Dear Kids, There’s a story behind the candles on my cake tonight. Lopsided, mismatched, but clearly spelling out my age–41–even though I can barely believe I’m older than 25. Where did the time go? It was your nanny, Patricia, who frosted the chocolate cake today and fished the numbered candles out of the box that holds the birthday stuff: cute gift bags, rumpled tissue paper, a package of smashed bows. I have this box now because I have you two–because you two are invited to a parade of birthday parties that require me to wrap presents at the drop of a hat on any given weekend. Of course I didn’t wrap my own presents today. Your dad did that, with lots of “helping” from you guys. It was fun to see your faces, expectant and waiting, as I ripped into the paper to open my gifts. I never knew if I was going to have children.
After 43 glorious days, 516 daytime hours of splashy fun, six weekends touched with castle magic, and countless moments of almost free entertainment, the Jumpy Castle is gone. In the end it all happened so quickly. A short text message announcing the impending end of the castle’s Reign. The appearance of the delivery man, looking different than I had seen him last, in 2015, when he, like everyone else in town, was lit up from within by the joy of Christmas and his month of holiday bonus pay. Now he looked, as all of us do, like just a normal guy in the drudges of February, that bleak zone without celebration. (Presidents’ Day in Botswana is observed in July, and if you don’t get a day off from work, it doesn’t count as a real holiday, Valentine’s Day.) He quietly set about dismantling the fortress that for so long has stood sentry on our dirt patch of a lawn. My daughter asked him in a plaintive voice why he was taking the Jumpy Castle away while my son shot off a few pre-verbal reproachful glances and tried to stand on the deflated castle while it was being folded into a neat bundle. I’ll admit that it was time.
We are deep in the middle of holiday season now, having blown by Halloween and Thanksgiving to arrive next week at the grandaddy of them all, Christmas. And it won’t be too long before New Year’s, Valentine’s, St. Patty’s and all the rest roll around again. For many expats, leaving home and never again having to show up at your in-laws’ door bearing pie ranks as one of the perks of moving overseas. But for others, any holiday can be a hard time of missing family, country, and traditions left behind. Here are ten ways to enjoy yours holidays as an expat, no matter what time of year:
I hosted a bloody brunch over the holiday weekend a few weeks back. That sounds gruesome and terrible, but actually it was social and pleasant. Along with waffles and eggs, guests could take their pick of breakfast beverage from a Bloody Mary or a Blood Orange Mimosa. (Only the hardcore chose the Bloody Mary at 11 am on a Monday and you know who you are.) This is the kind of thing you can do in Pakistan, where you can buy an entire bag of blood oranges for $5. And by entire bag, I mean, a hoist-it-over-your-head, have-it-ride-sidesaddle-on-your-motorbike bag of 100 oranges. My housekeeper was bound and determined to go all the way to Khanpur, an hour away, to buy our bag of 100 oranges because in Khanpur a bag of 100 oranges is only $3. I told him we were going to let that $2 go. At Whole Foods in the U.S., at least last I checked, one blood orange was $3. On the rare occasion I would buy one, I would carefully select the best, plumpest, most perfect-looking specimen, take it home, and carefully slice it paper thin to use as a garnish for a fancy cocktail or to float on top of simmering cider. Now I could gargle with the stuff, but it is still a thrill to (have my housekeeper) juice 100 oranges so we can all slosh back pitcher after pitcher of sticky red juice while downing homemade chocolate donuts and handfuls of pomegranate seeds (another perk of the season). Yesterday it was sunny as usual but the air felt warm, like winter was ending, which means blood oranges and pomegranates are […] Read More
Nothing is weirder than a Peep. I’m ready to eat a lot of new, strange food, starting in less than two weeks when I move to Pakistan. Twelve different kinds of mangoes and three different kinds of pomegranates, I’m told. Goat curries, bitter gourd, mutton in tomato sauce, and chicken. (Well, chicken’s not weird, but the fact that you can buy it live off the street in front of your house is.) I love curry and flatbread and samosas, but I’m sure my visits to my favorite Indian restaurant down the street in Boston will not have prepared me for full immersion into the daily food culture of the subcontinent. But back to Peeps, the weird food of my own country. You know ’em: fluorescent little marshmallowy chicks and bunnies that appear suddenly in every drugstore and supermarket this time of year in an array of colors found nowhere in nature. They’re weird, they’re highly beloved, and they’re very American: add them to the list of things I won’t be seeing in Islamabad. I’ve had some time to think about Peeps a lot today as I scraped smashed Peep out of the carpet and pried dried Peep off the sides of empty martini glasses. (Peeps figured prominently in my spring-themed going-away party last night.) What are Peeps? Marshmallow, obviously, and a crapload of toxic food coloring, but oh so much more. Peep is an industry onto itself. You would think that, much like a Cadbury egg, they would be cursed with the problem of seasonality. They are chicks and bunnies in lurid approximations of pastel colors after all, trotted out at Easter for candy baskets and the […] Read More
Update: I bought a karaoke machine. Frivolous purchase or wise investment that will yield hours of entertainment in entertainment-challenged Pakistan? You decide. I’ve been told again and again that people don’t go out to bars (illegal) or restaurants (high-profile targets); they hang out socially in people’s homes. I’m thinking that will be entertaining for about a week and then we will need something to do. Enter the Karaoke Party Machine. I’ll be breaking this fine piece of equipment in at my going-away party tomorrow night; if you’re not in Boston and can’t make it, think of us belting out “I Will Survive” wherever you are and feel sorry/relieved that you can’t join in. […] Read More