Various kinds of heat-madness manifest themselves this time of year. Friends from home are dithering on about blue-bells, violets, snow-drops, daffodils and how far up the tulips are. No, we do not want to hear about your lily-of-the-valley, crab apple blossoms, iris or azaleas. And, Darling, I can tell you where to put your hyacinths.
It’s hot here and will get hotter. We can only dream of mimosas and crocuses, not to mention good pastrami, proper fish and chips, real bacon and don’t get me started on desserts.
A friend called in despair – she was standing in a grocery store and there was not one item she wanted to buy: “I’m hungry with money to spend, surrounded by food but nothing looks good.”
“There, there, you’ve hit the wall. Happens to all of us. The only cure is leaving the country or eating childhood food: grilled cheese sandwich and apple slices, boiled eggs and toast soldiers, bubble and squeak, pancakes, anything from a can from tomato soup to baked beans.”
My related piece of advice is to make sure to consume only non-Middle Eastern foods when you return home. Of course this does not always work out, but one must be ever vigilant.
One friend had a passive aggressive mother who invited whole family over for a special welcome-home dinner for her daughter who had been in the Middle East for 18 months and had it catered with… Middle Eastern food. Anyone who has lived expat for a long time is currently in awe of the malevolentness of this act, but luckily this story has a happy ending as the femme in question, quite au fait with her mother’s shenanigans, had enlisted a trusted cousin to bring fish and chips in her purse.
Another expat friend who was invited to a party in which the host thought it would be fun to make her “feel at home” had 6 kinds of hummus, tabouli and grilled chicken and lamb skewers. She, intrepid and well-taught by moi, ordered delivery with the specific instruction to not ring the doorbell and leave the sushi hidden in the front hedge. When she got the ping that it had arrived, she causally sauntered around the front of the house, stuffed the bag in her commodious pockets, hied off to the guest bedroom and stuffed her face. This, Darling, is how to behave. Don’t complain and always have clothes with pockets.
Another outcome is that expats learn to lean on the universe. When you are in a home-space, you have what you need and know how to navigate. As an expat, you are always off-kilter, always slightly lost and you either learn to lean in, to ask for help, or you become a troll. One might try to never have to be at the mercy of strangers, but it happens.
Now, it may seem ridiculous to quote MLK in an essay about food cravings, but it is so helpful to have his immortal words in front of us at all times:
In the final analysis, love is not this sentimental something that we talk about. It’s not merely an emotional something. Love is creative, understanding goodwill for all men. It is the refusal to defeat any individual. When you rise to the level of love, of its great beauty and power, you seek only to defeat evil systems. Individuals who happen to be caught up in that system, you love, but you seek to defeat the system.
Or as Mr. Rodgers says, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
A friend was in the States and invited to a picnic, too late she realized that all the other guests were quite serious about healthy eating and so after months of dreaming of grilled hamburgers and creamy potato salad, she was handed a plate of broccoli and tofu salad. With kombucha to drink and fresh fruit for dessert. She went for a short walk to hide her tears and ended up near a family who were drinking soda and eating chips out of the bag. Almost of their own volition, her feet took her to them and her mouth said, “May I have a hotdog?” They gave her three and a beer. This, this, Darling is how to live. Ask when you need and give when you have.
And of course this work in reverse – when you realize that you are a picnic with meat in every salad and animal gelatin in all the desserts (yes, I know someone who fries their doughnuts in pork fat) you have permission to wander around until you spy people crunching raw vegetables and beg for some.
Read Field Marshall William Slim’s memoir or Quartered Safe Out Here by George MacDonald Fraser: fortitude, courage, a good air conditioner with French toast and we will pull through.
MLK quote: https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/loving-your-enemies-sermon-delivered-dexter-avenue-baptist-church
Mr. Toad quote: The River Bank: A Sequel to Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows by Kij Johnson