Homer Simpson made famous the staccato "D'oh!", the exclamation of surprise and embarrassment and recognition-of-one's-own-failings, often accompanied by a face-palm.
I've had a fair number of D'oh! moments in my months back in America.
Moments where my Moroccan expectations don't line up with my Western reality, and leave me feeling like I've got egg on my face.
Like the time I headed over to my favorite coffeeshop in Amherst, MA, USA. Starting my day in a cafe/coffeeshop feels entirely normal to me, since I started most Souqtown mornings in my favorite cafe there, sipping a cup of hleeb b shokolat (hot cocoa, or literally milk with chocolate). That cafe also had the cleanest bathrooms in all of Souqtown, so I often arranged my mornings such that I could take advantage of them. Of course, being the cleanest and best in a small rural town still didn't include such over-the-top, luxurious amenities as toilet paper or soap, so I was always careful to bring my own. This particular sunny day in Amherst, as I strode through town en route to a delicious hot beverage, I suddenly realized that I'd forgotten to put any tissues in my pocket. I stopped in the middle of the street and started to turn back. And then - D'oh! - I realized that American bathrooms HAVE their own toilet paper.
A month later, I made breakfast for my sister and her housemates in northern California. I made one of the staples of my Moroccan mornings, pancakes. In the past two years, I've made enough pancakes to have long since memorized the recipe (which I take disproportionate pride in). So this sunny California morning, I scooped out the floor, sprinkled in the baking powder, poured in the milk, cracked the egg, tossed in the salt and sugar, measured the oil, then dusted in my favorite sweet spices (cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves and ginger) and whisked it all together. Humming under my breath, I ladled the batter into the frying pan, grateful that my sister's house, like my Berberville home, has a gas-powered stove. At least *something* is familiar. Round about the fifth or sixth pancake, I poked a finger in the dough and took a taste. The instant wrinkling of my features must have been comic. The batter was almost inedibly salty. I ran through my mental list of ingredients and confirmed that yeah, I'd used the right proportions. So whence the Dead Sea saltiness? And then - D'oh! - I remembered how, when I first started cooking in my Berberville kitchen, I found that I had to put three to five times as much salt into everything as I was used to, because the kosher salt (halal salt, technically) available there is soooo much weaker than the American variety I'd grown up with. So my mental Moroccan recipe included over a tablespoon of salt for each cup of flour. A TABLESPOON. While the recipe, made with American ingredients, should have needed no more than a TEASPOON. ::sigh::
Another time, in the same kitchen, I was making spaghetti for two. My sister walked in and asked why I was boiling the water in a 10-gallon stockpot. I blinked, looked at the pot, looked at her, looked at the pot again, and said, "Because it was the pot on the drying rack." Sis pulled open the cupboard doors to reveal at least a dozen pans (with their lids!) of every shape and size. Speaking as slowly as I'd been thinking, I said, "I'm used to making do with whatever pan is around. Most of my PCV buddies only own one or two pans, and most Moroccan housewives only two or three. You just ... use what you've got." My sister stared at me, her expression a mix of bemusement and compassion. "It really never occurred to me that there might be another pan around," I concluded, sheepishly. D'oh!
I swear, I became a good cook in Morocco. But nearly every time I've tried to prepare food here, I've run into another D'oh! moment. The ingredients are different. The tools are different. I'm 7,000 feet lower in altitude, so even the air is different. I've gone from being a skilled cook to barely able to boil eggs. ::sigh::
Shweeya b shweeya, little Volunteer, shweeya b shweeya...