Fireworks, hot dogs, red white and blue everything: these are the Fourth of July traditions that I think make our good old fashioned American Independence Day so special. This year, I was confronted with the prospect of missing these standbys on account of not actually being in America. I had failed to consider this fact before arriving here in Thohoyandou, South Africa, and my packing definitely reflected it. Instead of red white and blue everything I quickly settled for some red, I’m white, and denim counts as blue, right? I had no clue where to buy fireworks and was met with expressions spanning blank, amused, and annoyed on the faces of the grocery store employees I pestered about hot dogs, so it did not take long to realize that this Fourth of July would be an adventure in improvisation.
Though I had forgotten about America’s favorite holiday, I was extremely lucky in that the lodge where I and many other American students stayed was kinder and more aware than we deserved. The lodge threw a traditional South African braai, similar to a barbecue, in ours and America’s honor including tons of amazing South African food (sorry to betray you, hot dogs), great music, and the company of friends of both nationalities. I was touched by their generosity and surprised by how natural new traditions felt on a holiday so often defined by them. Ultimately the spirit of the Fourth of July – patriotism, pride, and camaraderie – became more evident and more universal when stripped of all the bells and whistles. Our multinational event got to be less US-obsessed and more celebratory of all cultures and countries. Bottom line: when I’m planning my Fourth of July activities next year, hot dogs might not necessarily make it on the menu and traditional South African pap could be making an appearance.