The Dilemma of Belonging Somewhere

It has been over a year since my birth country was plunged into a desperate war. When the revolts against the ruling government started, they were only peaceful demonstrations, which were quickly met with disproportionate force. Soon the resistance armed itself and found allies amongst extremist groups, and some Gulf-state governments who were opposed to Syria’s alliance with Iran. The discourse turned ugly. Instead of justice vs injustice and freedom vs dictatorship, we started hearing Sunni against Alawis and their Shiite allies, and “Us” against the”Them”. The morality of the revolution or those who are fighting for it, came under scrutiny.

I for one, was unable to reconcile the aspiration for justice and democracy with the cruel punishment of enemies, or mutilating their corpses. The savagery of both sides intensified as time wore on. And we all know that war is an insatiable beast, and once blood is shed, it feeds on itself in an endless cycle of cruelty and savage retaliation.

I haven’t heard any news about the battle for Syria (or in Syria) in months. I am sickened of body counts,  and it is enough for me now to hear the grim news from my sister. She and her family are fed up with the fighting and just want their old life back. Dictatorship, corruption, and lack of civil liberties seem a small price to pay for safety now. After all this time I see the logic of their argument. And even though I implicitly still support the revolution as a principle I am not sure anymore of the means it employs.

I have left Syria because I had very little in common with the people there. I could neither relate to overt piety, nor to a life of leisure as a socialite. I was often criticized for my  casual dress sense, my inability to apply makeup or style my hair. My sister, in contrast did not have a problem with taking close to an hour “getting ready” every time she wanted to step out the door. Now, she has chosen to wear a headscarf, I think it is easier to just cover up and leave the house rather than get every single hair in place. I have one dry bottle of mascara that I never use, but over twenty years ago, my cousins tried to teach me how to apply, foundation, blush, eye-liner, lip liner, lipstick, and eye-shadow. I think I gave up as soon as that first lesson was through. I could never justify wasting so much time on all this rubbish. Besides, I am happy with the way I look. One of the first things I did when I got divorced was to stop dying my hair. I suffered for two years with my twin stripes, of carrot/aubergine and salt-and-pepper and was thrilled to finally have my natural grey-highlight. Women in Syria would never understand this attitude. They thought I was awfully uncouth when I walked the streets in a T-shirt, faded jeans and hiking sandals. I think they dubbed me as the African savage. Everyone expects an expat to arrive in designer clothes, expensive leather shoes and flawless skin. I only had my casual wardrobe and proudly showed off my arms and legs, tanned by the African sun. After living in South Africa, I became an alien to my country of birth, but at least I had a good excuse then. When I lived there, I tried my best for years. I wanted to belong, but it never worked. In South Africa, I found a place where it was okay to be myself. I belonged regardless of the color of my skin. Most people dressed casually, just the way I liked to dress. Nobody ever asked me what my religion was.  It was a revelation.

I found that I relate to South Africa better than I ever related to my country of birth. I respect and admire the wisdom of its people and the way they transcended their differences and moved along towards a common future. The idea of Ubuntu and the truth and reconciliation speak volumes on the morality of this nation. Yes, there were incidents of bloody conflict, and even the current majority government has made its shares of mistakes and trouble, but none of these come even close to the monumental destruction still under way in Syria.

The nightmare scenario playing out in my birth country does not correspond to any of my views.  I am so ashamed and unhappy about it that I reached a stage of total apathy. Some of my friends write glowing praise of the country they remember, the beautiful Syria, where different sects and religions lived side by side, in peace and harmony. The cynic part of me questions the veracity of such an innocuous image, when the erstwhile neighbors are now caught in an exchange of violence, that causes more bloodshed at worst, or slides into the worst gutter language at best.

I watch in horror, while people I once considered friends defend the indefensible, or hurl obscenities and accusations at others for a difference of opinion. For one group I may be classified as an Israeli sympathizer, a tool of American imperialism. While the others would call me a non-believer, and enemy of Allah. Both groups are fools, and again, I find myself unable to relate to neither.  Before the revolution strayed into sectarianism I enjoyed listening to a few secular voices, calling for a civilian rule, under a liberal constitution. Today, these voices are drowned by the proponents of an Islamic State.

My dilemma is that I cannot openly criticize the religious tone of discourse, for fear of offending my religious friends. Besides, I do not want to look as if I am supporting the alternative (the current bloody regime that continues to kill people with impunity). On the other hand I feel that I do not have any stake in this battle anymore because, in all honesty, I neither want the religious extremists to win, nor can I ever accept the criminal regime to stay.  Unfortunately for everyone, these two sides have the best chances, because they have the strongest foreign support (Russia, Iran and Hezbollah – on the side of the regime, and the Gulf States, and the western world, on the side of the armed religious insurgence). This balance of power has so far kept both sides more or less evenly matched, but sooner or later the scales will tip to one side.

I withdraw again to the safe cocoon of African politics. For all its faults at least the ANC is still ruled by a civilian constitution. It recognizes the rule of law, not the rule of God or the ancestors. The more Syria slides into anarchy the closer I retreat into the safer ground of my South-African identity. One post I recently read likened a birth country to a mother, and an adopted country to spouse. So according to this analogy I am an ungrateful daughter to the mother country.

If this were true then I could argue that my mother country never treated me well in the first place, I felt like I was kept by an evil stepmother, who constantly pushed me into things that I did not want to do. My adoptive African mother was kinder and loved me the way that I am, I call her my true mother. Again, this is something else where I differ from the people in my birth country. Belonging to the birth country is not a choice in their opinion. It is a sacred duty. And blind patriotism makes the best fodder for senseless wars.

A Yearning…

I want to slip into a fold of time, and steal away a man from my past. I want to come back to this moment, to having him beside me, and the children we could have had. I want him to tell me that he lives through their smiles, and without them his life, is not a life that he wants. I want to raise our kids. I want to grow old with him, a man that I knew for more than half my life.

I want to be where desperate questions have become a certainty. Where I know that he is with me because we are, because we belong. Not because of fear, or lack of options.

I want to fast-forward the groping, the learning, the exploring, the desperate tug of war for boundaries. I want to know and be known to him like the palm of his open hand.

I want to be young again, and choose the right man, and still retain, the place where I now am.

The Perils of Instant Online Posting

There is a special thrilling moment in the blogging. After you tie off the final thoughts together and put the full stop to the last paragraph or sentence, you give your post the final review and then you hit the publish button and relish the excitement of setting your words free to the world. It often happens that you discover one stray typo after the post goes live, or an awkward phrasing. Most of the time, however,  the integrity of your post survives and it is unlikely that the slip will cause major embarrassment.  This is because a blog post normally follows a certain structure. It is a piece of writing that evolves from an idea, into an outline, then a coherent piece. Each blogger is different, but I find that I have to start from a central theme, that I might develop as I write, but it is still a slow-brewing process. The most important part for me is to find the idea or theme of a post. I sift through dozens of online articles, or blog posts. I mine my own daily experiences or observations, in a hunt for one suitable subject. So regardless of how effortless posts look, they normally are a product of a relatively lengthy process. Of course, there are the odd exceptions like the Hello World page, or the re-posts from You-tube.

Things are a little different in the world of social networking. Technology has made it so easy for us to connect to our social networks. Whether our portable device of choice is an iPhone, iPad, or any other Andoid tablet or photon, there are endless options to use them for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Flickr among many others. So I can connect at any place and time, to interact with my cyber-friends. I can read posts, re-post them and post photos at the flick of one finger. And while commenting or tweeting may take a little bit more effort, the platforms themselves do not encourage verbosity, or limit my thoughts to a few characters, which makes a touch screen keyboard sufficient. I feel that blogging -with the notable exception perhaps of photo-blogging- cannot benefit much from the technology of portable devices. Because although the applications for tablet and iPhone exist, the limitation of keyboard and display size require at least an investment into portable keyboards, or extra-ordinary manual dexterity that I do not possess. For me, blogging involves many stages of careful thought and reflection, while posting on my social network is much more impulsive. As the connection to social apps becomes so much easier, the act of thumbing up other people’s thoughts or pictures; re-posting jokes or articles; and writing that quick comment, turn into something like a nervous reflexes with little or no thought at all.

The danger of this instant reflex lurks closer than you think. A few times I gave thumbs up to a story, when I actually wanted to flip it off my screen, because I found it silly or distasteful.  At least once I wrote a comment or a whinge that I later thought will be misunderstood. Most of the time I caught these things within minutes, but since these actions are “out there” immediately after I click on them, there is always a chance that one of my friends would bear witness to them, maybe even the very same one who would get offended. It is a peril that one has to live with; a means of culling that friend perhaps.

Predictive text is particularly damning in this area, as I found out recently while posting on my tablet a message to Nelson Mandela for his birthday. My “Happy Birthday Tata Madiba” came out as Happy Birthday Tara Marina. I was horrified when I spotted this a few minutes later. I quickly discarded my tablet for my trusted laptop and typed it correctly. Barely a minute later a friend commented that I was a day early… mistakes are caught quickly in cyberspace.

Of course it is perfectly okay, people can make stupid mistakes on social networks as they do in the live social sphere. It is a bit more public, that’s all. So, the moral of the story: Treat your status update as a blog post. Respect it and give it some extra thought, it saves you unnecessary embarrassment.

Food, Glorious American Food (not)

One of the first culture shocks I suffered after coming from South Africa, was the monster of American food markets. Mind you, I spent ten years in South Africa, so my palette was not too demanding, and since I did not visit any fancy restaurants in the past year, I still have very primitive taste when it comes to food. Soon after my first frustrating visit to a New York supermarket, or food retailer, I found out that Americans do not make simple straightforward foods.

The first thing I wanted to buy was cereal. For years in South Africa, my breakfast consisted of Weetbix, topped with the fruit of the season and milk. Such a simple thing is extremely hard to find here. Instead there are the Corn Flakes, the Crispies and various other types with more than necessary sugar content. Things get much worse when we are talking children cereals, because they are mainly chunks, or nodules in violently brilliant color that cannot possibly be natural. I have resigned myself to giving Robert occasionally some candy in those awful colors because there are no other kinds, but I am not about to give him breakfast disguised as candy. I have enough trouble as it is with his sweet tooth. The candy of course is a completely different story, in South Africa we had Smarties with natural food coloring, here they insist on electric greens and blues for their m&ms. Everything else has the same hideous colors, so I take refuge in the imported brands. The local -much advertised- brand of chocolate is beyond awful, I would take Beacons (our local and by no way best brand in South Africa) any day instead. Even Robert, who is hardly discerning when it comes to candy, does not like that local brand.

The next horrific discovery for me was the bread. Why do they bake every type of bread with really noticeable amounts of sugar? For the first time in my life I found myself carefully reading the ingredients of bread, which is supposed to be the simplest recipe humans ever made. It is not that simple here. There is bread with High Fructose Corn Syrup (more about this in a minute), and bread without it, but they all taste sweet. After four months of reading bread packages, I was complaining to a colleague that this terrible place (I could not stand New York in the beginning) did not even have plain simple bread. He told me to look for bread alone, which turned out to be the name of the brand. I finally can eat bread without tasting sugar.

The issue with High Fructose Corn Syrup is another strange phenomenon of America. This type of “sugar” is used for almost all beverages, and like anything else in America, the effects of its heavy usage, good or bad, will be upon us in a generation or two. Regardless of whether this is a natural or a synthetic sugar, there is a problem with the American diet and its dependence on sugar. I rarely use sugar for anything other than baking, but I still feel that my consumption of it has increased.

One of the things I miss most about South Africa is the abundance of local fruit and vegetables. I also miss the local South African meat; the excellent beef, ostrich, fish and chicken I used to enjoy. Perhaps things have deteriorated in the year I was away, especially in terms of prices, but the quality is still the same, I think. The fruit I had back in April was wonderful. I ate my fill of mango, pawpaw and avocado and many others. I cannot do the same here. Who knows what types of industrial pesticides are used on the produce here. In South Africa I never bothered with organic. Here, for the privilege of eating organic food and produce,  I easily pay double the regular prices for groceries, but I cannot bring myself to eat anything else. The thought of handling mass-produced meet makes me cringe.

Of course there is no escaping normal non-organic food when I eat out or buy my lunch from one of the mobile vendors so common to Midtown Manhattan. And sometimes it is simply too expensive to buy organic, so I go one step down, to kosher for example. I sometimes even wonder whether this whole organic food is not just a ploy to make us paranoid consumers fork out more money. I questioned this today as I was choosing some peaches from the “organic” basket. Nothing but some stickers distinguished its peaches from the regular peaches across the aisle at half the price.

Are Social Networks Killing the Art of Personal Blogging?

Most people invest a lot of time and effort in social networking. Virtual socializing has almost replaced actual socializing. For people who are shy and introverted like myself, it is much easier to share stories and news on my wall. The social networks make it also very easy to wish people well on their birthday (rather than diarise and try to remember it ahead of time), it is also no effort at all to congratulate social network friends on their successes or send them well-meaning words when they advertise a failure or difficulty. I know many people who have sworn off social networking because they feel it infringes on their privacy. They think, and rightly so, that they have no control over the information they share with the world. Once you write a word or a statement it will be out there, whether you delete it, or close your whole social network account, it will remain accessible to someone out there, and is therefore bound to haunt you for the rest of your life. If you think conspiracy theory and big brother, you are going to have a huge problem with this idea. However, if you think human accountability, responsibility, and standing up for consequences, you will be able to breathe a little easier.

Personally, I find social networks hugely useful. They connect me to members of my family whom I am unlikely to meet anywhere else. The last time I visited my birth country was ten years ago, and I am unlikely to visit anytime soon. My other friends in South Africa, I see once I year at most and it is wonderful to be able to see the events of their lives on a daily basis. I see the pictures of their growing children and follow them on their vacations, when the great distance prevents me from keeping closely with them. I have no qualms about posting my own pictures, comments and ideas on a social network either. I feel it is one way of communicating with friends across great distances. The great success of social networking shows that it has filled a great need to communicate between people. This came of course with some disadvantages, I hinted at earlier. They are a poor substitute for actual face-to-face socializing, they perversely encourage people to become anti-social, for example it is easier to write a message on friend’s wall (and I mean here a friend in the old-fashioned sense) instead of picking up the phone and talking to them. They have also diluted the old-fashioned meaning of the word friend until it became synonymous with somebody you met once at a cocktail party. Finally, they simply produce too much information, which places pressure on our time. Once you are aware of these negative aspects, however, you can target them specifically with remedies. For example, give actual, not virtual, time to your real friends. Regularly cull friends with whom you are unlikely to cross path with ever again. Exercise your own rules in your own personal space to limit the amount of time wasted on social networks, and limit your interests to things you really want to know about, and to as little products and services (advertising) as possible.

Social Networks are in the end a business, and the members are potential capital, so the more time you spend interacting with them the more likely you are to buy something from them or from one of their partners or advertisers. You have to balance the benefits you get from them against the time and effort you invest. It is no surprise that in their quest for larger chunks of your time these networks make it increasingly easier to share, connect and communicate with other. The most famous social network is constantly evolving and upgrading. Giving users more and more ways to build a profile, that is now almost indistinguishable from a blog. I cannot think of anything I can do on this blog that I cannot do on my social networking “site”. With the added advantage that on the social network I already have a built-in audience in the form of my social network friends. During the past year, as I experienced a hiatus in my blogging enthusiasm I wondered whether sharing through social networking had something to do with it, and until now I am not clear on this in my own mind.

What is your view of this phenomenon? Do you think the blurred boundaries between social networking and blogging are positive or negative? Will blogging survive and evolve through this, or will it be in the end one application or function of social networking? I am curious to find out.

Keeping New York at Bay

New York is perhaps the most pretentious city in the world. This may not be directly obvious, given that the vast majority of its people are far from snobbish, but it is has this attitude about itself. It fancies itself the best city in the world.

I came here reluctantly. I stay here, as I keep telling myself, temporarily. I try to let the city not get too much under my skin. But still, it is hard to keep it out. For one its noise permeates everything. It feels like you are permanently stuck in traffic, in an idling car. You can even feel the vibration on the road. Only in an idling car you are capable of listening to, and having a conversation with your five-year old son. Here it is not always possible.

My son is quite happy here. Six months into my exile here, he started saying that New York is the “bestest city in the world” – Africa already seems to him exotic and far. He sometimes imitates me by saying he wants to go back to Africa. Mostly when it is terribly cold outside. Still, I think he gets too much American “culture” – I sometimes wonder whether it has anything going for it other than Thanksgiving,  Fourth of July fireworks and Halloween. Even those if you think closely were thanks to non-American elements. I mean Halloween is an imported feast, Thanksgiving was due to the natives misguided generosity and the Fourth of July, well, it is just when these haphazard immigrants decided they have what it takes to become a nation, but do they really? It is another story.

I am always at pains to find the genuine heart of America, the soul of America, if you will. But perhaps New York is the wrong place to look. Because here they built shrines for the mighty greenback, and in my opinion the whole structure is going to crumble around their ears very soon. Apart from the greenback there is nothing much left here that is American. All is made in China, even my highly touted iPhone.

Greed seems to be the machinery that fuels everything in New York. Those people rushing and jostling on the bus or train or subway are perhaps rushing to close some deal. Wall Street is the place where people dream of making a fast buck, and where so many already watched their wealth evaporate literally into thin air.  The city lives on hype and lies. In fact hype might have been invented in New York first before Hollywood took over manufacturing it. How many people followed the illusion of wealth this city represented only to end up in a gutter. How many people believed its golden lies?

I refuse to be swallowed by the city and all it stands for. I hide on Roosevelt Island, where I can watch the city at a safe distance. And like my island, I still refuse to let the big city take me over. For how long? Only time will tell.

I’m Posting Every Week in 2011

When the year started I was busy with a translation project but the blogging challenge of 2011 caught my attention and I loved the idea of participating, but as I mentioned in my previous post I was too timid and too cowardly to go through with it at the time.

My life is now on auto-pilot, a stretch of turbulent free weather ahead, and hopefully it will continue this way.  I have little heat, passion and anger to drive my blogging zeal; my best blogging days were when I moaned and whinged about work, my ex and the assortments of misadventure I seemed to be plagued with. For once though I want to blog for pleasure, for the exercise of writing and putting thoughts to paper. I tried to explain in a previous post my fears and what is blocking this venture, but I am determined to conquer them and going public with this challenge is the best way to “shame” myself into doing this.

A post a day, is a little to ambitious for me, so I am going with the challenge of posting once a week in 2011, I know it won’t be easy, but it might be fun, inspiring, and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The Daily Post, and the community of other bloggers with similar goals, to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.

If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments, likes, and goodwill along the way.

Signed,

Robert’s Mother.

Blogophobia

I have been away from you dear blog for a long time and it makes me feel terrible. I am beginning to feel an onset of a new condition that I will call blogophobia.

There are many aspects to this fear of blogging in my case. Firstly, as of today I find that I have already skipped many key events of the past year without comment. There are also many half-formed thoughts lurking about as drafts, suspended in their own temporal dimension, as the weight of passing days buries them further away from the here and now. Whenever I start to blog they seem to reproach me at my tardiness, so I just turn my head away from the blog sighing that perhaps it is too much work and effort to dig this far into the past. When I re-read the half-formed thoughts in some of these drafts, I fail even to remember what I was on about, and in this case it is easiest to hit discard draft, but  I still have seven half-finished ones waiting to see the light.

The other aspect of my fear is that I am, as I often find myself in life, straddling some fine dividing line. I do not think I have anything profound to say, yet I find myself too proud, and too old to post just every day drivel. And caught between what I can write and what I aspire to write I just stay silent. My blogophobia gets worse when I read a terrible piece – How awful, I never want to sound like THIS. It deepens again when I read something brilliant – There is no way I can ever write like THAT; it is a vicious, and never-ending circle.

Like anywhere else in life though, it is useless to stay afraid. A day comes when you have to face your fear. So what if I do not have anything important to say? So what if I never come up with a profound thought or never blog a life-changing adventure or experience? There is blessing in being ordinary, and there are pleasures in blogging about toilet-training mishaps or toddler language and logic.

Even in the middle of all this ordinariness there bound to be a light-bulb moment, and a brilliant thought, but if I do not put my fingers to the keyboard to capture mundane moments and thoughts, I will never have the courage to articulate occasional brilliance.

I am hoping this will be the year to get this blog going again. Maybe I will take this blogging challenge for 2011.

Relationships: The View At Midlife

As my life starts to get into some semblance of orderliness and my son slowly outgrows his attachment to mommy, my mind starts to wander and think about relationships and whether I am ready for a new one in my life.

Since my divorce I have put myself completely out of that market-place, and Cape Town is notorious for being the wrong place to put yourself on the singles market if you were a straight woman. A straight man meanwhile will have lots on offer for his person, my ex can testify to this as he had started “seeing someone” before I even left. I remember asking him very offhand about another woman a week or so before I was pushed into leaving, and he went ballistic.  His rage was so animated and full of pointed fingers, it shocked me into noncommittal silence, and told me more than I really wanted to know.

My ex is perhaps the strongest factor putting me off a relationship, because in all honesty there nothing that I miss about that marriage. For me it was a short step away from a wasteland in every way, and every year that passes gives me more reasons to celebrate rather than regret my divorced status. Celibacy is fine once you get used to it, and Arab women are well-designed to cope with and accept frustration on that front, so I have no reason to complain like many of my female friends do when they spend a long period of drought in relationships and sex.

An Arabic saying goes: Solitude is better than the unworthy companion, and I spend my evenings living this wisdom. My days are filled with my son and life is good, so far. Still sometimes I wonder, should I ever venture into this territory of relationships, what is there for me to find? What do I have to offer? After all, I have half of my life behind me.

Sometimes I feel sad when I contemplate all the things I have missed. I have had a childhood love, a first love, and a committed love and they have all failed for me, and in this failure I have become more cautious, afraid and cynical. I believe that I will never have the same capacity for giving in a relationship as I had in the past, and I fear that I will never really know the next man in my life. After all, it took me nine years and a divorce to truly know my ex.

A friend of mine has been with the man who is now her husband almost forever. She knows this man’s feelings and quirks like she knows herself, it must be such a great comfort to sleep next to a man who you can trust, whose history you know, who was your best friend’s brother or just the guy next door whose mother is your mom’s friend. You might have gone to school with the first girl he dated, or you might have giggled and gossiped about him with your girlfriends long before he wriggled his way into your heart and your life. The circumstances of my life did not allow for such a relationship. I grew up away from my birth country and the summers were fertile times for fantasy and short infatuations but these do not survive over long distances and do not outlive the volatility of teenage feelings. Another impediment in my character is that I am not easily impressed by the guys I meet, and even in my younger years I gravitated towards older men rather than boys of my age.  In forty years of life, my heart fluttered for no more than half a dozen men. Some of my loves were platonic and childish, others were merely one-sided crushes whose only product was love-lorn sighs and a heightened sensitivity to love songs. Ironically, my lack of experience in relationship dynamics were often brought up by my ex as one of my key failures.

I don’t know how anyone can condemn such a thing as the lack of history, especially when it is such a transient state in anybody’s life. I have missed out on meeting the man whose history I would become, I was just a station in the life of my husband, he came to me from a history of another marriage and went on -I presume- to his future as a brooding single man, whose mysterious sadness and misfortune in marriage would intrigue and touch the hearts of many unsuspecting women as it did mine.

Please do not get me wrong, dear blog. I am not actively seeking to complicate my life with a relationship. At the moment I am content to put my head to the grindstone. I work to pay the bills and forge a decent future for my son. The joy I have in life almost exclusively revolves around him. Occasionally, however, I do catch the passing interest of a person, from the straight male variety, but they mostly spell TROUBLE in red capital letters for me. There is the balding middle-aged guy who greets me every morning as I make my daily trip to Robert’s school. He must be well off I tell myself because he has his breakfast every day at that fancy coffee shop cum deli in Green Point. Perhaps he does have a wife, or a couple of ex wives who are glad to be rid of him, who knows. There is the journalist and media specialist I met on one of my assignments, I went out with him for coffee once, and he makes no secret that he has a family somewhere out-of-town. I exchange friendly chats with him every once in a while but I do not see this going anywhere past amicable friendship. There is also the businessman I met on my flight to Geneva, he is getting a boat built here in Cape Town, and he will sail it one day towards Europe. He is smart and wealthy but he reminds me too much of my ex, someone who can tell a thousand and one stories about the world but is uncomfortable divulging information about his private life. This man also has an ex-wife, with grown children, and a two-year-old daughter by another woman. He did not say whether she was also an ex or a current partner; I am more than familiar with this type of omission.

These poor possibilities of relationship may seem sad to anyone else but I am a realist. Also since I was raised in the Arab misogynist society I am less likely to question the fairness of partnership equations when it comes to long-term relationships between men and women. In my culture as long as a man can financially provide and can function in the bedroom then he can marry any woman he sets his mind on; age and compatibility in minor things such as education are not a consideration.  Rich men in oil kingdoms are well-known for fathering dozens of kids by teenage wives well into their sixties and seventies. This was before the age of Viagra and co, and I am sure modern Arab men can continue to break records in the next few generations. My birth country is not one of those rich oil fiefdoms and people generally have a hard time providing for one family, and this is perhaps the only reason Syrian men stick to one wife, although many of them can and will be unfaithful at some stage.

I left my birth country at 28 to go and work in the United Arab Emirates. While I was at home I still got offers of marriage from reasonably aged and decently educated men. Things changed when I went to the playground of the wealthy and would-be wealthy. An octogenarian with whom I had a professional conversation while I was working as a secretary started hinting at marriage, and a colleague of my father’s whom I know to have a wife and family in rural Egypt also tried to make me consider relocating with him to the land of the Nile. Thinking back at how depressed these encounters made me, I feel lucky that I said yes to my ex husband. At least he was younger, better-looking and more educated and intelligent than my other suitors. So if this was my lot at 28/29 years, what can I expect as a single mother of 40? Not much.

I cannot rewrite my history or unlearn what I have learned over the past decade, so the next man in my life will have a woman who cannot love as freely as she did before, which is really a shame, and my previous experience makes me shy away from any man with a past, and the only solution I find is to look for a younger partner. I don’t know why this is such a bad idea, especially in my society. History tells us that Mohammad’s first wife was a woman with history and many previous husbands. She was rich and perhaps offered stability and comfort to the younger man. Early Arabs did not have qualms about a woman marrying a younger man, it is only modernity that made such a partnership unacceptable.

Of course this is only fantasy at this stage. I cannot think of one good reason to venture again into the uncertainty of partner search. We all know that the good ones are already raising their children with their blissfully happy wives. The good-looking widower who is a single father to a child? This is a figment of the imagination or something that we saw on Sleepless in Seattle and even then he would go for the single woman who never married.

Not even escape literature has a willing partner for the 40-something single mom. All heroines of romance novels seems to be blushing virgins (not the case for the males of course). That said, perhaps there is a niche market for me, writing trashy escape novels for desperate middle-aged females.. My first novel will feature a 40-something single mom and the 30-something single hunk who falls for her; dreams are free.

Words To Live By

I read this phrase once and I lived by it ever since: “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable”.

It is true that following this advice made me marry the wrong man, but it also led me to discoveries about myself, what I am and where I want to be. If I hadn’t taken this chance I would have been forever wondering what if…

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