-I need to talk to you.
My heart sank to my boots. These are possibly the last words you want to hear your child’s teacher utter when you go to pick him up, especially when accompanied by that serious teacher face. (After “he’s at the hospital”, I suppose). The golden boy seemed happy enough, a bit dirty, prancing around my feet and gabbling about spiders and firemen. So he must have done something wrong.
The teacher continued.
-Today we went to visit the science lab at the university. The children loved it, they watched some really cool experiments and played with…
I snuck another glance at the golden boy. No, nowhere seemed burned off, no sign of chemical injuries. Like most Haligonians, the teacher had a lot of time and was not getting to the point. I, on the other hand, a nervous frantic Tehrani who couldn’t get the notion of being in a hurry out of my blood, was straining at the bit.
-…and when we were leaving, the students were so nice, they gave marshmallows to all the children, and Yousef ate one. I’m so sorry.
The teacher came to an end. And? Wires crossed. I stared hard at the teacher. Looked back at Yousef. What was I missing here?
-I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand…
-Marshmallows contain gelatine.
The teacher was the frustrated one now, frustrated at my lack of comprehension and obvious bewilderment.
-Pork! Pork! Gelatine is made from pig products! You wrote on the registartion form that the golden boy doesn’t eat pork!
Light flooded in my bewildered brain. I was so relieved that nothing more serious had happened that I felt like laughing. The teacher however, was used to dealing with middle-eastern folks who make more of a fuss about these things, and kept apologizing.
-It’s ok. No problem. It doesn’t matter. We’re not that strict. Actually, I meant the pork meat when I wrote that, just becasue we’re not used to the smell and taste, and it might upset his stomach…
In my anxiety to reassure the teacher that I’m not going to burn the daycare down and demonstrate in front of the Early Childhood Centre waving my veils and headscarves, I was the one who was gabbling now.
With the golden boy safely strapped in his car seat, on the way home, I began wondering about all the tonnes and tonnes of foreign marshmallows and foreign gummy bears and foreign jelly beans which decorate the confectioners and grocers of Iran.
Is the pig in marshmallows the best-kept secret in Iran?