Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Nationality-Obligated Rice Cakes

When I go to the grocery store, and if I’m not in a hurry, I usually browse by the “special sales” rack where they have American and European products that are usually $12 marked down for something like $9. [Yeah, it’s a steal—watch out.] And a few weeks ago, [for reasons still unbeknownst to me], I got really excited and happy when I saw rice cakes. I don’t even know the brand—except it’s that old man of a Mr. Roger’s puppet—ya know, the one with long white hair, a beard and a blue hat? Anyways, I picked them up and, with a smile on my face, put them in my basket and kept walking, like I had just worked out with the Green Bay Packers or something.

When I got home and started unpacking my bags, my enthusiasm was still there. I even sent a text message to an American friend and was like, “Girl! I just bought rice cakes! J [Seriously??]

The next day I woke up and threw some fruit together for my lunch for work [it’s all I ever take—my friends take care of the rest of hourly feedings] and I busted open that neat pillar of rice cakes, taking a few for work.

What a bad idea.

I don’t even like rice cakes. How did that slip my mind before I spent almost $4 on them?

As I was crunching into one at work, [trying to talk myself into eating it really naturally and nonchalantly], I was being watched. And of course, there was a conversation.

Muna: Sarah. What are you eating??? [She was eating a quieter sandwich of a pita, spreadable cheese and cucumber—way more delicious, too, I should add.]

Me: [with a smile on my face, trying to play it cool] A rice cake. *Crunch*

Muna: A RICE CAKE???! SARAH!!! WHY ARE YOU EATING A RICE CAKE?? Here, eat this. [She throws a tomato at me.] Or this. [She throws a sandwich of my favorite spices and oil across our desks.] Please don’t eat a rice cake. They’re so…. icky. Sarah, are you on a diet?? It won’t work here.

Me: Muna!!! [In my Arab whine—I’m still perfecting it.] It’s just a rice cake. And it’s good for you… and it just tastes so good… and….

I trailed off as we both started laughing. I get up to throw it in the garbage and of course, in walk four more friends, all clucking away like the sweet and noisy hens that they are. Muna [in Arabic] immediately recounts the snack situation and I’m forced to confess that I didn’t buy the rice cakes because I like them or even because they were such a good deal, but because they reminded me of America and there was something in me that made me just want them because they were familiar. And even greater than that, it seemed like none of the Arabs were buying them and since I want them to continue stocking American products, I should be buying them… I was ‘nationality-obligated’ to buy them,” I said.

There was an explosion of laughter and that rapid-fire Arabic started up again, only to leave me a little ashamed, but mostly comforted by my zeit wu zataar sandwich Muna had thrown at me in her rescue attempts.

This last week I was in a little JACKPOT of a convenience store [seriously—check out all that American cereal!] and spotted a box of Lucky Charms. Like, REAL Lucky Charms cereal and as I was almost running over to them, I flashbacked to the whole rice cake incident. However, as a kid, when my mom would buy the sugary, expensive cereal, I would always want Lucky Charms, so I knew this was legitimate nostalgia setting in. But don’t worry—I saw the price—nearly $11. So instead of buying the box, I had my friend just take a picture of me with it. I don’t eat cereal here—this Wisconsin girl can’t handle the long-life, box milk.

Life Lesson: Even when you don’t think you are,
being homesick shows up in the most ridiculous ways.
You just gotta pay attention.

Thing for Love: I proved to be consistent in making my friends laugh.
[Even if it was at my expense.]


  1. I do the same thing and it is hands-down 99% of the time over food! Amazing what food does for nastalgia. I think because it plays to so many of the senses so it brings back a myriad of memories. When we were in the States for 3mos for furlough earlier this year, I went through Cranberry juice like it was going out of season. About a month ago, I found Cranberry juice here! And it was surprisingly affordable! I'm still in heaven. It's not namebrand and it's mixed with passionfruit, but it's still absolute bliss. :) And yes, I've been known to just merely TOUCH the product even if we couldn't afford it. Somehow, it's nice to know it's there, even if you'll never ever buy it in country.

  2. super cute, sarah. was it quaker?? i love the chocolate rice cakes :)

  3. fruity pebbles...and cheese...things I paid way too much money for when we lived in Asia. But...oh so worth it. :-)

    I would make 7-layer mexican dip for our Asian friends and they would sit and scarf it up with the chips I would buy at the ex-pat store and ask when I would make it again (or lasagna, etc.) After we returned home I got a note telling me that one of our friends had made it and now understood why I didn't do it very often. It cost almost $30 for all the ingredients. But it was fun sharing something of home with my friends.

    I resonate with so many of your posts and appreciate your honesty. I just don't comment much.

    Leaving you in your father's hands....

  4. You know we all do it. Can't recall the whole long list of exorbitantly-expensive random American foods I have bought over the years... I do remember a $5 box of Kraft Mac N Cheese in a rural Kenyan shop. Couldn't just leave it there all lonely!

    Good life lesson. It's normal and good to be homesick now and again. You are not alone with your random crunchy rice cakes. What I'd pay for a pack of those right now!! =)

  5. That is hilarious about the rice cakes.

    I remember a few years ago being so excited that my dad had bought Lucky Charms for my kids when we went home to visit. They tried the cereal and HATED it. Could.not.eat.it. I guess if you didn't grow up with Lucky Charms like I did, you just don't develop a taste for the stuff...

  6. I totally get it! I grew up in Africa where we couldn't get anything. Then my adult life was mostly spent in Africa and Central American (they called my pantry the pulperia). I moved back to the US four years ago and still, when I see something I like, I buy more than one. I can't get over the fact that it will still be there next time I get to the store!

  7. Lisa: Thank you for letting me know I'm not the only one. I don't even think I've had Lucky Charms since college maybe? And before that, maybe 1992? So, it's not a staple to me--just something I thought I needed. ha. And you get you those anti-oxidant drinks. I'm rockin the popsicles--is that the same? At all?

    Jordan: Yes! You nailed it on the head. Quaker!! I couldn't remember & I already threw the bag away. Thanks, girl!

    Kristy: SO glad to know that you're cookin' it up for your friends, too. I think it's one of the most special things you can do--especially in this region. But yes, it'll cost ya. I'd like to have your 7-layer dip if you're ever in town. I'll buy the ingredients for you. Or come back with the recipe!!! :) And thanks for reading and commenting every once in a while--I'm really grateful. :)

    Kimom: I think the Mac 'n' Cheese might be worth $6 to me if I were in Kenya. You snatch it up! And sorry about throwing my ricecakes away--I should've sent them to you. ;)

    OT! What up, girl?! How's Turkey?? :) No offense, but your kids are crazy. Lucky Charms are the bomb. What did they eat? Don't tell me... oatmeal? I only like oatmeal when I'm sick. And there has to be a lot of brown sugar. ;)

    Shanda: I totally get the whole buy the shelf mentality. I've done that. I think of it as an investment. And a good one--because I'll have what I want when it's nowhere to be found. Only America is completely crazy and always overstock stuff we don't even want--it's amazing. My problem is becoming that I want to save all my food treasures and not use/make them so that I still have them. Tell me how to get over that!

    Thanks, ladies!! You're all gems. I appreciate your comments. Keep 'em comin!! :) :)



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