Sending Thanksgiving to the Himalayans

Euphoric recall is a funny thing when it comes to America's holidays, especially with Thanksgiving. Recreating the mythical imagery of the celebration - indigenous people eating turkey with grateful immigrants from Europe - hides its gritty reality.

According to Plimoth Plantation (a living museum and Smithsonian Institute affiliate near Plymouth, Ma.) scholars analyzing the journal entries of the Plymouth Colony members found they were starving in July 1623. A severe drought had struck their corn and bean crops, and supply ships from England were stuck in an unnerving three-month delay.

Facing a cold, hungry death, colony leaders called for a long day of prayer, and the following morning a mellow rain began falling. It lasted for 14 days, reviving the separatists' withered crops and their hopes for winter survival. Feeling their prayers were answered, a public day of thanks was organized, but there was no feast, excepting a good lobster tail or two and some fresh water.

What I like about this historical account is the base moral that has survived the fantastical feast fabrications we have built around the facts: Physically expressing an attitude of gratitude when receiving an unexpected break, especially a life saving one, makes surviving this too-often rough life a whole lot nicer.

Thanksgiving in America is a fine expression of this attitude of gratitude, but the yearly ritual of relatives, roast turkey, and relaxation has sapped the celebration of its gut-wrenching, life-changing urgency.

But this year it can be different. This year we all have the opportunity to become the prayed-for rain falling on the devastated fields of desperate people.

This energizing realization hit me after hearing a recent call on "Mind Over Matters" (KEXP 90.3 FM's weekend morning news program) for winter gear donations to help the victims of last month's magnitude 7.6 earthquake in the Kashmiri region of Pakistan and India.

According to a report issued last week by Pakistani government officials, the quake's death toll now stands at 87,000 with nearly 3 million homeless people facing a harsh Himalayan winter. On Nov. 9, United Nations relief workers told Democracy Now! reporters that millions of survivors in Kashmir face "freezing to death if they don't get assistance in weeks."

My wife and I are serious backpacking enthusiasts, and over the years we've amassed quite a collection of equipment. A quick look through our gear closet yielded a solid four-season tent we recently replaced with an upgrade along with several insulated sleeping bag liners and some fleece jackets I knew we wouldn't miss.

I bundled up the goods and headed over to The Islamic School of Seattle across the street from Garfield High School in the Central District. The school is responsible for launching the local cold-weather equipment collection effort soon after the quake struck in conjunction with Hidaya, a non-profit relief organization based near San Jose, Ca.

Since 1999, Hidaya has organized social welfare, educational, and charitable projects to the poor of South Asia, India, West Africa, Bangladesh, America, and other parts of the world regardless of race, color, religious affiliation, sex, age, sexual orientation, language, or country of origin. They are perfectly positioned to deliver donated winter shelter, bedding, and clothing along with needed medical supplies to the remote mountain areas hit by the quake.

Here in the outdoors-loving Pacific Northwest, I know my wife and I are not the only ones with a little too much gear gathering dust in our closets that could be protecting families shaken from their homes and left facing a cold, hungry death.

Drop by the Islamic School of Seattle soon with your cold weather equipment. The school has already shipped three semi-container loads of gear to Hidaya. Call them at 329-5735 for more information, or stop by with your donation at 720 25th Ave. South off Cherry Street.

If you don't have any gear, you can still help in a very direct manner. In their race to relieve the Himalayans before winter settles in, Hidaya is currently soliciting $100 donations to buy - directly from the Chinese factories where they are made - either winterized six-eight person tents, or blankets for 10 people. Mail your donation to: Hidaya Foundation, P.O. Box 5481, Santa Clara, Ca., 95056-5481. For more information on Hidaya's quake relief efforts, visit their website at or give them a toll-free call at 866-244-3292.

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