We’ve been in Abu Dhabi for two months. We’ve adjusted beautifully. We’ve met great people. We’ve eaten superb food.
But one unknown has lingered — the dreaded “Pork Shop,” which is located in every grocery store. A sign above each Pork Shop says “For Non-Muslims.” There is a button you have to push to gain access. Scary. I forbade myself to enter.
Yet I have had many conversations with myself about what goes on behind those closed doors. What does it look like in there? Bacon fountains? Pork bellies? Do you get scanned upon entry? Tagged upon exit?
I’ve never been a big pork eater, or meat-eater in general, so I didn’t have a reason to GO IN THERE. Besides, I am in a Muslim country and don’t want to be the bull in the china shop. (Does that metaphor even work?) Even more besides, my dad was not a big fan of swine as food. And he was a doctor. His argument was that it’s not good for you, and that Muslim and Jewish people are right to eschew it.
So I was prepared to pass by the Pork Shop forever.
But this morning, apropos of nothing, David arbitrarily requested a ham sandwich for dinner. I started to explain the impropriety of that request and why I was uncomfortable fulfilling it. I sounded like a great orator, at least in my head. We shall not behave like ugly Americans in this country! Next thing you’ll be asking for ketchup with your hummus! Or worse! David, put your wanton ways aside!
“Mom, I just want a ham sandwich.”
“Okay,” I acquiesced. “I’ll see what I can do.”
I sent him to school and went across the street to Waitrose Grocery Store. I decided to buy some turkey instead. Surely I can pass it off as ham! He doesn’t even really know what ham is! I’m a genius!
I saw the PORK SHOP DOOR en route to the water selection. I walked past it again to get potato chips. I lingered near the PORK SHOP DOOR to look at the fishmonger’s selection.
Finally I stopped in front of the DOOR. That’s it. I’m going in. I need to see what’s in there.
I pushed the button. And the opaque electric doors opened. I put my foot over the line as if I might not ever come back. The door closed behind me. I opened my eyes.
It was like I had been transported to Shaw’s grocery store on Shelburne Road in Vermont. There were three other Western women inside with their kids. I’ve found the time travel portal inside the Pork Shop! Is Tracy here?
She wasn’t, but there was an abundance of hot dogs, salami, prosciutto and sausages on display; plus a couple of butchers on hand to chop, weigh and wrap. There was NO wild ham party going on. There was NOTHING odd. Just people who like pork, calmly buying said products. No judgment. No fear. No bacon fountain.
I stared at the sliced ham. Does David want smoked? Peppered? British? Oscar Meyer?
I decided to buy the most expensive sliced ham with a little bit of fat around the edges. Might as well go all out since I’ve crossed the line into the Pork Shop. When in Rome, or the portal…
And then I just walked out again…a la Dr. Who’s Tardis…back into Waitrose on Reem Island in Abu Dhabi, October 16, 2014.
Nobody looked at me like I was a freak as I emerged from what I had imagined as the verboten room. The check-out lady didn’t even flinch when I plopped my pork down. Apparently it is OKAY to purchase pork. As usual, I was over thinking the situation. Reminds me of when I took stepsons John and Andrew to a cookout at a Jewish community gathering. I lectured them on why we had to take Kosher hotdogs. WE HAVE TO RESPECT THIS PLACE! Turned out, no one paid any attention to our attention to detail.
Back at our apartment, I proceeded to prepare, well in advance, a ham sandwich for David. I made the decision to cut some of the excess fat off the slice because it really seemed unappealing out of the packaging. I’m not entirely sure how I was in a position to do this, but I veered off the little swine slab and cut right into my thumb. Blood poured out like a geyser. I just needed to spill some milk on the pork and my blood in order to become the most culturally disrespectful Westerner ever to walk the Middle East.
I wrapped my thumb in thirty pieces of paper towels, and elevated it for thirty minutes. If the bleeding didn’t stop, I knew I’d be headed to the ER for stitches. WHERE I’D HAVE TO ADMIT THAT I’D BEEN CUTTING PORK. Is there was a room specially for people with pork wounds?
Fortunately, the bleeding stopped but my thumb still hurts like hell some many hours later. I found a some big bandaids in my make-up bag and one small one with aliens on it. Perfect.
So that’s the story of how the Pork Shop led to a pork chop. Moreover, it’s the tale of how I came to realize that it’s okay to go behind the big scary door and buy the food you want. THAT’S WHY THE DOOR IS THERE.