim of climate change, overpopulation and extreme poverty.

We will all be gathering with our friends this Thanksgiving. We’ll taste the inevitable turkey dinner and drink some wine. But in the back of our minds will be the plight of those less fortunate than we are. Next Monday, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will be launching its annual consolidated appeal to provide funding for humanitarian emergencies around the world. The amount is less than 1 percent of the money spent to bail out private financial institutions during the recent crisis. The question, while we give thanks, is whether we think can still afford to help others less lucky than we are.