Counting Almonds


Dec 04, 2013 | 6:35 am


Gina B. Nahai

Counting Almonds

This article originally appeared in the Jewish Journal. View Original.

Turns out, I have a natural handicap when it comes to eating like normal people. My daughter discovered this when she was in elementary school and forever engaged in a war of attrition over food: She wanted to live on green apples and Lucky Charms; I thought a third item should be added to the diet. A few years into the campaign, she finally asked me, “What cereal did Grandma let you eat when you were a kid?”

“I didn’t eat cereal.”

“Why not? Was Giti as mean as you are?”

Giti is my mother. She raised my sisters and me with the kind of discipline usually exhibited by Marine sergeants. But, no, she wasn’t mean.

“Did she think she’s queen of the world and can be your boss? Did she rather you starved and died than let you eat ‘hydrogenated oil’?”

No. We just didn’t have cereal.

I know it’s hard to believe, but I never ate breakfast cereal, never even saw Corn Flakes or Rice Krispies until I was 13 and traveled to New York with my parents for the first time. In Iran, we ate flat bread with butter and jam, drank black tea with sugar and, for the kids, a teaspoon of fish oil every morning. In New York, we stayed with my aunt in Great Neck and learned all about things like sour cream and cream cheese, waffles, non-fat and low-fat milk and those little flakes you poured out of a cardboard box into a bowl. You would think this isn’t a big deal. I certainly never gave it a thought, never felt cheated or weird because of it until I saw the light blazing out of my daughter’s eyes and understood she had made a major find.

“What do you mean, you didn’t have cereal?” she cried, loud enough for her brothers to hear in the next room and rush in for the unveiling. “You mean in the whole country? No cereal in the whole, entire country?”

That’s right. As far as I know.

“You had cars but no cereal? What kind of place doesn’t have cereal?”

They called my sister’s kids to break the news, called my parents to obtain verification, got their friends to see if their Iranian parents would serve as a “second source.” When the shock wore off and the giggles abated, they decided that this childhood deprivation explained everything that is strange and incomprehensible to them not just about me, but about all Iranians and even the country itself.

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Written by Gina B. Nahai
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