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2/25/10 On Toast

Sorry for the long silence - I spent a couple weeks traveling the country. Hopefully, I'll post pictures and stories from that trip in the next few hours/days/weeks.

First, though, a reflection... I've been wandering through old photos, now that my internet connection (though still slow) is dependable enough to post pix to Facebook. I came across a few images that I'd promised to post here, and promptly forgot all about.

Like this one:

When I took the picture, last May, it was to celebrate the extraordinary experience of eating a western-style meal with all the western-style amenities. Lest my American readers are blind to them, lemme tick 'em off for you:
  1. My own napkin - folded into a triangle, no less!
  2. My own knife, fork, and spoon
  3. My own water glass
  4. A *tall* water glass
  5. A giant glass of orange juice
  6. Toasted white bread
  7. Sunny-side-up eggs
What makes these items so extraordinary? Lemme 'splain. No, is too complex. Lemme sum up:

My friends and neighbors here in bled Morocco simply don't share Americans' devotion to material culture. Ever since the 1730s, Europeans and Americans have displayed wealth through tableware. Hence the "silver" in silverware, and the fancy dishes for company, etc.

That trend passed Morocco right straight by.

Food here is served communally. There's one dish, in the middle of the table. It's often a tajine, otherwise usually a couscous platter. Everyone eats out of it. If it's couscous, you either roll the semolina into a ball in your hand and pop it into your mouth or you can eat it with a spoon. Tajine is eaten with torn-off chunks of bread that you use to grasp the meat or vegetable, tear/squish off a bite-sized bit, and pop into your mouth.

My host family owns forks, but they only bring them out when my mountain-guide host father is entertaining tourists. Spoons are used for couscous. Otherwise, we simply don't use tableware or flatware. And as for glasses? There's one big plastic cup, capacity about half a liter (about a pine), that sits next to the one big bottle of water. If you want water, you ask whoever's closest to the cup and bottle to pour you some. Then they pass the cup to you, you drink, and you either set it down near you or else pass it back.

One serving platter.

One cup, which is usually off to the side somewhere.

This is how I'm accustomed to seeing tables.

So when I first visited the restaurant known among PCVs as Toast, and ordered Toast (that's why we call it that), I was so bedazzled that I took a picture.

A couple of them, actually. Here's another one.

She has her own tray, identical to mine. Except for the hot beverage. I think she got coffee, where I got hot chocolate. Oh, and her tray has a bottle of olive oil. We each get our own salt and pepper shakers, but there's never more than 2 bottles of olive oil per table.

But she has her own *two* giant glasses of chilled beverages. Giant because here, the only glasses I routinely see are tiny tea glasses. They're about the same volume as shot glasses, but shaped slightly differently.

But the centerpiece of the meal - eggs on toast - is identical. Toast. Toast. Such a routine thing that it's boring, right? I can't even remember the last time I made myself toast, even before Peace Corps. (Of course, I've never owned a toaster, so that's probably a factor...) But after a year of (delicious! chewy and home-made) round flat-loaf bread, simple toasted white bread seems nearly miraculous. Fried eggs - yeah, those I can make for myself. And routinely do, although I've never seen a Moroccan eat eggs any way but scrambled or hard-boiled.

So I went to "Toast" - actually an Italian Pizzaria, but PCVs mostly just go there for breakfast - and ordered Toast, and got my own tray-full of Americana.

...And now, another year later, I'm marveling again. Not at the western amenities, but at how differently I now feel about them.

In the four days I just spent in Rabat, I didn't go to "Toast" once. (Peace Corps put us up in a zween hotel that offered free continental breakfast, but still.) And the western toilets, that a year ago I rhapsodized over? Yeah, Rabat is full of them...but I don't care.

This is the step beyond wllf-ing, beyond becoming accustomed to something. Without really noticing, I've reached a point of placid indifference. I truly don't care whether I use a squat toilet or a western one. It makes no difference whether I eat with bread or with a fork. I share the communal drinking cup, even when I'm just eating with PCVs and we could all get separate glasses if we wanted.

This is my life. And I'm living it - not enduring it, not tolerating it, not accepting it, but just living it - one day at a time.


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