January 17, 2016

My mom left Riyadh on Friday night. She headed back home to the States, after a two-week visit. It was wonderful having her here. For the two days prior to her departure, we both bawled pretty consistently in anticipation of her leaving.

This is one thing that I wish I had understood and been more prepared to deal with before I moved to Saudi Arabia–leaving my mom never gets easier. And it’s just never going to get any easier. I guess I expected that on some level, I’d get used to it. Like, I figured I’d develop some sort of emotional scar tissue that would let me not waste the last two days of my time with her (and other members of my family) on crying jags. I figured I’d be okay after awhile. But I still cry every single time. And so does she. It never gets easier for either of us.

The ironic thing is, and I’m sure I’ve mentioned it more than once here on the blog over the years, is that if I only had a bad relationship with my mom, with my parents, then this negative part of life in a foreign country would be completely eliminated. But I adore my parents. I think they’re the most wonderful parents that God could have given me. I’m grateful for them every day. And I’m also grateful for the incredible technology that we have nowadays that keeps me connected to them–I’m pretty sure I would not have survived this move if there were no such thing as video chatting.

But it’s hard. I know it could be much, much worse, and I’m grateful that it isn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still just very hard. Even though Lavender and I will be back home in the States with my family for the summer, which, of course, will be here in just a few months (Mr. Mostafa will be joining us for about a month later in the summer…and of course, being on a separate continent from him will be difficult, as well), saying goodbye to my mom feels like some kind of tear duct torture. I just want to crawl into bed and go to sleep and check out from the world for awhile. My limbs feel heavier than usual. I’m sad.

One of the highlights of my mom’s trip was watching the DVD of home movies that she brought for me to watch. Before coming to Riyadh, she’d had all of her and my dad’s old home movies from the 60s and 70s–i.e., well before I existed–transferred onto a DVD. I was so excited to see them.

It was heartbreakingly amazing. I’d never seen my paternal grandfather on video–he died before I was born. And it had been decades since I’d seen my paternal grandmother, who died of Alzheimer’s disease when I was ten years old. It had been over a decade since I’d seen my maternal grandfather, who died when I was in college. Seeing these people just made me cry like a baby (I know, surprise surprise, right?). And I was so entertained by the younger versions of my parents…my dad with his big, blond porkchop sideburns and my mom with her tight yellow 70s pants and an ass that would put Kim Kardashian to shame (sorry, if you’re reading this, Mom. It’s just a fact). I laughed, I cried. I was thoroughly entertained.

When my mom handed me the DVD, I said excitedly, “Let’s go watch it downstairs, on the big TV!”–i.e., on my in-laws’ TV (we don’t have a DVD player on our TV in our apartment).

“Oh, no, honey,” my mom said. “I don’t want the whole family to see it.”

“Why not?” I asked, confused. After all, surely she knew by now that my in-laws weren’t going to judge her for her clothing or whatever.

“Honey,” she whispered, as though my apartment might be bugged, “the pigs.”

In their early days as Ozarkian landowners, my parents raised pigs on their farm (as many others did, as well). I vaguely remember this; my parents sold all of the pigs a few years after I was born; after that, the only livestock we raised were horses and cows. The DVD featured a few scenes of the pigs milling around in their pen.

“Oh, Mom, they’re not going to care,” I assured her. Mr. Mostafa concurred. So we went downstairs and set up the DVD.

My in-laws were enthralled by the movies. They loved seeing my grandparents and younger versions of my mom and dad, especially the scenes of my mom doing farm girl things, like driving a tractor (these home movies made it clear, as I had always known, that my mom had made the transition from California girl to Ozarks farm wife in a really incredible way). And, of course, they were curious about the scenes with the pigs.

Contrary to what Islamophobes worldwide seem to hold as gospel, a Muslim will not melt at the sight of pork (and being shot with a bullet coated in pork fat does not send a Muslim straight to hell). However, it’s true that, although it’s Islamically forbidden to be cruel to a pig (or any other living creature, even animals that some Muslims consider najis, or impure), most Muslim cultures see pigs as…well, dirty. (But heck, even in cultures in which pork is regularly consumed, pigs aren’t considered particularly clean animals. I mean, there’s a reason why a dirty room is colloquially referred to as “a pigsty.”) Consuming pork is clearly forbidden in the Qur’an (as in the Bible), but often, Muslims prefer not to touch or otherwise interact with pigs, if possible. So, naturally, my in-laws were surprised by and interested in the pigs on my parents’ farm.

“Do you still have pigs?” my mother-in-law asked.

“Oh, no,” my mom assured her. “We sold them a long time ago.” She explained that they had decided to get rid of the pigs because they were worried for the safety of my grandmother, who would regularly get into the pigs’ pen alone in order to feed them.

“Are they dangerous?” my mother-in-law asked, surprised.

“Yes, they can be,” my my mom said with a nod. “Especially if you get near their babies. And they’ll eat absolutely anything. They sometimes eat people if they get the chance.” (Which is totally true. Shudder.) “They’ll even bite bits off each other.”

What?” my sister-in-law said, incredulous.

“Yep,” my mom said. “We used to have to dock their tails before we could sell them. Because they would bite at each others’ tails otherwise.” (Although from what I’ve read, at least part of that is due to the stressful conditions that pigs–and other livestock–endure in factory farm conditions, not necessarily something they just tend to do biologically.)

My in-laws were wide-eyed. “Subhanallah,” my sister-in-law said. “No wonder God made them haram for us to eat!”

My mom nodded with a grin on her face. She wasn’t a bit offended, even though she regularly cooks up pork in her kitchen back home. And seeing the pigs didn’t bother my in-laws a bit, either, as we’d promised…although they were curious.

Here’s a moment of brutal honesty: there have been moments in my marriage where I have thought, “This just isn’t going to work.” And to add to the brutal honesty sandwich, the only reason that the previous confession is qualifies as “brutal honesty” is because a great many folks would prefer to not admit that absolutely everyone has those moments, especially in a marriage between an American and a Saudi. Anyone, especially a person in a relationship between an American and a Saudi, who says they have never had one of those moments either made it official two hours ago or is a lying liar. But in the nearly four years that I have been living in my in-laws’ house, my living situation has never made me think, “This just isn’t going to work.” I mean, I have, but only in regard to the size of our apartment, which is now overflowing with books and toys and simply isn’t large enough or, for that matter, designed for a family. But I’ve never thought that about my in-laws. On the contrary, my in-laws have been a crucial part of my adjustment to life in Riyadh. They’ve been my comfort in difficult times, and they’ve been a part of my joy in the happiest times. My in-laws have become my family just as much as Mr. Mostafa has. And the whole pig conversation just served to remind me that not only was I born into a family that I simply couldn’t function without, this family that I’ve married into is just as much of an absolute treasure in my life.

And so, now, they’re behind me, understanding me, checking on me, as I take a few days to be sad about this round of saying goodbye to my mom.

Some people say that marriages are all about two people making a life together, outside of the families that raised them. Making a new family. Planting a new tree. And I certainly agree with that, to an extent. For sure, if two people want to make it, they can’t be dragged down by family drama on either side, and they have to know how to minimize, if not completely cut out, those influences when they become toxic. But when you’ve got two amazingly functional families shoring you up on either side of the marriage, two sets of parents that love their children with everything they have, two couples that have been through every bit of bullshit that life can throw at them and have come out together on the other side…it certainly helps. It is support. It is love. It is the world. Family is everything. 


mom at najd village.

the ouchie.

January 3, 2016

My mom is here in Riyadh for a visit, and I am thrilled. Obviously. I always miss my mom, but I was especially in need of a mom hug after the week we had before she arrived.

Shortly before Christmas, after my plans with a friend got cancelled, we decided to make an impromptu trip to Bahrain for a few days of relaxation and holiday cheer. We were enjoying our time, soaking up the Christmas music and decorations. And then disaster struck. (A pretty mild disaster, in the grand scheme of things, but it was still somewhat traumatic for all of us.)

Since we arrived in our hotel room, Lavender had been fascinated by the bidet. She loved to run into the bathroom and play with the bidet and call, “Wash hands! Wash hands, Mama!” See, the bidet was exactly Lavender’s height, so she just thought it was a cool sink that happened to be exactly her size. Needless to say, we weren’t super thrilled about the idea of her playing a hotel room bidet, you know? It didn’t seem super sanitary. Not to mention that she seemed to be fascinated by everything in general in the bathroom, and she kept trying to stand on the bidet and boost herself up onto the bathroom sink/countertop. And that didn’t seem super safe at all.

So our first day in our hotel room had been basically dedicated to making sure Lavender didn’t wreak havoc in the bathroom. It was pretty easy to prevent this–we just had to close the bathroom door. So that’s why, on our second day in Bahrain, when I saw Lavender toddle rapidly toward the open bathroom, I chased after her.

She was in pretty peak hyperactive form–running all over the place, making her adorable mischief anywhere she could reach. So when I gently turned her around and away from the door, I expected her to just keep going, like a little toy that turns the opposite way when it bumps into the wall. As soon as I steered her away, I gave the bathroom door a slight tug to close it–it was a heavy door, and I didn’t have to pull it completely closed in order to shut it.

Lavender screamed. I turned to make sure she was okay, expecting that the bottom of the door had pinched the side of her foot as she walked away or something. Instead, I saw that she couldn’t pull her hand away, because the ring finger on her right hand was trapped in the door. Apparently, when I steered her away, she hadn’t kept going like I anticipated–she had stopped and placed her little hand in the door frame.

I shoved the door open and snatched her up. My heart was somewhere around my appendix. There was blood everywhere. Her fingernail was completely torn from the nail bed; it dangled from the finger by a string of cuticle skin. She was terrified and she continued to scream. I tried to soothe her but was obviously unsuccessful. We packed her finger in as much Kleenex as we could find and we ran to the elevators, Lavender sobbing in my arms.

Instead of waiting for the valet to bring our car, we asked for a taxi, and the valet quickly got one for us. We asked to be taken to the nearest hospital, which, luckily, was only about a minute away.

While Mr. Mostafa paid the cab driver, I ran into the hospital. I was immediately sent into an exam area, where within a minute, a nurse was trying to help me calm Lavender down as she gently cleaned the finger.

Mr. Mostafa came up behind me a few seconds later, and shortly afterward, a doctor joined us in the exam area.

“What happened?” the doctor asked.

I rambled, “Well, she was going toward the bathroom and I went to move her away and the bathroom door–”

“She shut her finger in a door,” Saleh interjected succintly.

The fumes of panic which had been sustaining my forced calm suddenly evaporated, and I collapsed into sobbing. I was the worst mother ever. I had maimed my child. I didn’t deserve to her mother. I had failed her. Not only had I failed to protect her from others, I had actively harmed her. I wanted to die.

The dotor and the nurse both calmed me a bit, while continuing their work on Lavender. “Don’t cry, mommy!” the nurse exclaimed. “When you cry, baby cries!”

This is true. My child is a tremendously beautiful little empath, and she gets upset when I cry. If she is doing something she shouldn’t, like hitting or throwing toys, all I have to do to make her stop is crumple my face like I’m going to cry, and she stops, and sometimes she will start crying, too, and she will run to hug me, and she will tearfully inquire, “Mommy, what’s wrong?” And then I explain what upset me and she usually doesn’t do it again. I hate being manipulative like that, especially with my child. But when your kid is scrawling on the wall with a blue crayon and the only thing that will stop her is a few forced tears, you do what you gotta do…am I right, parents?

So now, as my child was thoroughly traumatized by the hospital setting and the blood and pain oozing out of her smashed finger and her mommy bursting into tears, I attempted to pull myself together. “It’s okay, baby,” I tried to say calmly. “It’s okay. We’re just going to clean your finger and wrap it up so it doesn’t hurt anymore.” I tried to explain things to her as calmly as I possibly could as the nurse coated the finger with ointment and gauze and medical tape.

About a half hour later, after paying around $80 for services rendered and prescribed ointments and pain relievers, we got a taxi back to our hotel and Lavi immediately fell into a nice long nap. (I know I’m always saying this, but I’m always amazed by how affordable medical care is in basically every country other than the United States…and how much less waiting is involved. Seriously, we walked right into an examining room, got treatment and saw a doctor right away, and were on our way out the door within a half hour…and only paid $80. Without insurance. Although the medical insurance we have through Mr. Mostafa’s company will reimburse us even for that small amount. “If we were in the States,” I thought out loud to Saleh in a whisper, as we laid in bed with Lavi conked out in between us, “we would have been in an emergency room waiting area for an hour. Then maybe another hour of waiting once we got into the emergency room. Then we’d get a bill of at least $1,000. If we had insurance, we’d end up paying somewhere around a couple hundred, I think.” Of course, at the time, money was no object; we would have paid whatever it took to make her better, even if we didn’t have it. But once it was all over and we were assured that she was safe and okay, we could talk about money and be grateful that we’d had it.)

Lavender was her spunky self after she woke up from her nap. She cried each time we had to change the dressings, but other than that, she didn’t seem to be in any discomfort. She proudly showed her “ouchie” to everyone and accepted kisses for the ouchie from anyone who offered one. She seemed fine, even after we returned home to Riyadh from Bahrain.

I, of course, was not fine. Aside from being sick with guilt, I was terrified. I didn’t want to overreact, but I made the mistake of Googling for information about finger smash injuries…as this didn’t seem to be a run-of-the-mill one. I mean, I knew that kids got their fingers shut in doors all the time. It happens. I knew that. But I was still scared. My stomach dropped every time I unwrapped her finger and saw the raw, bloody, vacant nail bed. I agonized over the formulas of the ointments I used, the brands of gauze I used, the quality of the medical tape I used. I was scared that her nail bed would be infected and she would lose her finger. I was scared that her fingernail would never grow back (although I totally recognized that in the grand scheme of things, that was insignificant). I feared every single negative outcome that could feasibly manifest itself as a result of this accident.

“I just keep thinking about her wedding day,” I said sadly to Mr. Mostafa one day. “And how she will have to get a manicure to make sure she has a fake nail because I mangled her finger when she was a baby.”

He just laughed. I mean, what else can you do in response to so much crazy?

Friends on social media also helped talk me down from the ledge of panic. And now Lavender’s finger is doing much better. She just wears a Band-Aid on her ouchie now, and sometimes not even that. Her nail bed has scabbed over, so it doesn’t look nearly so scary. We can’t tell if her fingernail is going to grow back yet, but we feel pretty confident that it will, inshallah.

But damn, no one ever warns you about this. I’ve long been worried about the possibility of verbally hurting my kid. That’s way too easy to do without realizing it. And of course, I worry incessantly about other people hurting my kid. But me physically hurting my kid? I never worried about that…until it happened. And I’ve never felt guilt like this in my life. I still feel guilty. The moment when I pulled her away from that bathroom door, her face screwed up in tears and blood rushing from her little hand…it’s fixed in my mind. And I just think…I did that to her. I didn’t mean to, but I did. I feel ill when I think about it. I’ll never truly forgive myself; I just pray she forgives me.

And if her fingernail doesn’t grow back, I’ll thank God that she’s otherwise healthy and I’ll pay for her manicures for the rest of my life. I hear they’re doing amazing things with gel nails these days.

bahrain beach.

thank you, myers-briggs type indicator!

December 21, 2015

I’m not typically in the business of doling out unsolicited relationship advice here on the blog. I just write about my life…and yeah, through that, I probably end up waxing poetic (or actually, let’s be honest–probably not so poetic) about how we’ve made things work in our relationship. And through that, I get a lot of “What do you think about my situation?” emails from different folks (especially women in relationships with Saudis). But aside from a post of advice here or there, with guidance mostly gleaned from my own mistakes, I try to stay away from marketing myself as some sort of relationship expert. Because (and I’m laughing as I type this) I am so not that. But over the past few weeks, I’ve had some experiences that have led me to believe that this one suggestion will be tremendously helpful to anyone in any relationship.

Take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a questionnaire that helps you sort yourself into one of 16 personality types, based on combinations of four different personality traits. (I won’t go into a lot of detail in describing them; folks have already done that elsewhere on the Internet in much more detail than I can provide here. So you can read about them, and then you can find your own personality type, if you wish.) Business types use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator a lot, and so do educators. And it just seems to be getting more and more popular. I’m guessing that in the next few years, our Facebook newsfeeds will be filled with trendy listicle thinkpieces that dispense advice on how to deal with certain personality types, much the same way we currently see constant discussion about introverts and how to deal with them (or, you know, us…I’m an introvert. Interestingly, introversion/extroversion is one of the four Myers-Briggs personality traits that go into making a personality type). And maybe in 50 years or so, we’ll all see the Myers-Briggs craze as nothing more than pseudoscientific pop psychology, like the way a lot of people feel about psychoanalysis now. But even if that’s the case, I gotta say that so far, I’m totally aboard this hokey train.

I’ve known my Myers-Briggs personality type for several years now. I think the first time I had to take the type indicator test was for a class in college. I didn’t give it much thought back then, but now that I’ve taken the time to really research my type, I value that knowledge a lot. I’m an INFJ.

Meanwhile, Mr. Mostafa hadn’t taken the Myers-Briggs type Indicator until he went to Berlin a little over a week ago for a five-day training with his company. On one of those days, he sent me a Whatsapp message after he’d finished the test–“I’m an ESTJ. Does that sound like me?”

I looked it up and read about it. “Oh, my God, it is totally you!” I texted back, somewhat in awe. “Except for the extroversion thing. You’re not really an extrovert, I don’t think. You spend most of your free time at home with me. You never seem to need to spend a whole lot of time hanging out with a big group of friends.”

“But I think it’s right, because I like to talk my ideas out,” he said. “You don’t do that.”

“Hmmm…that’s true,” I wrote back.

Oh, the prophecy in that conversation.

Right after he got back from Berlin, he noticed my old, dead iPad sitting on a shelf. This iPad won’t charge or power up at all, and the last time it worked, the battery wouldn’t hold a charge for more than about 20 minutes. So I’m pretty sure it needs a new battery, and I know I could probably just get a new (or a new-used) iPad for what it would cost to fix it, but I have pictures and such on it that I don’t want to lose if I can help it. I’ve been figuring that one of these days I’ll get around to having it repaired.

Anyway, when Saleh saw the iPad, he said, “Hey, I think we should get that fixed for Lavender.”

“That’s a great idea,” I agreed enthusiastically. Lavender’s iPod has gone missing (we are hoping it will show up in a random place around the apartment one of these days, but we’re not holding our breath…especially since we’ve caught her a few times putting things in the trash that should not go in the trash, and thus we suspect–although we so hope we’re wrong–that her iPod is somewhere in a Riyadh landfill), so it would be nice to have another device that we could take along when we go to restaurants and such where a lot of waiting is necessary, and so she can have her apps back.

So in the days after that, whenever he would ask me what I wanted to do, I would say, “Why don’t we take the iPad to get fixed?” Because in my mind, it was done. We’d made the decision to fix it.

He would say, “Eh, not today. I don’t feel like driving all the way down there.” Which I understood. The electronics marketplace can be a pain to get to, with the traffic and its distance from our house. But I knew we’d have to do it eventually, if we were going to go through with our plan. So, yesterday, when he asked me what I wanted to do this weekend, I said, “Let’s take the iPad to get fixed.”

“No, I don’t want to drive all the way down there,” he repeated. But then he continued, “I think it’s a bad idea to do it here in Riyadh. We’ve had that iPad repaired twice here and it always goes bad again. I think we need to wait to take it to an actual Apple store to get fixed. Let’s not do it now.”

I. Was. Pissed. For over a week now, I’d been planning to get this iPad repaired and up and running again instead of sitting and gathering dust on a shelf, and now he was flaking out on me. Again. Because it felt like he always flaked out on me. He would agree that things were a good idea, or he would suggest something and I would be totally on board with it, and then he would change his mind later and he would decide he didn’t want to do it. And as I always did before, I exploded at him this time. I was sick of it, and we argued.

He said I got too emotional about things. I said there was nothing wrong with getting emotional about things; it’s not bad to be emotional. It’s just a different way of thinking. And any reasonable person is going to get emotional when their life partner repeatedly flakes on plans. He said we never actually made a plan to get the iPad fixed–it was just an idea, and now he’d changed his mind and decided that it wasn’t a good plan.

All of the discussion about emotional vs. logical thinking–which we’d known for years was a major component to our relationship and heavily influenced the way we see the world, well before we started seeing each other in terms of Myers-Briggs personality types–made me see Myers-Briggs alphabet soup in my head. Suddenly, it hit me–this is what made him an extrovert. This is what he meant when he said that he likes to talk out ideas.

It was one of those classic lightbulb moments. Except it was accompanied by a chorus singing in my brain, because this was huge. If the two of us had understood this earlier about each other, so many explosive arguments could have been saved. This was an enormous difference between us–one which, I now observed in startling retrospect, had caused a lot of fights over the years.

As an introvert, when I make a suggestion out loud, I’ve already gone through a major internal thought process and have decided that it’s the way to go. When I vocalize a plan to Saleh (or anyone else, for that matter, but he’s the one I talk to the most), I’m just saying something in order to confirm the plan with him and make sure he’s on board. I usually don’t talk out ideas or plans with people, unless I get stuck and need some clarity from someone else to continue the process. By the time something comes out of my mouth, I’ve been thinking about it for a good long while.

As an extrovert, however, Mr. Mostafa likes to talk out every plan he makes. When he says we should do something next weekend or maybe we should buy this thing or that, he hasn’t yet decided that it’s a good idea. He’s literally thinking out loud. Ideas pop into his head, and they come out his mouth. Talking is how he works out his ideas. He may completely change his mind about something later, as he talks about it more and decides it’s not a good idea.

So…when I vocalize a plan and he agrees to it, to him, I’m just making a completely malleable suggestion that I could totally change my mind about later, so it’s not a big deal whether he says yes or no. Except I don’t see it that way; for me, it’s a confirmation. And it’s the same thing when he vocalizes a plan and I agree to it; in my mind, it’s a done deal, and when he changes his mind later, I see him as an undependable flake who never keeps his word. And when I get upset about that, he sees me as overly emotional and completely inflexible and stubborn.

He had been thinking out loud when he said that we should get the iPad fixed. He hadn’t even gone through his thought process yet. An idea came into his head, and he said it. And when he later decided it wasn’t a good idea, I got mad and expressed that in a way that surely seemed spoiled and childish because yet again, it felt like my plans were being thwarted.

We fought. And fights have the potential to do, it grew, and pretty soon we were arguing about things beyond the stupid iPad. But eventually, we worked our way back around to the matter at hand, and we started breaking the disagreement down in terms of personality traits. I explained what I had realized, about how this fight stemmed from his extroversion and my introversion. He was pretty impressed at how Myers-Briggs had illuminated the reason for this fight (not to mention numerous others).

“You need to not talk your thoughts out with me,” I said. “Sit in the car and talk to yourself or something.”

“But that’s not how I work. And you’re my wife,” he said, looking somewhat like a kicked puppy. “I like talking to you. You’re the person I always want to talk things out with.”

Well, I couldn’t argue with that.

“Okay, yeah, I get that,” I said. “But maybe you could say something like, ‘Now I’m just thinking out loud…’ You know, so I’m reminded that this isn’t an actual plan. This is you trying to decide what to do. I know this is how you think, and you can’t help it. But I also can’t help it if I don’t think that way.”

“Okay,” he agreed. “And about the iPad…we’ll get it fixed here if you really want to. But I think it’s a bad idea, especially if you want to keep the stuff on it. Better to take it to an actual Apple store, so they won’t screw it up.” He paused. “This is why I’m terrible at planning romantic surprises,” he continued. “I have to talk everything out with someone, and it doesn’t work if the person you want to surprise is the one you always want to talk things out with.”

“Well, you did a great job when you proposed,” I said. “That was an awesome romantic surprise.”

“I talked it out with your mom,” he laughed.

estj and infj.