Post-Divorce: Can I Keep the Food?

All who leave long-term relationships must rebuild, but so few retract and rescript from a global existence.

Originally posted late July on another blog – 

It is almost the end of July. The year is 2012.  It is also Ramadan, the Muslim Holy Month of Fasting. By the Islamic calendar, it is year 1433.

Of course, I oscillate between multiple worlds, two competing calendars, and differing cuisines.

A few days ago, I went to a local international grocery store featuring items that most non-ethnic Americans do not know how to cook or how to pronounce. Muslims were stocking up in Ramadan preparation. As usual, a large number of Vietnamese worked the fish counter and pungent Asian food spilled over into the aisles.

The last time I shopped here, I was securely married, cooked for no less than five people every day, and had immediate concerns about where to find gandana (a specific type of leek) for Afghan boulanee (a savory hand food that is something like a stuffed pancake).   In my modest clothing and Islamic veil, I blended in with all the other foreigners. My shopping cart carried South Asian and Middle Eastern food items.  No one noticed that I was a white American.

That was probably year 1430 in the Islamic calendar.

A few days ago, I was the only blond, white woman in the store. This time, no hijab sat on my head. My shopping cart carried food only for me and for the white man coming over for dinner that evening.  All I wanted to purchase were a few curry leaves, Shan spices, and some nice chicken for tikka kebab.  Yet, as I walked through those aisles, smelling the sharp fish counter and a cacophony of half of the world’s culinary passions, an unexpected wave of grief and loss made acquaintance.

I understood that the passing of my twelve-year relationship would not go without a few last curtain calls, but I never expected them to emerge at a grocery store between a tofu tray and red bean stuffed buns.

What I felt was the loss of a very big existence that is currently being reassembled and purged to fit in a very small, yet happy, apartment. A week before, the stepchildren exited my life. This is no small development, although I have hardly had time to process it. Every day of my last twelve years was cadenced by what to feed four, or six, or ten people.  Everything revolved around a very large family. And just like that – the curtain fell on that era. I now cook for two, and I am very happy to be free from the burden of raising children who were not my own.

Yet, I felt disoriented shopping for only two people. I was overwhelmed by the math of it all, and was confused how it is supposed to work.   But it is funny what one thinks about during surprise moments of loss and grief; I mourned that I may never again shop at the LuLu grocery store in Bahrain, where I could find excellent fresh vegetables pre-packed for sambar and how I secretly took pleasure in knowing how to cook such foods.  I began to actually panic that I may never again taste poppers (poppadum) from a Pakistani street, or experience the global nature of life that defined every aspect of my existence during my marriage.

I decided to leave my marriage, and I do not regret this. But there are consequences. My leaving meant I may never again sit in an African village and smell certain things one can only experience in the non-West; I may never again inhale the various energies of the world that have probably forever changed me at the quantum level.  My geographical boundaries were limitless during that time, and the loss of an easy passport to the world creates a unique self-shaped vacuum.

All who leave long-term relationships must rebuild, but so few retract and rescript from a global existence.

***

This bereavement, of course, wasn’t about food. Yet, cuisine is the best metaphor for the multiple subjectivities and masks that defined my life up to this point.  The relationship between gastronomy and identity began before I met and married my ex husband. I already knew how to cook Indian and Arab food, and, at the time, I considered this to be one trait that good Muslim men would find desirable in a spouse.  I started my marital journey worrying about how to cook proper non-Western food. Now I worry about the fact that I really don’t know much about cooking American food, and how my palate — culinary and otherwise — will figure into any new relationship.

Nothing marks domesticity more than what takes place in the kitchen, and my kitchen was not small, simple or Western. In this post-divorce reality, I have to figure out how to recalibrate my culinary and metaphorical relationship to who I am and who I want to be. How do I incorporate all that I once was with who I am becoming?   I do not want to obscure my cultural (and culinary) expansiveness. I worry that I may have to pack away so much of my essence as I enter into a new phase. I don’t want to erase these parts of myself, or negate all that I have been. What do I do with this ghee-scented life of mine as I explore my boundaries and decide where to go from here?

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