Monday, September 21, 2015

Life and Eid in Oman: Have I Reached That Typical Nervous Western-Expat-to-Omani-Wife Breakdown Point?

I love Oman, don't get me wrong. It is never cold here. I can wear open-toe shoes (or even flip flops) to work. I drink fresh juice, see amazing culture, get to photograph and design some awesome stuff. Alot of Muslim women I know would be so satisfied with the life I lead, the family I have, the stuff I have, the place I am in, surrounded by mosques, hearing the call to prayer everyday, safe, and still relatively free to move about and do my own thing. I know this. I am not an ingrate.

But maybe I am having a breakdown? I recently freaked out on my Omani husband (who I love dearly and beats any lad from back home by like 100,000,000 meters) saying I hated my life here, it was boring, and I was wasting away!!!! And how I didn't like Eid at all, and since I didn't get like, family Christmas, as I didn't want to spend my Eid cutting meat, wearing stupid hot clothes I don't like (wearing a scarf even around other women ALLLLLL the bloody freakin' time), and sitting politely eating food that just doesn't cut it for me (rice, harees, shuwa---all lovely things but not what I want as a treat on a holiday). And having little privacy, since, like, we don't have a house in his village so I depend on others for the freedom to use their kitchen and when to come and go. I love his family. I like their food. They must think I hate them, but really I don't. It is just hard for me. They don't know, really, what I gave up. Since I don't contact my family or friends much unless someone is sick or dying or getting married and never go home, I must not have much to miss right?

But for me, things I miss, are usually better kept in the back of the mind, away from speaking about, thinking about, going on about. But Eid makes me miss (not another life) but another way of living.

Of course, my Omani husband knows, if I go back to my home country, I hate it there even more. Islamaphobia, racism, orientalism, of my religion, drive me to commit crimes (serrious) or to feel depressed and not want to go out, the cold eats away at my soul and disturbs my health, and the bleakness of being surrounded by polite hypocrisy and deliberate ignorance... it does something very bad to me, eats out the core of me, wounds me, in a way that has not healed yet. Maybe I could live in Ireland? Even though everybody there was pretty much Catholic, they were a lot nicer than home. If someone doesn't like something, they say it, and that's the end of it. I like that. But mostly people don't have opinions on what they don't know, and are otherwise friendly, and that's nice. But the cold.... Nope, I couldn't do it. Plus supersitious people never like me. Something about my family ancestry (we've got banshees or Jinn or what have you attached to us and all our husbands are doomed). Whatever, its nonsense. Marriages are doomed because of much less, I feel. I guess that's why Grandma Grace went away...

But when I compare how I lived there compared to here, is it any wonder I am bored? Or feel I am being wasted?
In the city I had bookshops, vintage clothing, antique shopping, boulangeries, pattiseries, delis, restaurants (that didn't eat up my salary the way eating out in Oman does), architecture, museums, art, parks, gardens, race tracks (horses and cars)... literally I could just walk around and watch my life go by there. If people were better (or less ignorant or cruel) I might have. I didn't even photograph stuff there, or blog much. I had a very full life. I enjoyed it.

In the country I had camping, boating, hiking, biking, off-roading, painting, writing, reading, bookshops too, shooting, hunting, fishing (didn't like to do this but some people do), surfing (I suck), skiing, skating, hockey, motorcross (I only watched), rugby, soccer/football, riding, drinking (some people do too much of this and as a Muslim I refrain of course), and family. I mean, we country (even if it is weekend and holiday only) girls can rock climb, swim, ride, shoot, build a fire, get a 4x4 winched, change tires, paint our own apartments, fix stuff... In Oman, I don't get to do much of this. Not that I CAN'T in abaya and hijab (because I can surf in my get-up and that's hard) but because it isn't "done" or easy or available here. Below are some pics of one of my bestfriend B, doing all the stuff I miss (and I mean, we women did these things on our own, not always with brothers and guy friends and husbands---we didn't just have coffee and shop and sit around dressed up drinking tea):
Now, to Arabs, our Western family is different. When we are close with our family that is. Unlike Arabs, the men and women mix. By mixing, I mean we talk (not about everything but most stuff) I know all my cousins, male, and was friends (as in I spoke to them and knew generally about the details of their lives) with them growing up or thought of them like an Uncle if they were older than me (I still wear hijab in front of them). I have a larger family. My mother comes from a family of thirteen (they were Catholic), and my father from a family of five boys, all of whom married and had kids but one brother. We visit each other every other weekend, if we live close by eachother. Every holiday (Christmas, birthdays, Anniversaries, Easter, Weddings, and Government holidays) we get together, usually for food, drinking, talking, giving presents, and occasionally dancing (though no one in my family but Grandma Grace could sing so we weren't that musical and she didn't believe women should sing in front of crowds so...).
Why I like our holidays in general weddings and Christmases better, is simply because the sexes are not seperated maybe? I can see my husband, feel like a family, share conversation together (which trust me, really is better when it isn't a bunch of women in a group talking about the same polite stuff over and over again ----usually). There are foods and snacks I like. My family gets into ridiculous silly debates. People have memorable contests (like who can catch a watermelon thrown up into the air on a knife point). We relax. We laugh together. We know eachother.

Somehow I feel, that most people for Eid in Oman, are being someone else for their family. Like, they put on their best appearence when they go to village or something, and there's things they don't say, and stuff they don't talk about, and I feel, even if I could speak Arabic, maybe somehow my husband's family would like me less then. Because I have stories, and not a very quiet soul.

Weddings are better because my father can be there with me, and my husband. It isn't like a formal-dress sleepover girls' party, which are kind of what Omani women's weddings are like. It feels... showey... like a photography stunt, or... again something distant. I like having a first dance with my father then with my husband. I like sitting and eating with my husband if I am getting married. I don't want to be alone on a chair with everyone looking at me as a bride... I'd hate that. I'd like for my uncles to make stupid speaches and tease my husband as I know they would. I'd like my husband's family to see how properly my family behave together even mixed (so long as you keep beer and wine away lol).

And family when there is no occasion... I meet my uncles for coffee, go for walks or garden with my Aunts (or paint their house, or makeover an old coffee table we bought at a used store). I have tea with my father, and talk about the news and books we've read. I go to the movies with my sister, and shop (and fight with her publically there;) ).

I think, even an unhappy marriage survives longer in this lifestyle. I could go out and walk places (and there was public transport). I could spend my days in museums and art galleries, reading, window-shopping, sewing stuff, painting stuff, fixing stuff. Here... that's all very expensive or impossible.

My marriage is happy here so my husband asks me if I didn't have to work or constantly mind the kids and had money to do all this stuff... would it be better? I have to watch out, because maybe he is secretly asking me (jealous stupid Omani man that he is), would I have been happier if I married that rich guy who asked me to marry him, who I would rather-be-hit-by-a-bus -than-marry, to have a better lifestyle.... I don't think it would. That would just be less stressful. It wouldn't solve the artifice  and lack of free-movement of Omani-society-tribal-family-based life I encounter outside the walls of our nuclear home. It wouldn't make it okay for us to do our own thing for Eid. It wouldn't make antique stores and easy DIY projects, etc... and cheap entertainment, suddenly appear.

What is the solution for this rant? I don't know. I am still searching for the answer to that, but I can't brush it aside and say that is simply homesickness, or have others erringly define it as regret for the choices I have made.


Omanly said...

This is a very complex topic and I admire you for being so open about it. I am not sure there is a satisfactory answer. One has to find his/her own peace in this sense. Like in everything there is a compromise when it comes to a "cultural home". Whether it is chosen or indigenous, this cultural environ will always put you at test in many ways. The one of origin through those things you don't agree with and challenge all the time; the chosen one through missing the known and familiar alternative. Those living the migrating life of permanent expats know that well. There is nothing that fully replaces your cultural roots. You can ignore it, or deny it or just pretend you are a liberal culture-less globalopolitan, but those fundamental values imprinted in the first decade of your life will always be there. They manifest themselves with varied strength in the various stages and circumstances in life, but they are never gone. Because learning to walk, talk, play and make friends are not happening in a vacuum. They are in a cultural context which determines those experiences.
Whish you find this cultural piece and the compromises are always smaller than the gains.

Anonymous said...

Being Western expat I was happy to come to Oman.But over the years I got very very bored.I gave up my hobbies-because of the inability to do so,the lack of items I miss and mainly-the culture I was used to.
I miss a lot my bookstore where I could spend full day just reading the books,I miss getting lost in a strange city wandering around,I miss evening walks around,I miss forest hikings,I miss my friends,I miss music,gigs and festivals.
I know this means nothing to many but I we have to leave the life to be happy.And I have made a decision to leave Oman.I will miss it(Oman is beautiful place) but to fulfill my life with a culture would be much much enjoyable I believe.
Follow your dream,follow your heart,don't get wasted.It's worth to faith(even with your 2nd self,follow your sun)

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Omanly: That's so true, and thank you sincerely for your wishes (miss your blog posts!). Sorry for my typos...

Anonymous: mmm the forest. I miss the forest and getting lost wandering around a city. I try to do that in Mutrah sometimes... but occasionally aloser man follows me... or it is too hot. Mutrah is really the only place in Oman I have found yet where I can get lost in a metropolitan area and just wander...

Al fair so far has the best bookstore in Muscat, and that's kind of weird isn't it... although there is that used one in Qurum.Somehow it it isn't the same here. I miss wacky festivals too. In my city we had this thing where people dress up in costumes and make sculptures out of llanterns and lights... it was pretty fun. Muscat festival is...not exactly like that at all lol.

But there is more that I love here than I loathe, as (reading Omanly's comment) I did spend some years of the first decade of my life here. But I still lived that in a different culture (independent of society not dependent upon it like Omani culture). I could get into camel and horse races here I suppose, (the government informationtends to suck though and I miss EVERYTHING---I miss the OPNO girl who was more in tune with bedu stuff because she always knew all the weird beduoin stuff ) lol.

I just don't know how to make my family culture mesh with holiday culture in Oman. I don't want to be that picky distant person, and yet I am not content with how things are you know?

Doesn't make sense lol. Once I can make sense of it I can fix it... so until then.

minka said...

As a child I lived in Iraq. For several years. I am an American woman. I found sex segregation more than unpleasant. It was somewhat mutilating. If you had a mutilated limb it would impact your life in complex ways. I think that is what sex segregation is like. People who grew up with it are adjusted, in the way the Chinese women with bound feet were adjusted. It is damaging even for those who are adjusted. I'm sorry that it has become a religious thing. I sincerely feel it holds back the culture and economies of the Middle East in very serious ways.

TheAmericanMuslimah said...

I feel the same way living here (UAE). I have one American friend who is living in Saudi Arabia and another American friend who has lived in Saudi for 8 years and now lives in Jordan. Both are Muslim. In short, they and I, miss all the things you talk about, and can't wait to move back to the states. We came to the middle east thinking it would be paradise. Hot weather, Muslim country, etc. But now we all want to go home regardless if we live the rest of our lives in a country that doesn't see us as one of them anymore. But we are.

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

Minka: I am ok with some gender segregation... I like the option.But I hate when it becomes a sin for people to wish each other well and care about eachother as Muslims or be a building part of society...

There's a balance in Islam. Oman can be pretty balanced (I live and work in Muscat) but the deep tribal Omani part (where my husband is from in Dakliyia, some people's mindesets here in the capital, and other places in Oman) is off its rocker in terms of what is normal for people. I don't think it impacts Oman's economy too much... but I may be wrong. I work and with primarily men afterall and speak my mind to them (despite being told off for being just like "an Omani woman" for this). Shrugs.

Omani Princess (not Omani...yet) said...

American Muslimah: Hmmmm, yes there's so much to miss.

I guess Omanis see me as Omani. I am one of them (despite lacking the language, and being so weird to them, and perhaps purposefully difficult as they see it;) ). My husband's family is pretty tribal so I am one of them (because I married into it I am them, and they me, to them--- although I see myself as seperate from them... I am not a part of others because of blood ties or a last name or a shared Sheikh. But I see myself as part of other Muslims in general. We are family because we are Muslims, right?

But when it comes to the Islamic (them) with my inlaws, I am not the same to them, since they are a different sect than I am (I am sunni) so that makes me "allowed to be" different a little to them.

I suppose that is freedom? But it also means I won't be taken too serriously if I am mentioning Islamic subjects.

Whereas, sunnis in Oman, are like, really helpful to me, and see me as part of them.

To me, every one of them is the same, our oneness asthe ummah, the same.

But the Islamic oneness is not at all the same as the tribal and familial one I see displayed in the Arab-Muslim world. So I miss the Western one. A crazy convert-Muslimah Eid in the West just seems more authentic, occasionally, as off its rockers as it is, with a bunch of girls making "egg" Eid sacrifices because no one knows how to slaughter things;).