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The other day in class, we were working on putting sentences in order to tell a story. This was the basic story: Wilma and Carl met at a party. They talked for a long time. They fell in love. They kissed. (The teacher’s book put these in the opposite order) She met his parents. They got engaged. They got married. They had two children.
Without exception, all my students (Iraqi and Korean) put the kiss after the marriage.
Donn and I were having fun with that later. “She met his parents. They got married. They met at a party.” We laughed, but the humor stems from the fact that this is typically how it’s done in Iraq, although of course there are exceptions. Back in class, we found out how everybody met their spouse or, if not married, how their parents met. The stories contained a lot of similarities. Some were married to first cousins, or second cousins. Some first saw their spouse at their own house, where their future spouse was friends with their sibling. Several met their spouse for the first time at the engagement. But no one met their spouse completely on their own, at university or at work or online.
When you spend a lot of time in one particular culture that is not your own, you will begin to take on characteristics, add things in, to create your own hybrid of culture. This happens gradually over time, and certain moments will cause past events to suddenly make sense. I remember planning a movie night at Oasis Books in Nouakchott, years ago, and asking a friend for movie suggestions. “Anything is fine,” he said, “but no kissing.” Donn and I were mystified, as we knew our friends watched all kinds of movies, and got French stations on their TVs. And of course kissing is very innocuous in our culture and shows up in even kid movies. But somehow, realizing that everyone put “kissing” after “marriage” helped me to understand this, and suddenly I felt embarrassed at all the kissing that takes place in movies, which is not a reaction I’ve had since I was about 10.
As it is, I move uneasily back and forth. The best part is when you mistrust yourself. Which culture is this rude in again? I’ll be sitting pointing my feet at an American friend, or eating with my left hand, and I think, “this is okay in American culture. It’s not rude,” and then I’ll think, “right?” Usually I just stop, just in case. I have written before of getting confused about whether or not I can acceptably double-dip my samosa or my chips, of whether I can use my own private spoon to eat from the common bowl. (Rule of thumb: fine with Arabs; not fine with Americans or Canadians; certain exceptions apply) It took me ages after we moved back to America to remember that the stores don’t close for lunch here, that the bank is open at noon (although even as I type that I’m not 100% certain. Right?) The twins’ pediatrician closes for the noon hour, which has only confused me further. But Fred Meyer is open. (Right?) (No, that one I’m sure of)
Kissing, however, is fine in American culture. Even the teacher’s book thinks you typically kiss before you fall in love. Right?
The Sunday before graduation was Elliot’s party. Here is a copy of the invitation with our address whited out, since I’m the one writing this blog not Abel. (Sigh. I don’t mind having these conversations about internet safety with my children; what I mind is how often I have them)
I invited everyone I could think of, and managed to forget several important people I’ve thought of since. My problem is that the people I know and love are scattered, not all gathered about around one location (for example, a home town or a home church), but here and there from our nomadic existence.
I spent the weeks ahead of time stressing. I imagined people judging me for my back yard (with some excuse, I will admit) or for the fact that you can sort of tell at a glance that although I can clean my house, I own far too many books to be a really good housekeeper.
The nice thing about moving every 2 years or so is that you never have to reorganize closets or move the fridge on a regular basis. We’ve been in this house nearly 3 years, and our housekeeping habits are starting to show. In short, we did need to move the fridge. It was disgusting back there. I mean, really nasty. (I suspect I need to clean out my cupboards too. Darn it.) I scrubbed it clean, and I also scrubbed floors and counter-tops and made dozens of Welsh cakes which didn’t turn out well at all, due to my using baking soda instead of baking powder, like an idiot.
We were finally ready. The house looked fantastic, the yard looked almost as good as the day we moved in, and we were ready. I woke up Sunday morning and showered, and was making the bed when suddenly my lower back seized up with excruciating pain. I hobbled downstairs and sat down, only to find I couldn’t stand up again.
This was a problem. I still had things to do. Two of my Iraqi friends had gone far beyond ordinary friendship and spent their Saturdays cooking up a storm–I had 80 chicken schwarmas (I cut them into 3 pieces each), and mounds of homemade falafel and dolma, not to mention about a gallon of homemade humus. I needed to cut up Arabic bread to go with the humus and heat things and stuff like that. But I could barely move. I swallowed ridiculous amounts of ibuprofen and texted my friend to pray for me, forgetting that her husband is a doctor. He came to the party and talked to me and prescribed muscle relaxants. I found that as long as I didn’t sit down, I could function. But I dropped something on the ground, and it took me 5 minutes to pick it up. Not exaggerating! (well maybe a little. But not much)
The party was a huge success none-the-less, thanks mostly to other people. Ilsa did the fruit platters and Donn and Elliot took care of putting ice in the cooler, putting pop cans in the ice, carrying the large water thing with ice and lime and mint, and all those sort of things. Friends carried large platters to the table and took care of refilling things.
The party was supposed to go 3-5, but it was 10:30 before everyone had gone. By that point, I’d taken scary amounts of ibuprofen and was still pretty miserable. I took a muscle relaxant and went to sleep. In the morning, it took me about 5 minutes (not an exaggeration) to get out of bed. I’ve never had anything like this before. Of course Donn’s parents were arriving about noon.
I had about 3 days of excruciating pain, and then we settled into a routine of 4 ibuprofen every 4 hours, which isn’t so good for the liver but made life possible. All Donn’s family were here, which meant cooking for 11 people. It really wasn’t an ideal time but we managed. I wondered a lot about the all-extended-family camping trip planned for that Friday though. How on earth was I going to handle camping?
Oh you want to hear about camping? All right. Next post.