the things they carried (with thanks to Tim O’Brien)

Tim O’Brien has a fantastic book called The Things They Carried, about the talismanic objects that Viet Nam soldiers carried in their rucksacks.  We all carry things with us – things to remind us of the people we love, things to ward off danger, things to bring luck (and things to keep the baby quiet in Tar-jay, to amuse the restless fourth grader in the backseat, to bribe the recalcitrant pre-teen).

Expats carry things with them too, as they migrate from this “home” to whatever other country they call “home.” The journey isn’t as perilous as the journey confronting combat soldiers (although the customs line at JFK would terrify even the most hardened combat veteran), but still, we travel, cross-pollinating the flavors and comforts of our various homes as we go.

In no particular order, here’s what we carried back from the States this summer (not counting: new sneakers, Kiehl’s shampoos, several sets of ridiculously high thread-count sheets ridiculously on sale at Bed Bath & Beyond, and several vibrating souvenirs from BlogHer12).

Ortega Taco Spice Packets, because really, nothing gives that genuine Mexican taste like mixing orange-MSG-laced powder with ground beef (or as they call it here, Australian beef mince). Ole!

Maple syrup.  Maple trees aren’t precisely indigenous to the region, so syrup costs a fortune. Luckily, that ol’Canuck Trader Joe has big plastic jugs of the stuff, which here would cost 20, 30, 40 dollars.

Trader Joe’s Multi-Grain Pancake Mix. Actually, if I could, I would have packed most of TJ’s into my suitcase. But this pancake mix? Fantastic. Plus if you sprinkle an extra spoonful (or 2) of ground flaxseed into the batter and then put chocolate chips into the pancakes, your kids will never know.

Pepperoni. Greasy, salty, porky pepperoni. Well-laced with stabilizers, preservatives, and poly-syllabic words. We live in a country that has a vexed relation to pork, so finding real pepperoni is a tricky proposition.  “Turkey pepperoni,” which I see in some of the stores here just ain’t gonna cut it.  God never wanted turkeys to be pepperoni.

Real vanilla extract. Yes, it’s entirely possible I could make my own. No, I probably won’t ever do that. And no, you can’t buy it here easily because real vanilla extract is made with alcohol.  So c’mon over – we’re serving vanilla shots chez moi tonight!

Gross sugary toothpaste with Spongebob on the package, which is all that Caleb uses to brush his teeth. I don’t even know what the hell flavor this goo is supposed to be, but as of yet, Caleb has not graduated into minty-toothpaste age.  When he discovers in himself the need for winterfresh breath, I’ll know that he’s really moving out of childhood.

Swiss Miss Hot Cocoa packets. Why my children prefer this stuff, with the hard flecks of marshmallow to the Cadbury hot cocoa that’s sold here, I have no idea. But the Swiss Missy is nowhere to be found, so into the suitcase she went.

Gluten for my friend Shannon because she’s just like that: others want gluten free but she goes the other direction: adds gluten to her bread dough and swears the bread tastes better. She said something about making me some bread in payment for toting these bags along …

I wanted to buy a waffle iron and bring it back, but Husband said something about voltage and short-circuits and plugs and over-the-weight-limit (the suitcases, not me), so I didn’t. But here’s a thing to contemplate: nowhere in this city, with all its electronics stores, hypermarkets, and upscale boutiques, can I find something as ordinary as a waffle iron. Is there some kind of waffle-fatwa that I don’t know about?

Our suitcases bulged, it’s true, but when we sat down to breakfast one morning with our pancakes and real maple syrup, while we looked out the window at the sun on the Arabian Gulf, it all seemed worth it: we had brought a bit of one home to the other.

Now I just have to figure out this waffle-fatwa. After all, I’ve got syrup.