Thursday, November 24, 2011

I am a piece of wood

"No matter how long a piece of wood stays in the water, it will never become a crocodile." -- the Rev. Prince Decker, quoting a Sierra Leonean proverb.

It is Thanksgiving in the United States today, and I am a piece of wood.

My building has been filled with the smell of roasting turkey and the sound of clattering pans. And though it smelled delicious, I microwaved some Indian food for lunch, instead, and I was fine with that. (And by Indian food I mean food from India, not American Indian food which would have been more appropriate, perhaps, given that the holiday commemorates a harvest feast shared by the Pilgrims -- English immigrants -- and members of the Wampanoag tribe in 1621 at Plymouth, Mass.)

Though I confess to some deep cynicism about the First Thanksgiving narrative -- I've shared some of my feelings on the subject here -- I do appreciate the focus on family and gratitude that the holiday inspires.

It's just not for me.

I didn't grow up celebrating Thanksgiving and haven't really embraced it, though, like the Pilgrims before me, I did move here from England and have much to be grateful for. I have no emotional connection to the holiday and cannot muster much enthusiasm for preparing a big turkey dinner just a month before Christmas. One such meal is enough, really. And the other cultural components of modern-day Thanksgiving -- football and the Macy's Parade -- interest me about as much as a boat of cold gravy.

So today while others were cooking, I slept in. Then I took advantage of the building's empty laundry room to get some chores out of the way in peace and quiet.

And I was thankful.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lebkuchen and other loves

On a recent visit, my father brought me a gift of spice tea and lebkuchen from Germany. When my mother comes, from England, she often packs a giant jar of Marmite into her suitcase. When friends visit from the Middle East, they sometimes bring regional delicacies like bokharat (seven spice mix) or za'atar.

Not that you can't find these things here, in the great cultural melting pot that is America, with its international grocery stores and restaurants. Just that they are sometimes hard to find, and, quite honestly, not as good as the stuff from home.

This traffic in coveted goods goes both ways, of course. My dad likes to receive barbecue sauce and English-language books. My mother likes American cotton sheets and towels. Middle Eastern visitors often ask for sneakers, or electronics.

While we sometimes grumble when our baggage allowance is consumed with these items, these small exchanges are as much a part of travel as the joy of arrival and the pain of departure.

After my dad left, I brewed a pot of the spice tea and took one of the lebkuchen out of the package. I ate it very slowly, savoring each bite, and breathed in the aroma of the tea.

When these goodies are gone, it will be many months before I am able to enjoy them again. They are a finite pleasure, not to be taken for granted, and they remind me to savor my family and friends, too: to slow down when they are here, inhale, and treasure each moment, every shared cup of tea.