I always start off by saying the week was quiet, and realizing that it was anything but. When I look back on this past week, I can truly and immediately say that it was not quiet. We didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving when the States did, in part because our Australian director didn’t know when it was, and in part because it ultimately fell during one of the data collection weeks. Instead, we celebrated on November 29th, and, in the spirit of a true Thanksgiving, we invited a lot of the community members. Our estimated head count was 69 heading into Thursday, and as a result, we knew that we needed an incredible amount of food.
For me, food preparation began while the majority of students and staff were in Cairns for the weekend. One of my students was sick and I had no desire to go to Cairns, so she and I stayed at the Centre. I began by baking bread for my stuffing; while I love baking bread, I always forget how unbelievably time-consuming that process is. Nevertheless, the bread turned out beautifully, and made a fantastic contribution to my stuffing.
Monday found the students working on their data analysis, and found many of the staff running through the kitchen trying to make sure that the proper ingredients had been obtained and were ready to use. I started out by pureeing a pumpkin for pumpkin chocolate chip muffins (a Thanksgiving tradition in my house) and by making a vegan apple cake. We have a lot of food allergies and intolerances among our students, and the apple cake is a pretty reliable hit that everyone can eat. By the time I made it through pureeing the pumpkin and making the apple cake, I was completely exhausted of the kitchen, so I put off my second baking project until the next day.
Tuesday came around with more of the same; beautiful weather, data analysis, and lots of baking. By the time the evening rolled around, there were so many people in the kitchen that I took all of the baking supplies up to the dongas to make pumpkin chocolate chip muffins. As soon as I got there, however, I realized that our oven didn’t work; so I mixed the batter and prepared to trek back down in the morning to bake it. Fortunately, it turns out that this batter stays quite well in the refrigerator over night. On Wednesday morning, I carefully walked down the (relatively treacherous) path to the kitchen, and spent the next four hours baking muffins (when you tell me 69 people are coming, I suppose I go into a bit of overdrive).
Thursday dawned beautifully; we truly couldn’t have asked for nicer weather. It was warm, but not exceptionally humid, and there were enough clouds to keep it from getting hot, but it never rained. Our students continued to work very diligently to put the Thanksgiving meal together. Four turkeys went into the oven early in the morning (I learned how to baste when I was put in charge while they were in class!). Other dishes went in throughout the day. I made my vegetarian stuffing later in the afternoon (in between a capella rehearsals). Finally, it was time for our guests to start arriving.
Whether 69 people were actually present or not, I’m not sure. However, there was an incredibly turnout from our community members, particularly those that have supported us throughout the semester. It was great fun to sit down with them and eat a nice meal. The meal was actually fantastic; among our twenty-six students is an incredible array of cooks and bakers, and there was nothing that I ate that wasn’t fantastic. I also learned about traditions in our students’ families, not the least of which is weighing one’s self before and after eating (this I did not do). In between dinner and dessert, the small a capella group (including myself, Ashley, and Mookie) sung two songs; it’s been very nice to be part of a choral group here, and it was so fun to perform!
After dinner came an immense number of dishes, a lot of my male students whining about eating too much (it was unbelievable, the amount of food they ate), and a bit of swing dancing. It was a most incredible and wonderful evening, and while it was my first Thanksgiving away from family, I never once felt homesick; just surrounded by wonderful people.
The week ended with a trip to the Tolga Bat Hospital on Sunday. There are a number of species of bats in Queensland, but the most notable is the spectacled flying fox, which lives in large numbers around here. They are megachiroptera (Old World bats), which are fruit-eaters and do not use echolocation. As a result, I have to say that they are much cuter than microchiroptera, which have ridged faces to perceive sound waves better. Spectacled flying foxes are prone to the paralysis tick; the bat hospital takes in bats that are suffering from the ticks, and also take in baby bats (where the mother has died as a result of tick paralysis poisoning). They raise or rehabilitate the bats, and then they release them. The bats are unbelievably cute and funny, and it was a lot of fun to get to spend time with them.
We are now into the final full week with our students; they leave next Wednesday, which is hard to imagine. I will be (officially) leaving in fifteen days, which simultaneously feels so short, and also like an eternity. I am very anxious to get home!