Aug 27

The Arab/American Marriage (4 years later)

So, it’s been just over 4 years since my husband and I were married and a little over 3 years since I wrote my initial post about our Arab/American marriage; a post which still garners much attention and encourages conversations among readers. It’s nice to share a bit of insight into our lives in hopes of helping at least one person who might find themselves baffled by cultural differences.

Before writing this post I thought it best to discuss things that might have changed over the last several years instead of writing yet another post about overcoming cultural challenges. Not only have I covered that topic enough but over time it feels as though our cultures are meshing to the point of becoming one in a number of ways.

Lately I’ve noticed that as women are commenting on the blog with questions about their Arab boyfriends (who are often students here in the US) I catch myself thinking, “How small minded and controlling he is!” Perhaps because my husband and I have both changed significantly since moving to America and what was once acceptable and even normal now feels confining and discriminatory. Not sure I could effortlessly move back to Kuwait and fit into a lifestyle I once felt so comfortable in. I know I miss my in-laws immensely, but fortunately, with technology and their willingness to travel, we see one another often.

Though I like to think my husband and I have never been superficial shallow people, that’s even more evident now. Holidays that once consisted of expensive gifts or vacations are now consumed with participating in activities with emotional value. Perhaps it’s a day spent at the dog park with our furry friends, or building a new cat house, or even just a family lunch at our favorite cafe. As we continue to grow closer we also seem to embrace more depth in life. We value things with meaning instead of things with a price tag.

My husband, who has always been more comfortable with the Western culture, fits neatly into his not-so-new life here. He has an incredible career, wonderful colleagues and business associates, and holds dear his simple yet meaningful lifestyle. He knows we’re making a difference regardless of how small it is.

One of the biggest differences I think we both experience is that sense of freedom. Primarily not having to be consumed with perceptions; a huge part of life in Kuwait. I’ve always been very independent, worked, managed businesses, drove, traveled, etc. And, fortunately, my husband always admired and encouraged that. Yet in Kuwait we still had to be concerned with perceptions. Would the neighbors wonder why my head wasn’t covered? Would they question who that Western woman was driving all over town alone? Would extended family members see me out and about and wonder why I wasn’t escorted by a man? While living up to those ‘standards’ wasn’t difficult, it did become emotionally daunting over time. Having to question every single move we made out of respect for some unwritten cultural rules that neither of us believed in definitely exhausted us. Here, the only respect we really have to show is to one another. And we do. Yet we have freedom to do as we please without wondering is the neighbor watching. If I want to head out at 5am for coffee and shopping (alone)… I do just that. No one cares. No one is watching. And no one would dare even question it. We want to rescue dogs… that’s what we do. No one is questioning it. No one is shaming us for having dogs in our home. And we certainly don’t have to worry someone will toss poison over our fence to try and harm our pets. We’re free.

Over the years, since writing my first post about the Arab/American marriage, the primary question has been, “How to overcome cultural differences?”. And as I’m sure my answer has changed over time, I can comfortably say the best advice I have is just to live the life you want to live. Be yourself. Love what you do and where you are. And if that person (whether it’s the Arab or the American) is supposed to be in your life then they’ll be comfortable with all of that. If they are constantly trying to change you then it’s definitely not the relationship for you. Yeah, this is pretty standard advice for any relationship regardless of background and culture but things can get quite blurred when the cultures are so very different.

Thanks to those of you who still hang around and read the blog during the very rare occasion I write something new. I always have thoughts and ideas running through my head and often think I should blog about them, but I doubt they would be of much interest to those who don’t know me personally. Perhaps someday.

 

Jun 26

Kuwait Mosque Bombing

Our deepest condolences to those directly affected by this horrific tragedy.

I am shocked and saddened something of this nature could, and has happened in Kuwait. I’ve never felt more safe than I did while living in Kuwait. I always believed Kuwait was immune to these types of incidents and to know otherwise is very painful.

U.S. Embassy Kuwait message:

Subject:      Security Notice for U.S. Citizens 2015-2

Explosion at Mosque in Al-Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait City

There has been an explosion at a mosque in the Al Sawaber neighborhood of Kuwait.  There have been reports of deaths and injuries.  U.S. citizens should avoid the area.  Please stay current with media coverage of local and regional events. U.S. Mission personnel have been advised to continue to practice personal security awareness and we advise the U.S. citizen community to do the same.

Ambulances park in front of the Imam Sadiq Mosque after a bomb explosion following Friday prayers, in the Al Sawaber area of Kuwait City June 26, 2015. REUTERS/Jassim Mohammed

Ambulances park in front of the Imam Sadiq Mosque after a bomb explosion following Friday prayers, in the Al Sawaber area of Kuwait City June 26, 2015. REUTERS/Jassim Mohammed

Jun 19

Ramadan Kareem (2015)

Ramadan Kareem

Jun 05

Ramadan is coming!

Every year around this time I get super excited. Kinda like a kid on Christmas Eve waiting for Santa to arrive.

While living in the Middle East full time there was this overall ‘build up’ in anticipation of Ramadan every year. And everyone seemed to share in it. The super markets would be so busy there was no parking, grocery prices would skyrocket, work slowed down in offices as everyone prepared for a month long semi-shut down, and families started preparing long in advance. Here in America (especially in the area we live), one would never know Ramadan was coming… or that is was here once it arrives. Nothing changes. Nothing is decorated. And only occasionally do we see a random church wishing a happy Ramadan to Muslims on signs in front of their congregations. But, it still holds a very dear place in my heart. I’ll still allow myself to get excited and prepare just as if I were in Kuwait.

*Google Image

*Google Image

Not too far from our home is an Arabic market which sells halal meats, seasonings, spices, Vimto, lebneh, dates, and other Ramadan necessities. I’ve been popping in there lately in hopes of finding l’gaymat and sambousa jibbin. So far no luck but I’m tempted to put in a special request in hopes of being accommodated. I do miss my mother in law’s cooking!

My husband totally understands my desire to indulge in our favorite treats during Ramadan and I’m sure his compassion comes from a place of sharing the same desire. As of today he’s started seeking out bakeries between here and NYC that makes all of our favorites. It’s an hour flight… and would be totally worth it. Or, well, I could just learn to make them myself but how disappointing would it be if nothing turned out edible?

No, of course Ramadan isn’t just about food (it just happens to be on my mind a lot as I start preparations). It’s truly about ensuring we’re being the best person we can be and to make a conscious decision to make improvements where we see fit. Sure it’s something everyone should do throughout the year, and I like to believe I do, but Ramadan is a nice reminder. Years ago I attempted to do a Ramadan post for the entire month by sharing little ideas of things to make someone’s day a little better. However, I simply no longer have time to invest in daily posts.

While things are certainly different during Ramadan as compared to when we’re in Kuwait, it’s still a time that brings excitement and anticipation.

Wishing you all a wonderful Ramadan with loved ones.

Jun 01

Intercultural marriages; where to live?

When my husband and I were first married 4 years ago the question of where to live came up… a lot. No, not which city, or which neighborhood. We had to decide which side of the world we were going to call home, settle, and plan our future in. This meant one of us was going to spend much of the year away from the country and culture where we spent our childhood and made a number of memories.

By the time we were married I had already lived in the Middle East for a decade, so in a lot of ways it too was my home. However, all of my family was still in America. All of my memories and childhood friends as well. But, my family is quite small, consisting of only 4 immediate family members. While my husband, on the other hand, has about 25 immediate family members. Then of course there’s the cousins, the aunts, uncles, etc. I don’t have any of those in my family. So staying in Kuwait seemed like the logical choice. But, it wasn’t the the choice we made.

After a couple of years of marriage I started longing for life in America. We visited several times a year, but it just wasn’t the same. And with each visit I was reminded of so many things I truly missed a lot more than I had previously thought. My husband, being one who never meshed with his culture, also started missing things from America. So, we packed up most of our belongings and our beloved cats and made the move.

Should all women married to Arab men expect he’ll be willing to do the same? Probably not. That culture is deeply rooted in family. And for a man to make the decision to move to the other side of the world with his Western wife is a pretty big decision. But, over the past several years I have met a number of American/Kuwaiti couples of have relocated to America together. I’ll admit, I was surprised.

So, how is life now that we’ve been here a couple of years? Well, we’re completely acclimated, have a large group of awesome friends, invest a great deal of time into the happiness of our furry family members, have our favorite coffee shops, restaurants, and a solid schedule. We live what most people would consider the ‘typical American life’ and we couldn’t be happier. I’ll occasionally ask my husband how he feels about the possibility of moving back to Kuwait one day and he doesn’t seem to be to keen on the idea. Right now he’s perfectly happy with a few visits a year to spend quality time with the family. And I suppose I’m OK with that too.

May 05

The year of me; getting healthy, getting strong, feeling great

At some point last year it dawned on me my entire adult life has been dedicated to others in some manner. This hadn’t been an issue or even a topic of conversation while living abroad because I still found time to travel, spend days at the salon, and submerge myself in luxurious comforts anytime I saw fit. Since getting married, starting a business, adopting 20 additional legs, moving to America, and acquiring a variety of livestock that must be fed on a daily basis, ‘me time’ seems to have gotten lost. Don’t get me wrong, I look around at my current life and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m genuinely happy beyond measure and fully realize how fortunate I am to be afforded this life. But it doesn’t mean the selfish little girl who has always resided within has moved away. She’s still here and she sometimes screams, “Hey, isn’t it pedicure day?”

Several months ago, before the end of 2014, I made the announcement to my husband; the ‘year of me’ announcement. I simply explained I felt it would be a good idea if all of 2015 was dedicated to me, my well being, and the simple pleasures I truly enjoy in life. Of course my plan was to do this without requiring anyone else to sacrifice and without neglecting my responsibilities. I mean, I am still an adult after all. Perhaps not by choice… but, well. My husband, being the kind understanding guy he is, welcomed the idea with open arms which really translated to, “I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about but yeah, sure, OK.” Fortunately I had a pretty strong grasp on my plan and felt comfortable with the idea of investing an entire year to me.

Since January I’ve made a number of positive (in my opinion) changes in my life which not only help to boost my self esteem but also play a role in my overall health. I’ve gone on a very healthy diet, lost a significant amount of weight, incorporated regular exercise into my days, and pay very close attention to what goes into my body, ie. vitamins, proteins, etc. I’ve cut out all sodas (including diet drinks) and only drink water with lemon or green tea with lemon and mint when I’m not downing a protein shake. My energy level has increased so much I find that I don’t even miss coffee/espresso. I’ve also decided since I’m working on the inside I also deserve to work on the outside; self esteem purposes. I accept that I’m aging, it’s part of life. But it doesn’t mean I have to look worn out or diminished in any way. So, I’ve opted for monthly IPL laser treatments, chemical peels, micro-needling, and after the summer I’ll possibly do a bit of fillers and Botox. My goal is simply to be a healthier version of myself, not to alter my current appearance.

More recently I’ve also been viewing a few travel options and contemplating some places I haven’t been yet. But, planning travel always leaves us with the question of pet care — a stressful topic — so for now I’ll postpone lengthy vacations and embrace my mini-staycations.

I’ve also decided this is the year I’ll invest more time into my friends. We often assume our long time (or new) friends will always be there when we need them. But if we’re not doing our part as a friend, then perhaps they won’t be. I like to believe I’m a good friend but there’s always more I could do to maintain those truly important friendships.

Then there’s blogging; a hobby I’ve enjoyed for more than a decade. Sadly, it just doesn’t seem I have the time I once had though sometimes the desire is certainly still there. But, as much as blogging has been a part of my life, it’s changed. The format has changed, the ideas behind it, and even the audience. Blogging was once a form of expression and a way to vent for many of us. Sadly most of those blogs are long since gone and we’re left with pages of paid advertisements or dishonest reviews where the effort invested is directly aligned with the money they were paid to write it. Most bloggers have moved on to Instagram, Snap Chat, and other forms of social media. For me… even those became tedious.

I digress…

I’m so fortunate to have a life which allows me to embrace this ‘year of me’ and a husband who supports it… even if he really has no idea what he’s supporting. But one thing I’ve learned these past few months is that regardless of my adult responsibilities genuinely taking some time to invest in my personal well-being is priceless, and well deserved. Sometimes, in everyone’s life, we tend to focus on the here and now and kinda forget that being a little selfish from time to time isn’t a crime. If anything, it’s often that extra oomph we need to get through some of those hectic days. So yeah, I guess we could say my inner child is the healing power my outer adult has always needed.

Jan 19

The old and the new; self definition within cultural norms

Though we no longer reside full time in Kuwait we certainly make an effort to keep up with the daily happenings there considering we do still have family and other interests there. Let me rephrase that, I keep up with the daily happenings. My husband has almost zero interest in what’s taking place in Kuwait. He’s never really ‘meshed’ with the culture so to speak, he’s often had to pretend certain behaviors and put on the fake smile, and always knew he just didn’t belong in some odd way. In my humble opinion, and in no way trying to offend anyone; I think, over time, he just consciously educated himself beyond what was/is accepted in his culture. He not only thought outside of the box, but he left the box all together.

Perhaps it’s because I’m away from Kuwait more than I’m there I see it through different eyes. But over the past few years it feels as though Kuwait has become divided within itself. There’s the older generation who want to lean more in the direction of big brother Saudi Arabia, and the younger generation who want to follow the lead of the UAE. And if you’re familiar with Saudi and the UAE you’ll understand the stark differences between the two though their foundation of beliefs are the same. Just like the population of Kuwait.

The elders in Kuwait are also divided on some level — the open minded and those with a beard. OK, not nice, but you get the idea.

The open minded older generation are all for change in Kuwait. The type of change that resembles their childhood when Kuwait was ‘pre-invasion’ and there was a sense of freedom and equality in the country. Women didn’t always cover their heads, married couples attended mixed gender events, and people even danced without finger pointing or the fear of being arrested.

The other half of the older generation, those sporting a beard, well, they want change too. However, while their idea of change is also a glimpse into the past, it’s so far in the past few would even recognize it. In their minds Kuwait should revert to a primitive lifestyle where every action is dictated by religious beliefs.

You can see how this could lead to conflict both personally and politically. Now throw into the mix the Kuwaiti youth. Those who truly want to see a change which resembles something from the future. They’re proactive, progressive, intelligent, and educated. But sadly, all of this forward movement makes them appear to be running from the past. Obviously upsetting the elders who cling to the past like a lifebuoy preventing them from taking their last breath.

All of this internal conflict isn’t good for the country. It leaves them discombobulated, confused, and lacking any real direction. And from the outside, they appear to just be a mess. Imagine what other local governments must think of them. Saudi has managed to hold onto their ancient past… and even enforce it for the most part. And the UAE has managed to seamlessly bring modern day freedoms into their Islamic country while maintaining their values and culture. Bravo!

Kuwait? Well, Kuwait is just struggling from within to find its identity. Quite similar to many of those Kuwaiti (and non-Kuwaiti/expat) youth who are dying to be trend setters yet are only following things the modern world accomplished decades ago. And while I watch them face a number of interior challenges, I’m always rooting for their win. Kuwait holds a piece of my heart and will always be a part of my life. I love Kuwait and beam with pride while sharing stories with friends here at home. I long for the day the country finds itself and unites — because I do believe that can happen. Until that day comes change will never happen, whether it be forward or backwards.

Below are a couple of videos entitled ‘Kuwait Then & Now” (parts 1 & 2). I’ve only watched the first few minutes but found it to be quite interesting.

 

Jan 01

Happy New Year

Though it’s been a slow year for blogging and I’ve been slowly disappearing from the blogosphere all together, it doesn’t mean I don’t always appreciate my (still loyal) readers. Surprised some of you continue to check in for new posts, but it’s definitely flattering and genuinely appreciated.

We’re spending our New Year’s Eve quietly. An early dinner with dear friends and a night at home listening to fabulous jazz music by the fire. And though we don’t do resolutions, we do always hope to be just a bit better than we were the day before… or even the year before.

Wishing you all a wonderful, happy, and safe new year.

Dec 27

Different cultures = new traditions

My grave lack of interest in Christmas this year recently prompted a very serious conversation between me and myself. Not out loud, though I have been known to talk to myself.

“Wanna go shopping?”

“Nah. It’s too hot.”

“Wanna decorate and start a fire in the fireplace?”

“Nah. It’s too hot.”

I think I was trying to convince myself the two days of unseasonably warm weather we were having was stripping away any sign of Christmas spirit I could have possibly felt — the way I did in previous years. But, the more I contemplated and talked myself out of doing anything holiday related, the more I realized it was because it lacked the same emotional relevance it did as I was growing up. Or even as I was living overseas for so very long.

AB

My husband, on the other hand, goes out of his way every holiday season to make it as special as he possibly can for me which was very appreciated before moving home to the U.S. However, it recently dawned on me that his idea of a ‘special Christmas’ is doing what he’s seen in movies and on television. He never grew up celebrating the holiday and really has no clue the significance of certain things… like the ‘build up’ of excitement as the holiday season approaches. Or why things such as ‘Black Friday’ make many of us insane with joy. Cookie exchanges, gift wrapping parties, or matching pajamas on Christmas Eve. Of course when I suggest these things he’s totally on board, but it made me realize he’s just going through the motions for my benefit. 

That being said, during my intimate conversation with myself about this overall detachment from the holidays I was experiencing, I had an epiphany — new traditions!

AB2

My husband and I genuinely love one another dearly and would go out of our way to make each other happy. He pretends his way through the holiday season while I detach from it as a way to prevent him from experiencing any inconvenience. So, as a way to bring us closer together and connect on a more significant level this year, we opted to create some new traditions of our own. Such as a romantic dinner at a very exclusive (and decked out for Christmas in terms of decor) restaurant the first week of December. Black Friday shopping on Saturday at local businesses only. Christmas Eve breakfast at Cracker Barrel, and Christmas Eve night at the local Jazz club with great friends and family. Just a few small modifications that allow us to enjoy the holiday season in a way that defines ‘us’ a bit better than any Christmas movie we’ve ever seen.

So yeah, after almost 4 years of marriage we still occasionally face cultural differences. But chances of us defining them as such is pretty rare. I suppose we often just overcome challenges like any other married couple; compromise, love, and respect.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season filled with happiness and perhaps even some new traditions of your own.

Dec 05

Emirati woman murders American teacher

While I’ve not blogged in quite some time and had even decided it was time to stop, some things just deserve a bit of attention. That coupled with the fact I absolutely love to write leaves me squeezing my way back into the blogosphere every now and then.

Below is a lengthy video released by the Emirati Security Team outlining the details of the recent murder of an American teacher by an Emirati woman.

It seems there was some kind of verbal altercation between the two women in a public restroom and the Emirati woman pulled out a large kitchen knife and stabbed the American teacher to death. The Emirati woman (seen by surveillance) then leaves the bathroom as others appear to run from the area screaming, gets onto an elevator, and leaves the scene in an SUV with the license plate hidden by an Emirati flag. The Emirati National Day was a few days ago so this large flag on her car wouldn’t have appeared out of place.

The video also shows additional footage of the same woman pulling a small suitcase (later found to have explosives) which is placed in front of an American teacher’s residence. Not the same teacher she stabbed. The video goes on to show her arrest, the search of her vehicle, discovering the explosive devices, and arrest of the suspect.

I’m a bit miffed that her face and head are blurred in the video — as if some ‘respect’ is being shown to her as a ‘Muslim’ woman. Her actions are not in any way Islamic, and therefore no respect should be shown to her as she’s certainly not exhibiting behaviors of practicing Muslim.

The news has reported a possible connection between the suspect and ISIL/DAESH.

Updated news can be found in the Emirates 24/7 News.

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