Ditching the Turkey: Thanksgiving Memories (and Misadventures) of Reporters Abroad

Ditching the Turkey: Thanksgiving Memories (and Misadventures) of Reporters Abroad

, outgoing Baghdad bureau chief

As a foreign correspondent, I have spent every Thanksgiving for the last 20 years overseas, mostly in war zones where finding a turkey is pretty much impossible. Still, I don’t give up easily, and when no turkeys were readily available in Baghdad about 15 years ago, I decided to look in Jordan, the country we all stopped in for a day or two on our way into Iraq.

Since I was flying into Baghdad on a rotation in early November, I purchased a frozen 16-18 pounder at a Jordan supermarket right before boarding my flight, putting the bird into a plastic bag and then shoving it into the rucksack I always traveled with.

I settled myself in my seat and an Iraqi businessman sat down next to me. He spoke a little English and we exchanged cards. The plane pulled back from the gate, taxied to the runway and stopped. There was dust in Baghdad; we would have to wait until it settled. The plane began to get warm. Jordan can be in the 80s in November. Baghdad is even warmer.

After about an hour of sitting on the runway, the businessman turned to me and said, “Do you feel something wet?”

I looked around. “No,” I said.

“I think something just dripped on me,” he said, reaching up until he touched the overhead compartment.

I realized the turkey was defrosting. I looked up and saw a droplet forming just at the edge of the plastic where the lid of the overhead compartment clicked closed. I lunged up and brushed the drip away. The man was now staring at me a little nervously.

“Well, it’s not coming from up there. It’s dry,” I announced a little firmly. The plane was crowded, and there was nowhere he could move. If he had checked overhead, he might have realized it was defrosting meat — and not even halal.

I sat back down nervously watching for the next drop to form, preparing to lunge again. I did that one more time and then miraculously the plane took off.

As we spiraled down into Baghdad several more drops fell on my traveling companion, one landing on his temple, the other on his suit (I don’t think he felt the second one).

Finally, he got up to leave, waiting politely so I could go first. I shook my head firmly, pretending I needed to pack up my notebooks, opening and closing them busily, but really I didn’t want him to see me pull the sodden rucksack dripping with a defrosting turkey out of the overhead bin.

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