Not For Me

Twice in as many days I have been told that I should be open to change in my life and look for a mate. One well-meaning friend and her mother spoke again about getting me to color my prematurely grey hair. And my supervisor at work told me that I should not let the child rule my life. Sometimes, like today for example, I feel they are right.  My child who turns five tomorrow is a tyrant in the making, he figures he owns me.  When I went on a long-deferred bike ride with him this afternoon, I could not even ride in a circle of twenty meters around him, and he did not want to ride next to me complaining it is too hard. In fact, I can hardly call my outings with him exercise because I normally ride so slow, that I always feel a breath away from toppling over. Not fun at all.

Yesterday I started thinking about relationships again. After breaking up the only dating experience I had since my divorce, I have come to the conclusion that I do not have it in me anymore to invest emotionally in a new relationship, with all the insecurities it brings. If I were ten or even six years younger maybe I would have had no other choice than to go through the endless questioning of am I beautiful enough, tall enough slim enough, or hot enough to be marketable with men.

Today, I do not want to market myself as a commodity or promote my female assets and attractive appearance. Yes, I may be open to love again, but it is a different type of love that I am looking for. When I was still brand new on the marriage market I settled for a second-hand candidate, who is much older but far less mature, so I got duped twice.  Had I married the boy next door from back home, I would have had the wonderful comfort of being with someone I have known all my life, growing with him and through him. I gave this transformation process my best shot with my ex, and I changed dramatically to adapt to him, but even that hasn’t helped keep my marriage together.  Today I feel I have neither the time nor the energy to learn about someone and adapt my personality to suit him, least of all a man who has never gone through the journey of a marriage.

When my supervisor raised the subject, and she is perhaps the nosiest woman this side of the Atlantic (a quality that comes naturally to almost all women of a certain age, from a certain are in the middle east), I brushed off her suggestion of having a boyfriend by saying that it is hard for me to shake off my conservative Arab identity and adopt a free attitude to casual relationships; I only wanted to protect myself from her nosiness. However, I feel that my excuse is not that far from the truth. Middle Eastern culture is one that expects a woman to mold herself to the wishes of her partner, so a traditional relationship is not entirely a 50-50 partnership, the woman does two-thirds of the work while a man, a good one that is, can get away with one-third.  For a long time, women have resorted to various dubious methods to overcome this particular mindset, and they usually get their way by rejecting their men in bed, or denying certain privileges. These soft-power devices can only be used in traditional settings, and are thus becoming less prominent in the modern world. Nevertheless, the traditional role of women in a marriage will take longer to evolve into an equal partnership. Men still expect women to meet them more than halfway on most issues, and what is worse, is that mothers raise their daughters to lower their expectations in regards to partnership in marriage, thus repeating the cycle endlessly.

My parents have a traditional marriage. The role of my mother was mostly confined to raising the children and looking after the home. Thus, I was raised with these lowered expectations and carried them into my marriage. It took me almost seven years to realize that when things went wrong in my marriage, it was not because I could not cook, or did not keep the house up to the standards of my husband. After years of desperately trying, I understood that my marriage was a disaster, not because of my failure to meet the golden criteria of my ex. It just shattered because I was with a man who expected me to change completely to please him, while he was never ready to do so. The lesson was tough, and it took me too long to learn. That is why I am forever afraid to fall into the same trap. And that is why I am afraid of this traditional Arab identity to surface if I ever let my guard down and entered into a partnership where I felt the tiniest bit inferior.

This is perhaps what killed my relationship project. It came down to a woman in the middle of her life, and a younger man who is still starting his first test-run. I feared that at some point I will have to change too much, or sacrifice too much to make it work. I feared that I would be obliged to make myself look younger, maybe try for another child at the eleventh hour, or change too many of my ways to be accepted as a possible partner.

My friend’s mom already flashed the warning signal in my face. No matter how much men tell you they like you the way you are, they always love you in younger or prettier versions. This was true in my experience, and unfortunately it doesn’t even stop at the color of the hair, it went beyond to influence, taste, friendships, and private activities. Even how long you stay awake every night after husband falls asleep.

If my life was a Hollywood movie, I will meet tomorrow a single father, a blameless victim who is trying to rebuild a family for his kid,  or stumble upon a long-lost male friend, who has finally found the courage too look for me after he became free himself. But, eish, as we say in South Africa, Hollywood this isn’t. It is just the drudgery of everyday life, and no matter how I wish for it, It is impossible to have an already broken-in husband, without first going through the pain and blisters of trying to fit a boyfriend. If I really wanted a mate, I will have to go to square one, and look amongst the junk, the flotsam of broken marriages, or the ones nobody bothered to pick in the first place. Try to sift the one genuine gem from mountains of fakes, and go through all the idiocy of dating, pretending, and trying to please. No sorry, not for me. I am particularly proud of who I am now, and where I am. I did not arrive here without pain or sacrifice, and I am comfortable and happy in my own skin. My gray head of hair suits me fine. My boy is my buddy and my companion and I enjoy being around him, most of the time. When the time comes for him to spread his wings and leave me  for his own set of friends I will resort to my work or the activities I normally never have time for. I will not be different from many of my single childless friends, I will still be happy. I will not change to catch a man, I will not change to please or keep a man. I will only change to please the woman who looks at me from the mirror every morning, because she is the only person who is guaranteed to stay with me for the rest of my life.

 

Reflections on Breastfeeding

I am grateful that my little one got over “mama” (mom’s breast milk) so quickly, even though it is still a big deal for me, emotionally.

As I was reflecting on this wonderful bonding gift that I gave myself and my son, I spotted this article in the guardian.co.uk. I found it because the local radio stations made such a big deal out of it : Salma Hayek breastfed a malnourished African baby while visiting Sierra Leon. The article above links to the actual video. Most commenters agreed that it was so beautiful and natural, but of course to the westernized world this is such a big deal. One commenter even mentioned the dangers of cross-breastfeeding. In Middle Eastern and Islamic culture the practice is not so unusual. So much so that there is a degree of kinship resulting from breastfeeding in Islamic tradition.  A woman who breastfeeds a baby becomes “a mother by nursing” and the child becomes a sibling “by nursing” to all her biological children because he or she was fed from the same breast.  Children who nursed at the same breast are not allowed to intermarry even if they are not biologically related.  I find it interesting that Islamic tradition recognizes the importance of nursing and the kinship that result from it, especially if  you consider that the same culture does not recognize step-brother or step-sister as a valid relationship.

In my family I became a little bit of an oddity, because I breastfed Robert for almost 18 months.  The Islamic tradition recommends two years until weaning, but in my mother’s days the practice was in sharp decline. It was considered somehow less than modern to extend breastfeeding beyond six month. Yes, there were those moms who nursed for much longer, but they were mostly uneducated housebound moms from conservative religious families. I do not know what the practice is like in my birth country today, but it has returned to favour in the west or at least here in South Africa. Even in my playgroup I was not the only mom who chose to extend breastfeeding. Salma Hayek is still breastfeeding her daughter at 12 months, so I am not such an oddity, I am glad.

In the past 17 months I enjoyed almost every aspect of nursing: the closeness, the bonding, and the carefree relaxing time with my son. I failed, however, to appreciate what it physically endowed me with: A perfectly womanly hourglass figure. In the absence of their primary function my breasts have shrunk to their pre-pregnancy size, and I realize with dismay that I am very small, blast that.

Check out this funny video of Salma Hayek in a talk show, talking about insecurities on this particular issue.

Hit Me Where it Hurts

I think my brother-in-law is an idiot. But then again there are so many of his kind in my old country.

Recently, I lamented in this post the plight of women in my country of origin. The piece was brought about by what I think of as my sister’s digression into blind submission to the dictates of society. This submission is well-disguised as Islamic morals, values, and mostly dress code (wearing the headscarf or Hijab).

Today my good sister’s husband came up with another gem from my erstwhile people who have been dozing for the last thousand years. He splashed a “funny” post all over Facebook’s “Funwall” and forwarded it to his numerous friends – most of whom are WOMEN if I may add.

I am translating it from the original Arabic:

Behind every great man .. a woman

Behind every prisoner.. a woman

Behind every problem.. a woman

Behind every war.. a woman

Behind every traffic accident.. a woman

Behind every fight between neighbours … a woman

Behind the demographic imbalance… a woman

Behind the corruption of young men and their depravity.. a woman

Behind every mother and father who were thrown into an old age home… a woman

I want to know who was the stupid ox who called them the fairer sex.

End of gem.

Given my current situation, I am not very good friends with the male fraternity at the moment. But this particular post would enrage me even on a good day, and I do not think it is funny at all. It simply illustrates the male (and especially the Middle Eastern male’s) attitude of passing the responsibility of EVERYTHING onto a woman’s shoulders. Men get away with this because we women have broad shoulders, and can carry everything the guys throw at us: The groceries, the kids, and a good portion of the home-loan to boot. We do it with love, then we smile and ask for more of the load.

Yesterday I drew up a list of items I bought in the last two years and gave it to Mr. Negativity. I did that because in the settlement he stated that I will be getting X thousand Rand’s worth of household effects. I annotated the items I would like to have and added them up to come up with the amount HE said I would get. His response: “I don’t want to go into nit-picking”. Of course, it is nit picking, because I am the one who is asking for stuff. In contrast it is not nit-picking when he demands that I throw petrol in the car on the rare occasions I dare to use it, or when he makes me pay for his son’s passport applications.

His latest antic: I am not allowed to use the car for moving my few belongings to my friend’s house down the road, no more than two kilometers away. And of course it is too much “effort and expense” for him to drive me there. Yet, he wants me “out of his hair” sooner rather than later. Perhaps I should do a sit-in protest on top of my boxes, and wait to see who will break first. Believe me, I want out as well, but I have put up with this crap for nine years, what is a few days more?

Why?

As I sit here near the Southernmost tip of Africa wearing shorts and sandals, my sister still perches north of the Arabian peninsula and dons her headscarf to go out shopping.

When I first heard about my sister’s conversion to become a newborn Muslim, if I may use the expression, I was fuming with anger. How dare she, I thought. It is the ultimate betrayal of women’s rights and liberty to bend to the needs of society and cover one’s head. It is absurd, since the head and the face are neutral parts of our anatomy and cannot be considered seductive. Not even the thickest and most bouncy hair can be considered sexually alluring, or am I thinking again in the logic of western societies?

I grew up in an Arab country, where Christians and Muslims live side by side. The increasing religious zeal was apparent as I grew up. It has resulted in clear distinctions between the so-called secular or non-practicing Muslims and the orthodox faction. The absolute majority is orthodox and their pressure on the rest is very strong. After all they have the voice of Allah on their side and literally the threat of hell.

If you couple this with the prevalent misogynist view of society, you come up with a situation where the morality of society is dependent on the way women dress. I have been brought up to the tune of : “Men are creatures of lust and they cannot control it, it is a woman’s duty and obligation to put a stop to their advances”. Women kindly dispense of such advice to their daughters and female charges, while turning a blind eye to the dalliances of their sons. I think it is ridiculous to expect women to carry society’s morals on their shoulders, as if they do not have feelings and desires like men. Men are secure in the knowledge that they aren’t the ones to get “caught” and therefore, and in true male fashion they just pass on the responsibility onto the female.

The society I was born into does not give evenhanded instruction to young men and women when it comes to sexual knowledge. Women are prohibited from any sexual adventures prior to marriage, yet it is acceptable for men to have such an experience. It is purposely overlooked that this sort of experience will only come about with willing female partners. Whether these are frustrated married women or poor girls who are willing to go loose for a new item of clothing, or just girls who have slipped once and no longer need to preserve their image of purity. Regardless of what sort of woman gives the man his first initiation into sex, her existence makes this patriarchal society even more distrustful of women. Therefore men try to enforce veils on their women, to prevent other men from ogling them. This is another one sided solution that does not require or expect the participation of men in enforcing morals. Women are forced, coerced, or convinced to cover up in the manner of the last century, while their husband walk alongside wearing the latest fashion. They would never dream of wearing the ‘dress’ of the prophet and his ilk except to prayer. And while their own women are safely covered there are hundreds others whom they can freely ogle. The fact that they are not covered up labels them as available and willing prey for flirtation and maybe more.

Women need to carry the weight of children and family, in addition to keeping the integrity of their marriage. They are also responsible for the immorality, women are the root of all evil. Meanwhile, men can contemplate this sad state of affairs while watching scantly clad women on satellite television, or while conversing with other buddies over tea and bubbly (water pipe). What a wonderful life.