Sunday, December 25, 2011

Jordan Challenge 22: Host a Fulbrighter Wigilia in Amman

So, I think it would be a fair criticism if someone were to point out that some of the things that I have billed on this blog as "challenges" -- like going to a hamman or becoming a Rainbow Streeter -- are awfully luxurious as challenges go.  But I do have to say that Challenge 22 really did take some doing in order to happen.  For starters, there were some elements that seemed intent on stopping it, from my oven, which made a spectacular suicide attempt the day before it was to be put to major use, to the Jordanian postal service, somewhere in the bowels of which are residing communion wafers sent by my sister Katrinka from Tacoma for the Wigilia first course.  Then there was the ever-expanding guest list for what is normally a seven course sit-down dinner. And finally, there was the Ingredient Substitution Challenge as I learned how to make some things from scratch (like the borscht, which we usually bought already prepared) and figured out what could fill in for something else (No dried Polish mushrooms? Try Chinese.  Aren't communion wafers supposed to resemble unleavened bread?  We surely are surrounded by that here. Can't find pickled herring anywhere in the city?  Sift through the tins of canned fish at the grocery store till you find herring in tomato sauce.)
Making the transition from the sixth course (pierogi) to the seventh (dessert).  By this time we were all well and truly carbo-loaded.

In the end, though, things came together remarkably well, mainly because of the people who attended, many of whom contributed a lot of time and talent to the meal. In fact, one of my favorite memories of Wigilia 2011 will be from the day before when eight volunteers came over to learn the fine art of pierogi and ushzka making.  With amazing good cheer, they stuck it out for hours in order to make the mounds of dumplings that I thought we'd need for the meal.

Tim, Cooper and Jayme all peeled and chopped beets, carrots and potatoes in total accordance with my exacting "matchstick" instructions.

Elizabeth figured out the master list of who was coming while Donna whipped up the first batch of pierogi dough.

The kitchen crew (minus Jayme and Jen): Cooper, Mike, Donna, Angela, Elizabeth, me and Tim.
Things were supposed to start around seven, but wound up commencing closer to eight when Donna, our youngest Fulbrighter, went outside and found a star in the sky so we could begin, after Angela said a prayer for us all.  There were some changes this year to accommodate both the large number of people and the fact that we had some non-Fulbrighters who were meeting the crew for the first time.  So at the beginning of the night everyone was given a paper with their name on one side and a task on the other.  Some were asked to make one of the seven toasts of the evening, while others were tasked with sharing Christmas memories and traditions to the whole group and still others were given the weighty burden, at the beginning of our good luck herring-and-pickles course, of making wishes on behalf of the whole group for the coming year.  Everyone performed admirably well, and I will be indebted to the end of my days to the kitchen crew who had everything so spotless by the end of the evening that when I walked into my kitchen this morning, the only signs of the party were contained in packed refrigerator which clearly demonstrated that I have a long ways to go as a caterer making estimates -- I'll be eating pierogis and borscht for a good long time!

Right after the first course vodka toast, Sam (in the green shirt) led things off recalling the Flintstones movie that was a classic holiday staple at his house.

Mike dedicated his toast to our family and friends back home who have spent so much time and treasure supporting us so that we could be halfway around the world from them.
Among the family visiting from the US were Grace's parents and Aunt Rachel and Tess's daughter Gwyneth.  Here are Grace's dad and mom, Paul and Martha, next to Tess.

Jen and Brad did a fine job on pierogi frying detail (and the stove even cooperated).

The day before, Cooper had made a monster pierogi with the last batch of dough.  On Wigilia his roommates ceremoniously presented it to him to consume in front of the rest of us.

So, while it was clearly different than any Wigilia celebration I'd ever celebrated, either with my family or the Szubert family who began celebrating their tradition with us more than thirty years ago, this one will be highly memorable.  2011 will be the year that most of the Fulbright delegation to the country of Jordan came together, along with a few friends and visiting family members, to share a longtime tradition of one of us that was wholly new to the rest of us.  At the end of the evening, a few people told me they hoped to celebrate future Wigilias, or incorporate elements of the celebration into their own holiday traditions. In a way, that is symbolic of our whole experience here in Jordan.  We're here to share the customs, special experiences and skills of our hosts, and to decide for ourselves which parts we hope to include in our own lives, thoughts and traditions. One of the many wishes that was made during the Wigilia was that we could all remind ourselves to be present where we are, and to fully live and experience the opportunity we have in front of ourselves for the remainder of our Fulbright year. It's not a bad reminder for any time or place, actually, and I hope all of us, wherever we are, can make and keep that resolution in the coming year.  (And if anyone wants a pierogi, please let me know -- I've got a bunch!)
Jordan Wigilia 2011 (top: Sarah M., Cooper, Anna, Sam R. Tess, me, Jen, Brad; middle: Sarah I., Almas, Tim, Elizabeth, Grace, Jayme, Sam; bottom: Mike, Donna, Angela, Luke (not pictured: Maria, Paul, Martha, Rachel and Gwyneth)

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic! It looks like a Wigilia for the books--even with the stove's multiple suicide attempts. Sorry not to be there for this one, since it sounds like it was quite the Christmas Eve celebration in Jordan.