Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I Was Playing in the Street When...

This is the phrase I've heard several old women using when emphasizing how old they were when they were married off:

"I was playing out in the street when they came and brought me to see this strange man and..."

My MIL estimates that she was probably around 11 years old when she was married off to her husband, a man 20 some years her senior (we never did know exactly how old my FIL was, God rest his soul). She claims that she hadn't even started menstruating yet, as once a girl hits puberty she can no longer play "out" in the street. The woman he'd been married to passed away suddenly and at the wake, his uncle came to comfort his grieving nephew.

"Why don't you marry my daughter", he offered to him. The man felt in his heart of hearts that having a new wife would ease his nephew's suffering as well as provide his daughter with a husband he knew and trusted. And so, my MIL was married off to my FIL.

As was common in those days, a new bride did not become the managing force in her household but rather, she became a part of her new husband's family's home. His mother was the matron and called all the shots. She was expected to be an apprentice to her husband's mother, bear the children and eventually, after her MIL became old and infirm, she would take over the managing the household.

More than likely due to the strain on my MIL's yet undeveloped body, her first 3 children died immediately, within a day or so, after birth. Although in the days "before oil" the infant mortality rate was astounding, 3 in a row would be tough! She was probably not even in her mid-teens before her first living child was born, at home, as were all the children at that time. After having lost 3 children in a row, they didn't take ANY chances with this one. Believing that someone had given them an "eye" resulting in their babies deaths, they hid the newest baby for over a year and didn't announce the delivery to anyone outside of the family. As a result, my husband's oldest brother didn't get circumcised until he was around 8 or 9 years old as well as never discovering exactly what his age is.

Such was life, back in those days. Both my MIL and FIL were illiterate and had to work hard for everything they had. My FIL was a manual laborer and worked various unskilled jobs throughout his life, jobs that S.E. Asian workers now do for less pay. There were no other options for girls back then; they were destined to become wives and mothers. Education for men was only available to the elite and the clergy in the past and upon attaining puberty, a girl was ready for the next stage in her life: marriage. There wasn't any thing else.

These days it's unheard of for a man to marry an 11 year-old girl in Saudia and attitudes have changed towards young marriage. Although you will hear of the occasional 14 year-old getting married, it's a rarity and teenage pregnancy rates in the west are probably higher than the rate of Saudi girls the same age marrying. Even marrying in high school is becoming more infrequent with every successive year. Some become engaged in the last year or so of high school or immediately after graduation. Many young women now are trying to finish university and get a year or two in working before marrying.

Occasionally, especially during exam times, I hear comments from some of the older women. "I don't see why they're killing themselves with all this studying for university when they're just going to get married and stay at home with the kids."

Locusts and Al-Hassa

My father-in-law used to tell us about how difficult life used to be before oil. Al-Hassa, being an agricultural city, could be dessimated by a locust invasion before modern and efficient trade with areas outside the city were established. When asked how they coped once all their crops and food were consumed by the locusts he said, "we'd eat the locusts".


First Wife Bribed for Understanding

Sidelights: First Wife Bribed for UnderstandingArab News

YANBU, 26 February 2008 — Ah, the complexities of having multiple wives. Some may think this makes life easier, considering that multiple wives means multiple housecleaners and multiple food-preparers and if one gets on your nerves you can go hang out with the other one until the first one behaves properly. But in fact it’s not as easy as it sounds to have a number of women in your life: life ain’t easy for a player, as some might say. So it may come to no surprise that — according to the daily Al-Madinah yesterday — a man lavished his first wife with a grand fête filled with expensive gifts and jewelry when she did not dispute his desire to marry a second woman. Perhaps there is no better way to reward a woman for allowing you to marry another woman than to give her lots of shiny things.

If it works for her, who are we to say anything?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Name and Shame

I propose a website, called "Aayb Alayk" (Shame on You), which would name and shame the Kingdom's bad boys.

Ladies, next time you’re receiving unwanted attention, whip out those mobiles and start filming them in action. Extra points will be given if license plates are clearly displayed in the film or if the culprits give their names. We can then upload these incriminating videos to the Aayb Alayk page.Any type of bad behavior can be filmed as long as its done in the public sphere; stunt driving in traffic as well as flirting are just a few of the possibilities.

Why should we let them get away with chasing us at high speeds in their shiny sports cars, endangering our lives while trying to shout their numbers at us, even when we are accompanied by our men in some instances? Why must we feel compelled to avoid certain shopping centers and malls because it’s a well known flirting gallery?

In what must have been a busy day for the MIB-Men In Beards (aka Muttawwa), 57 men were nabbed in Meccan shopping malls for trying to harass and/or flirt with women.

And girls, I know not all of you are innocent victims of male aggression. You know who you are, Miss Pops-Open-To-See-My-Miniskirt-Skinny-Abaya with your toxic applications of perfume, come-hither eye-makeup and your crippling stilettos. And we know you don't have your period even though you spent Maghrib prayer while the shops were closed primping in the Mall's bathrooms instead of praying. I'm not addressing you, you irreligious hussy. I'm speaking to women who aren't soliciting this type of attention from men.

Arm yourselves sisters, with your cameras.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Grass is Always…Fatter

The house was bursting at the seams with women who'd come to pay their respects in the days after my father-in-law passed away. Some stayed for only a matter of minutes, enough time to greet the other women present and drink a cup of coffee while expressing their condolences to the family, as is in good taste and is the Sunnah. Others, some close friends of the family but mostly unwanted lingerers, sat and chatted about all manners of goings-on as my grieving sister-in-laws turned into waitresses by refreshing bottomless cups of coffee and tea. The men had rented a farm to accommodate the onslaught of mourners but the womenfolk came to the small, old-style house since my mother-in-law is not able to exit her home during the mourning period for widows of four months and 10 days.

Since I actively avoid weddings, I don't often encounter large groups of women like what was present during the 3 days following my father-in-laws death. As women filed in and out of the house, all types of discussion were taking place; gossip, recent events, more gossip. Feeling a bit like Typhoid Daisy, I stood and greeted every woman that entered with the mandatory handshake and kisses on the cheek despite my 1o2°F fever then returned to shivering quietly, curled up under my abaya and layers of clothing while seated on a sofa in the corner of the room. Not up to participating in the topic-du-jour, I listened-in as the chatty women resumed whatever issue was being hashed out before disruption of greeting the latest batch of mourners.

"Are you still looking for a house?", one of the older women enquired of a younger woman who'd come with her mother, whose tight off-the-shoulder "bad-girl" abaya barely contained her girth and made her the topic of discussion after her departure.

"I found one next to so-and-so's house in such-and-such neighborhood", she responded as a group of old, toothless women across the room began paying attention to the information she was giving.

"For rent?", the older woman continued her inquiry. "Who owns it?"

"I can't remember the exact family name, my husband knows it, but he's got two wives and…", Miss Tight Abaya was cut-off before she could finish by one of the old toothless women.

"That's my son's house", she exclaimed, taking a proactive approach to the conversation before the women went too far into the "two wives" issue.

"When did he marry again?" another older woman asked with a surprised expression, obviously an old friend who'd lost touch with the polygamist's toothless mother.

"Last year" she answered her friend as more and more of the two dozen women in the room dropped whatever lines of meaningless discourse were taking place to substitute it with eavesdropping on this meatier topic , "I don't know why though, his wife is a good wife" the toothless mom added.

"So why'd he get married again?" a previously uninterested middle-aged woman interjected as the room began to go silent to listen in to the reason.

There are a number of supposed certains in a woman's life here regarding marriage. Some of which are as follows; if you do x,y,z for your husband, he won't get married again. If you are a good wife, you're husband won't have a reason to get married again on you. Being a "good wife" is of course a very subjective matter but some of the general qualities of a good wife are: your house is clean, you make plenty of babies, you cook well, you don't get fat, you don't look old, you take care of your appearance, you are not demanding, etc. If a man marries again, it is assumed for certain it's because his first wife was lacking in some way which forced him to go forth and seek greener pastures. When people hear a man has married a second wife, the question which immediately follows is: "why?" Everyone wants to know what was wrong with the first wife.

The entire room of mainly middle-aged women eagerly awaited the toothless mom's answer. Every woman wants to avoid the pitfalls of other women who've inadvertently forced their men into the arms of a second wife and even if this isn't their main motivation for paying attention, having dirt on the first wife is reason enough to listen intently.

"She's a good wife", the toothless polygamist's mom said again. "She's a good cook, her house is clean, she has three kids, she's not ugly…", she went on extolling the virtues of her seemingly infallible daughter-in-law.

"So what's his problem with her then", another woman impatiently enquired of the toothless mom?

"He says she's too skinny and he wants to be married to a fat woman", the old woman announced to a silent room which was instantly transformed into a sea of confused faces. For a few moments, the women in the room pondered the grammar and word order of the sentence with which the evidently confused old woman perplexed them.

"You mean she's too fat and he wants to be married to a skinny one", one of the eavesdroppers corrected her after concluding that the senile woman had inadvertently switched adjectives. After all, this order makes sense to everyone as they nodded their heads in agreement with the semantic correction.

"No", the toothless mom asserted, "his wife is thin and he wants a fat wife!"

The initial confused silence continued for a few more moments, left over from the toothless mom's first statement and compounded by her second. Logic and reason were turned on their heads, the sun began to rise from the west as the earth reversed rotation on its axis for these women. All of the sudden, in a simultaneous explosion, every last woman in the room burst into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

Women doubled-over with convulsive laughter while clutching their jiggling belly rolls and crossing their thick thighs as they wiped away tears from their plump cheeks with their sausage-like fingers. Miss Skinny Abaya popped a button in all the commotion. My MIL covered her face with her abaya trying to mask the hilarity, which was completely unbecoming of a grieving widow at the wake. Not one of the women in there was less than 15 kilos overweight and no doubt, the majority had tried many dieting methods and failed. Earlier that same day, DD's female cousin passed out and was having bad stomach pain from taking diet pills on an empty stomach. This laughter continued unabated for several minutes until, after catching their breath, some of the women wanted to clarify the facts of this distinctive second marriage.

"So was the first wife like, chemotherapy skinny?"

The polygamist's toothless mom answered, "No, she has a nice figure, not scrawny or anything. Just thin."

"They're never happy are they", I added my 2 cents to the conversation. "If they have a tall wife they want a short one, if they have a fat wife they want a skinny one, etc."

The old women all nodded their heads in agreement. The grass is always greener on the other side, or is it fatter?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Canadian F-Word Blog Awards

I was honored to be nominated in the Best International Feminist Blog category. Due to my absence, I didn't post about this soon enough and didn't make it to the final round however, there are many fantastic blogs to check out and its worth taking a look and perhaps, casting your vote for a more reliable blogger than myself. Thanks for the nomination

A Dust Documentery

written on the steps to my house in dust: "I would rather shovel snow"


I spent a fair amount of time in my youth raking leaves, mowing the lawn, and shoveling snow. Living in the Great Lakes region meant I was familiar with the term "Lake-Effect Snow" which basically means that you can be sitting in 60F sunny weather at noon, only to have a foot of snow dumped on your head that night. As backbreaking as shoveling wet snow can be, at least it doesn't infiltrate every nook and cranny INSIDE your home.

The dust in the above picture didn't stop at my doorway...nor is it stopped by cabinet doors and closed windows. When a dust storm hits, every surface of EVERYTHING in a house must undergo dust removal. Every shelf, every piece of furniture, every dish in your cupboard, and your kids stuffed animals all have a fine layer of reddish dust on them. Normal dusting in this country is a b***h even without the dust storms and daily dust removal is a must during the winter when it’s windy.

The worst experience with the dust in this country came when I was pregnant with EttaMae and went into labor. When I was certain I would be giving birth that day, I decided to clean up my home to keep my mind off of the pain and to make sure that my house was clean to return to after coming home from the hospital. I started cleaning at 9am and didn't stop until after 3pm when I finally had to go to the hospital. I cleaned every bathroom, every floor, every dish, and every bit of laundry. I only stayed in the hospital less than 24 hours and returned home the next day after noon. During the night, a dust storm had hit and coated everything in my apartment with a layer of dust. I returned, physically exhausted from the birthing process to this: all my clean dishes had to be rewashed, the clean clothes on the line were coated with dust as well as the clothes in my cabinet, my sparkling bathrooms turned into muddy messes, and the floors all had footprints through the dust...

...I cried

Wearing either black or white is also a pain when one leaves the house. Anyone who lives in an area where road-salt is used can sympathize with the smudges on your arm or butt as you ever-so-slightly brushed across the side of your car which unbeknownst to you, left your clothes branded for the rest of the day. I've been washing my abaya after each trip out, no matter how brief the excursion. The dust is dangerous for drivers too, as Emiratis are being warned.

Our heads ache, our chests burn, and our eyes are crusty from the dust. But at least it’s not hot yet, right? We should count our blessings, no matter how dusty they are.

And later that day

I went to give EttaMae her bath at night and found this mess...
I wrote "The Bathroom" in the dust.

Keep in mind that this is after only one day.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bless my well-wishers

A sincere and profound thank you to everyone who made dua'a and sent their condolences after the death of my dear father-in-law. It really warmed our hearts to read your messages.

Even more thanks for the emails and enquiries as to my state during my latest blogging absence. I wish I could say that all is well but unfortunately I've been chewed-on, swallowed and partially digested by the dark forces that be here in Stepford, Saudi Arabia.

My housekeeper, who'd been at my in-laws since my father-in-laws illness, never returned to my home but rather, had to travel back to Indonesia to tend to her own mother who'd fallen ill. The lack of any adult help in the house (DD doesn't count) coupled with Eid vacation from school immediately followed a few weeks later by the end of term vacation means its been endless child-rearing, cleaning, cooking, washing and dusting.

It's been months since I've visited a friend or one visited me. It's been months since I've gone out of my house more than twice in a week, once for groceries and once to see my MIL on Fridays. I haven't seen the inside of a salon in....can't remember. I have 3 outfits suitable for the cold weather but haven't managed to shop for more. I can't touch my dissertation.

This Daisy's withered on her stem and is barely recognizable as the glorious bloom she once was.

So, it's time to water this Daisy with flowing, intelligent dialogue and supplement her intellect with rich topics of interest. I've never been able to shake my blogging mindset since I started, even during my extended internet absences, and I find myself struck by possible topics almost daily. It's become a compulsion in me which deserves to be indulged.

Now, time to reacquaint myself with written English as I found myself struggling for over an hour to write this little post despite English being my mother tongue...