The taper candles burned low, dripping tiny wax circles onto our gold tablecloth. The turkey carcass sat in the pan picked clean, the few remaining rolls were bagged up for the next day’s lunch, and crumbly remnants of pumpkin pie waited to be cleared.
During the lull, the kids sprawled on the living room floor playing a card game; our neighbors chatted with my mom and husband; Dad was leaning back in his dining room chair, listening to my niece describe her college classes; and I was thinking about asking my husband to make another pot of decaf.
The doorbell rang.
My husband and I looked at each other.
“Is it Jonathan?” I asked.
A friend of my in-laws introduced Jonathan to us when she heard he would be moving from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the United States to study at a university near our home. After exchanging several emails, we arranged to meet him at the airport and invited him to stay with us until he settled into his room on campus. On weekends, he’d sometimes join us for family outings and church.
We invited him for Thanksgiving, but he’d already made plans with friends from school. He agreed to drop in later if possible, however, so when the doorbell rang, my husband and I excused ourselves from the table to fling open the front door.
“It’s so good to see you!” Jonathan exclaimed, giving us a big hug. “Let me introduce you to my friends!”
Everyone poured in, and we worked to keep names connected with nations. Jonathan and his friends—all international law students—hailed from five different African countries: DRC, Nigeria, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Kenya.
We invited them to take off their coats, sit down and have some all-American pie with us, but they declined, insisting they could only stay a minute.
Before long, however, I heard my kids laughing with delight as the young man from Swaziland pounded out a lively jazz tune on our console piano. Everyone else stood around the kitchen hearing about the students’ homelands, hopes and ambitions: Jonathan leaned against the doorway chatting in French with our niece; my dad and our neighbor stood by the fridge interacting with the tall, lean, soft-spoken man from Nigeria; over by the stove, my mom spoke with the young women from Tanzania.
I turned to the Kenyan and asked about her studies. She said her focus was international human rights. Curious, I asked more questions.
A Maasai by birth, she said her father sent her to another part of the country so she could be spared some of their customs. She stayed there until she graduated from school, and now she was in the U.S. beginning post-graduate work. When she returns to Kenya, she plans to speak on national radio stations and at government meetings, to anyone and everyone, in hopes of convincing people to protect the rights of girls and women.
“You’re going to change the world,” I blurted out. She grinned a little and said she was going to do what she could.
Suddenly the others broke from their conversational clusters and announced they were leaving. She stopped her story to join them.
I wanted to call out, “Wait! Don’t go yet—I want to learn more!” but they were excusing themselves and working their way toward the door. Next thing you know, we waved goodbye and they were gone. I glanced at my watch. They’d lingered forty-five minutes…just long enough to rouse us from our post-feast stupor. We stood around for a moment, searching for a transition from Africa to America.
While wandering back to the table, we swapped tidbits from our respective discussions. Someone admitted to being unsure where Tanzania and Swaziland were located, so everyone chipped in ideas. Eventually I sent my son to fetch an atlas. We leaned in to locate all the countries, comparing size and proximity to the equator.
After we satisfied our geographical curiosity, I closed the atlas and set it aside. The kids returned to their card game, and my husband stepped into the kitchen to grind beans for more coffee. I looked around for what to do next and reached for the dessert plates that needed to be cleared, still thinking of the Maasai girl, imagining her voice over the airwaves, unwavering.
* * *
Wherever you are in the world, I’m so thankful you stopped by. Because it’s the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, I’m suspending my usual schedule to enjoy family and friends for the next few days. Thanks for understanding. I’ll be back on Monday.