Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Compliments: Truth or Flattery?

{{From one year ago… Make sure you stop by my “Latest News” tab and read… my latest news. :)}}

So the other day I was out with my ten, sweet workplace-friends having lunch. And as is the recent norm, they were talking about how dumb it is that I'm leaving them.
[We're not exactly creative people::: we keep having the same conversation.] Then, without me even noticing, because they're SO present, came the jokes about getting married & the offers for them to just "find a guy" for me. A nice, Arab man. Do I want a Mus. or Chr.? How many kids am I planning to have? etc. etc. [They're funny aren't they?]

And suddenly, there it was: One of the most profound compliments I think I've received being here, and from one of the women I most respect...

"You should do it. I think you could cope," she said, in all seriousness, cigarette in hand.

“I’m sorry?!”

"I think you could handle marrying an Arab and living here. You could do it—so just do it. You've proved yourself," she said as she blew smoke out the side of her mouth. "And then we won't lose you for next year," she added, laughing.

“Except to maternity leave, right?” I responded as we laughed together.

Then I clicked my tongue at her and raised my eyebrows, signaling a firm "no."

But my heart's smile overcame my face and,
in the loud restaurant, across the table,
we shared a little moment
as I mouthed a sincere "Thanks" to her.
She smiled at me as she took a sip from her glass
and tapped down the ashes from
her cigarette into the ashtray, refolding her arms,
and finally taking a nice, long drag from it.
And as soon as it came, it left again,
and we were on to the next topic.

That's all it was.

That was it.

But why I'll remember it for a long time is because it says a lot about what she thinks of me. And I'll be the first to admit—I’m just dying for feedback!

I was most intimidated by her when I first started a short ten months ago, but she quickly became my role model, mentor and friend. And when I feel like most days I'm just flailing my arms, spazzing out and being some awkward duck who's not even trying to fit in, a comment like this, from her, speaks volumes to me.

I think many of the women I work with have been watching and waiting for my mess-ups and blunders. Some are supportive and encouraging, others are jealous and rude, many just ignore me...
[...or maybe I ignore them?]... At any rate, in general, from the women outside these ten,
it's been a shallow and isolated "welcome."

But my friend just let me in on her secret: she doesn't think I'm like all the other American girls who come to the Middle East for whatever reason. She thinks I'm legit and that I could “handle” an Arab husband.

Marriage here isn’t what it is in the States—or in my head. Sociologically speaking, it can be said of families within the States that the strongest relationship is the husband-wife. Obviously, the divorce rate is high, but even still—it’s the strongest family bond. In a Mus., Arab context, the strongest familial bond is that of mother-son. And so, when a woman [often a girl of 17-21 years of age] is married, it is usually [not always] an arranged [and sometimes forced] marriage. This marriage isn’t necessarily expected to be one of companionship or partnership, but rather one of procreation and service. The wife provides for her husband’s family by bearing children [preferably sons] as well as taking care of the home and upholding the family honor. There are dowries and bride prices [separate customs] in place for different groups and traditions, and a “good” family name, money and virginity are all key to a successful match. It is true that Is. allows a man to have four wives if he can equally provide for all wives. Usually women who are “beneath” him, are divorced or “damaged goods” in some way, or those who are older virgins are cheaper brides and make excellent candidates for second, third and fourth wives.

All this to say, that while I’m not currently entertaining these options, it was quite a gift to be told that I could make it in her world. [Please read: Not all families treat marriage this way, however, it can be said that this is a prevalent and accepted norm. There are marriages for love and I personally know a few American women who have incredible marriages and families with Arab spouses.] And while there are obvious, additional challenges in cross-cultural marriage and living, my friend welcomed the idea of me being part of her people. [And meeting her brother…]

It could be her flattering me…
but I’m choosing to take this compliment as her truth.

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