I Looked for a Husband

I  Looked for a Husband

During  my first year in Riyadh, I fell under the charm of an Egyptian man. We got engaged. I converted to Islam and expected him to fulfill his promise to marry me, but he took up with another woman– an American, besides — and I never learned why. He married her and moved to the USA. She didn’t have anything I didn’t have— even less, from the looks of her.

I still wanted to get married, and I let my girlfriends know. As a Muslim, I would not be able to date, but as an American, I couldn’t imagine marrying a man without a period of dating. Well, first I’d have to meet someone…

One girlfriend, a Syrian pharmacist, took on the project of finding me a husband. She would come to me and say, “I’ve found someone!” I’d ask a few questions, and the answers always caught my attention.

The first man she introduced me to was a Syrian businessman. The three of us met in the family section of a nice restaurant, where we chatted, and sized up the potential. He had been widowed– a story I was to hear too often — and he had two little kids. He spoke well, dressed nicely and would have interested me had he not been six inches shorter than me. I am not tall, at five feet four inches, and I could not work up an  attraction to a man shorter than that.

The second man she introduced me to was a Saudi businessman. We visited his home, as she assured me that all his kids would be there. He was also a widower, and had six girls of various ages. I met them all, and was charmed by all except the father. He was skinny, and I was fat, sort of, and his face was not attractive to me. Nevertheless, he seemed nice enough, and the situation was tempting. He drove me home in a Mercedes Benz, and I would have agreed to see him again, had he not handed me his business card and asked me to call him when I wanted to see him.

I do not call men. They call me.

The next man was an Egyptian who smoked cigarettes. On that fact alone, I wanted to reject him, but he and his sister both bothered me for days, begging me to meet with them and consider the man. I invited the sister to my apartment. but when she pulled out her cigarettes and wanted to smoke in my home, that was the end of it.

Another girlfriend showed me a nice photo of an American man, a convert like me, but I was not interested in Americans. Besides, he was too young for me.

The next man my Syrian friend brought was another Saudi  businessman, a wonderful man who I grew to love after many phone conversations and several clandestine dates. We considered getting formally engaged, and breaking the news to our families, when the first Gulf war broke out. Suddenly he stopped phoning me. The tensions of the war caused me distress, and I left Riyadh until the war ended. Afterwards, I never heard from him again, and I still don’t know why. What is it with these Arab guys when they want to break up with a woman?

July 14, 2009

During the three months since this post was published, I’ve received responses from men who are looking for wives. I thank them for their interest, but I must emphasis that this post refers to a time in my life that is now past. I am not currently looking for a husband, nor do I anticipate doing so. I am too much in love with my grandkids to admit any new man into  my life!

 

Reverse Culture Shock

Reverse Culture Shock

{Also called “Reentry Shock”} 

A few days ago, my cousin paid me a compliment. She said,”I think your years in the Middle East have caused you to lose touch with mainstream America.”

I had been worried that I had slipped further back into the American mainstream than is healthy for me. Repatriation had its challenges.The completion of tasks to re-establish a working relationship with my culture of origin needed several years. Now that I’ve lived in the States nearly as long as I lived in Riyadh, I look back at the early years of repatriation. I was definitely living a “double” life, if only in my mind. I smile now, but at the time, it didn’t feel so good. Here are the salient points of my readjustment process during those first awkward years “home”:  

Hair: Though I did not cover, I felt irritated by the sight of all the other women in public who naturally did not cover. I drew mental scarves over every one of them, for months, yet did not cover myself. Maybe I merely disliked the hairstyles, which had become less arranged, less sculpted, and less styled over the years. Eventually I got used to seeing all that hair, but I still don’t like the contemporary American hair styles.

I also realized that the messy hairstyles reflected the fact that most women work (in addition to caring for families), and therefore do not have time to style their hair.

Language: I got very sick of hearing everyone speak English with an American accent. Every time I caught the drift of a foreign language or accent, I had to check out who had spoken. My own English had become inflected, talking to so many Arabs and other assorted non-native-English speakers. Several people in the US asked me where I was from. Eventually, I lost the Arabic accented speech, but I still love to hear other languages. I still get sick of hearing English all the time.

Driving: It wasn’t as difficult as I’d imagined it would be, except for the changes that had taken place in carsways in which cars had evolved. The first car I bought after repatriation was six years old, and ten years newer than the last car I’d owned. While most people were enjoying CD players, I was thrilled with a tape deck and air conditioning. Electric windows seemed like the height of technological advancement. 

I was a bit befuddled with all the bells and buzzers. One afternoon, I drove downtown  to visit a Muslim family we’d just met. The bell sounded when I opened the door. I thought it meant the door was open. Later, I discovered– the hard way– that the bell was supposed to alert me that the headlights were on. I hadn’t known they were on in the first place.

Shopping: I scolded a young clerk in a convenience store for overcharging me for a can of soda. He asked for  fifty cents, and I said, “Are you kidding? It’s twenty-five cents!!” His face fell, and I realized that the last time I’d bought a can of soda at a convenience store, it was indeed twenty-five cents, and some years back.

Grocery shopping was an adventure. The big warehouse stores had grown up while I was gone, and I loved wandering up and down the aisles. I still do. Meat became an issue, of course. Pork popped up everywhere, but worse than seeing it was having to leave the smoked pork hocks in the grocery store. I used to adore eating smoked hocks and beans! It’s the one pork dish I really miss, all the more because it is now in front of me.

Conversation: This was difficult, because my speech had become so mixed up with Arabic injections that I sometimes let slip an, “Insha Allah,” or “Humdullilah,” or even a,”Yellah!” I had to stop prefacing people’s names with, “Ya.” Eventually I learned to add those lovely Arabic phrases in my mind only, and to stop them before they settled on my tongue.

Much of the new slang sounded odd to me, and excessive. I dislike slang in any event, but I was especially irritated hearing it during the first years after repatriation. I also dislike the regional accent with which my fellow citizens speak. I have consciously tried kept my speech free of it.

Dealing with Men: At first, I could hardly look a man in the eye, and certainly did not care to prolong conversation with one. I must have appeared rude. I disliked shaking hands, and still do. Before living in the Kingdom, I didn’t mind casual physical greetings, but I do now. Eventually, I relearned how to interact with men, and in the process realized that I had became very comfortable with gender segregation in Saudi Arabia.

Culture: I did not know the new TV shows, movies, or actors, and I couldn’t have cared less. It was embarrassing though, when people would talk about some show or movie I did not know about. I remember the evening I spent with a group of Americans at a game of Trivia. Someone asked me if I liked Jonnie Depp. I replied, “Who is Johnnie Depp?” Everyone fell silent and stared at me.

That was OK, though. I still don’t care much about American entertainments, but I know who Johnnie Depp is, and I think he’s handsome..

Dress: No problem there. Since I became middle-aged, I stopped dressing in anything but the most modest styles and colors. Head covering never posed a problem  because I never believed in it, anyway.

Friends: I’ve made one friend in the entire ten years I’ve been back. My Riyadh years, coupled with my conversion to Islam, formed a barrier between me and most Americans, beyond which I wouldn’t go, and they didn’t want to go. I have no interest in the things that engage them, and have no interest in my concerns, either.

(Thank goodness I discovered blogging!)

Work: I did not know how to use a computer when I repatriated in 1998. I had no idea that “Windows” was a sort of system that allowed you to use other programs. That lack of knowledge hurt both me and my husband in the job market. My husband then bought a home computer, to the tune of $2300- the same model today costs $399.

A friend connected all the wires and plugged everything into the correct holes. Later that evening, I cultivated the courage to poke around on a few keys. I nearly fell off the chair when the computer emitted a sort of melody. I didn’t even know it could make sound.

I picked up enough skill to fool people into thinking I knew how to use Windows, and I got hired. Learning the specific applications really challenged me, and I tried to poke around the keyboard and figure things out for myself, but I’d frequently have to ask someone how to do something. Since everyone thought I knew basic Windows, they’d rattle off a series of finger maneuvers that would magically pull up the desired “page”. Then, the person would vanish, leaving me sitting like a lump, no further along and still wondering how I was going to do it.

Now, I’m addicted to my computer. My family refers to it as my “husband,” since I am so devoted.

I learned not to talk about my expat experiences while at work. People in my community think a seven day Caribbean cruise is a big deal, and a two week European tour the epitome of travel. Their lives are filled with work, families, ball games and plans for the next holiday or ball game. I’ve learned, over the years, how to talk to them, without having to to join them. They  bore me silly.  Some people think I am a snob. I wouldn’t deny the possibility.