Scarves, turkey, and gratitude
This Thursday is the American holiday, Thanksgiving.
This is my 6th Thanksgiving living outside of the US, and as I’ve met people who aren’t familiar with this holiday, I’ve enjoyed telling people about the meaning around it.
When I think of the meaning of Thanksgiving, my first thought is of turkey (don’t judge me, I’m just being honest!). In addition to the main course for dinner, however, I also think of gratitude, thankfulness, family, friends, connection… and this year I think of scarves.
Yes, those decorative things in your closet you might never wear because you can’t figure out how to tie them. That was my experience for years after I got my first scarf.
It all began in 2005, on my first big international trip to Cambodia.
In Cambodia, a scarf is common for everyday outfits, but it’s not about fashion. The krama, as these scarves are known locally, are very practical for protecting your head from sunburn, covering your nose and mouth while riding in the back of a pickup truck down a dusty dirt road, or shading your eyes from the bright sun while laying bricks.
(During our time in Cambodia, we expanded the krama’s usage to include: around the waist like a belt, and draped around the neck because it matched your shirt. For some reason, I don’t think the Cambodians adopted our new scarf methodology.)
At the markets, kramas were everywhere, folded in tall stacks. Every color you could imagine was available. I left the country with a full rainbow’s worth!
But the scarf that really and truly started this story was a scarf made of fine Cambodian silk. It’s black and burgundy with gold threads conservatively woven throughout the pattern. The nicest scarf I’d ever owned. I wasn’t sure what I’d wear it with, but I knew I had to have it.
For years, this gorgeous scarf hung in my closet. It followed me around when I moved, sometimes quietly folded in a tote with sweaters and jeans, sometimes hung gently over a hanger with another scarf that never was worn either.
As I began traveling more, I noticed a growing collection of scarves in my closet. It was a nice souvenir to bring home from a new place, didn’t take up much room, and they were always so pretty!
But these scarves just hung in my closet because I never knew how to wear them. I’d see other people wearing beautiful scarves and think about how pretty they looked, but whenever I tried putting one on, it never looked right and back in the closet it would go.
And then, in 2012, a YouTube video entitled “25 ways to tie a scarf in under 5 minutes” changed my life! Suddenly the possibilities were real.
The first time I experimented with my newly acquired scarf-wearing knowledge, it was with the beautiful silk scarf from Cambodia. This special scarf made its grand entrance into the world beyond my closet for a dinner with some ladies from the embassy in Manila and the wife of an important visitor from Washington DC. It was my first time attending such an event and I was nervous. At the end of the evening, however, the wife from DC, said, “I love the way you tied your scarf! How did you learn to do that? I never know how to tie my scarves.”
Score! I was so excited! I went from scarf moron to scarf aficionado in one evening!
Fast forward to last week. I was working in Vienna, Austria, teaching a 5-day course. Without realizing it, I had a scarf for each outfit. Yes, 5 scarves for 5 days. Perhaps a little too much, but there’s no holding me back now!
On Friday, I was thinking about the scarves I wore and realized each one came from a different country. And four of them were gifts from friends.
Here’s how it went:
- Monday: white and black scarf from Saudi Arabia; a gift from my friend Evelyne, who is originally from France (but we met in Riyadh)
- Tuesday: my black and burgundy scarf from Cambodia (it had been a while since I’d worn it. I chose to tie it just like that night described above)
- Wednesday: Blue/white/yellow silk scarf from China; a gift from a colleague I worked with in Beijing in 2014
- Thursday: aqua-blue silk and felt scarf from Afghanistan; a gift from my friend Alex while she was deployed with the Navy
- Friday: orange scarf from Laos; a gift from my friend and colleague Shana, who I met in Manila
- Bonus: scarf for warmth with hand-written poem on it made for me by my sister-in-law, Elisabeth
As I reflect over my scarves, I am filled with gratitude for the people and connections in my life.
It’s humbling and exhilarating to see all the places and people I’m connected to through these scarves.
I’m guessing there are things around you too, that connect you to places, people, memories. I encourage you to take a moment to pause and express your thankfulness… for the people you are connected to, the places you’ve visited or lived, and the memories stored in your heart and mind.
Because in the end, Thanksgiving is a great habit, not only a holiday!
In thankfulness of the connections,
Kramas in the market
Cambodia woman wearing a krama