Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Ugly Truth

Last night was one of those crazy nights… that have come to be… oh, so normal.

After lots of loud music, dancing, eating, tea, coffee,
more tea, cigarettes
and excited and animated “talking,”
I was finally taken home.
There was much bargaining that took place over the issue of me just sleeping over.
Children begging, parents reasoning, and me?
Well, I just wanted to go home & take a shower.
I was ushered out, covered in kisses, and sent home with new strangers-turned-family.
[I was with my friend's sister & her husband. We met approximately 2 hours before this, although I had been with the family for, ya know, 7 hours.]

The car ride was pretty typical.
The husband just drove and answered his wife's questions in Arabic,
while she turned around in the seat and talked with me.

So, Miss Sarah, how old are you?
-I'm 27.

EEEEHHH!! Really? You look 22. I thought you were 22.
-Haha, well, bless your eyes. May it continue to be that way, but no, I'm 27.

Ahhhh. And no children???
-No, I'd like to have a husband before I have children.

And you have no husband?
-No, I sure don't.

But, inshallah [God willing], soon, inshallah. But this is normal--you are American. You want your education and a job and a life before you make the babies.
-Yes, it's true. I don't want these things yet. But, inshallah, soon.

But you know, for the people here, you were supposed to be married many years ago.
-Yes. I've been told that once before, I think.

For the girls here it is simple: Whatever certificate or papers you get in the school, you show them to the family and the neighbors and then you tuck them away. You go to the kitchen and live your life there. You cook for your husband and make the babies. You forget the things you learned in the school and that's the truth. That's how the life is for the girls here. But not for you. You are the lucky one.
-[I'm silent and just look at her with a soft smile, nodding my head.]

But for my girls, I want them to have the fun now, in a good way, and go to school, maybe to get a job, but I know that eventually the life for the girl is to be in the kitchen cooking for her husband and making the babies. It's just the truth. But you have another life, inshallah. But soon—soon, please Miss Sarah—please get married and make the babies. Your smile is the light to the world--we need your babies.
-[I give her all the blessings and kind thanks I can in Arabic. I know it's special for this to be in her language and really, I don't know what to say in my own.]

We arrived at my house at the unladylike hour of 11:45 pm
after I repeatedly refused their continued invitations for me
to join them in shopping at an outdoor overnight market.

I wanted the cigarettes off me.

I wanted the ringing in my ears to stop.

And I wanted the dull ache in my heart to either settle or leave.

“I'm the lucky one.”
Because I have another life. Another path. Another option.

But for girls here, for the women here, this is their [in my eyes, ugly] "truth."
They ultimately will be in the kitchen and the bedroom,
tucked away in their houses, hidden behind cloth and walls.

And how am I supposed to respond to that?
My blonde hair, bluish eyes and apparently smile separate me
more than I can know
from this sweet world I’m growing to know and love.
But these lovely ladies readily recognize that and give me words for my wounds.

My reality is far from theirs. And at the end of the day, I can say "Thank God."
But my heart is also nursing these ideas and the cuts they make in me.
I'm apologetic that my reality is different from theirs.
I'm devastated that I can't change it.
And I'm numbed with the possibility that… it will remain.

And she said it.
She said this all to me.
She even named the medicine I can give: a smile.
There’s more I’d like to offer, but it seems to be enough.
At least for today.


  1. I can relate to this in so many ways. Thanks for the post. I am 20, I get 12. Be glad you get 22. :).

    your fellow middle-easterner

  2. Thank you for your beautifully written and heartfelt piece. I can relate, also. In an asian culture were community and family is so central, being single is another "difference" and the life that goes with it is sometimes a bridge and sometimes a roadblock. But I agree there is much to be said for the ministry of smiling!

  3. I can so relate to this. I'm now 47 and married, but I married in my early 30's, and yes, I remember Turks asking me, "Why aren't you married???" As if it was my choice. I was even lectured once by my Turkish family about how I needed to "get on with life." I understand not fitting in. And my heart hurts sometimes for my single Turkish sisters. May God give you abundant grace and joy. Keep smiling!

  4. Robin: I hope they're saying stuff like this to me when I'm 60. :) Inshallah.
    Lori: Thanks for reading & joining me in this... unique journey (of being single outside of America). haha. Smile on, girl.
    OTree: My hurt doesn't come from ME being single, but in my friends' belief that I'm incomplete or must be sad that I'm not married and pregnant right this very moment--that's what hurts me. And just knowing that my peers are pressured & expected to fit into this life. It's so... cage-like, but it's also their reality. And sometimes I feel guilty & sad that it's their reality & not mine. It doesn't seem fair...


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