ozarks culture.

October 15, 2014

So, before I get started here, I will give you a warning that there is a bit of bad language later on in this post. Be warned. Okay, on with the show.

The Ozarks, the American region that raised me, is an insular place. This part of America, southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, is very much like Saudi Arabia in that the people here are some of the friendliest in the world, while some of the most guarded at the same time. Thus, I have always had tremendous respect for people who come to the Ozarks and jump headfirst into life here, even when they stick out like a sore thumb. Especially when they stick out like a sore thumb.

In this closed rural area, outsiders are warmly welcomed, while often never entirely accepted. In a more urban area, people congregate from around the country and the world. You’re bound to find a group of friends which includes others like you, people who have chosen to build a life in a part of the country in which they were not born and/or raised. But the Ozarks is a place of entrenched generations. Everyone knows your parents, if not other details of your extended family tree. You’ll find yourself being stopped by random people at Walmart who ask probing questions that demonstrate their thorough knowledge of your life and lineage, and you’ll answer them because obviously, they know very well who you are, even if you can’t return the courtesy. You’ll absorb knowledge about rural life, little maxims that you don’t even realize you have stored in your brain until you find yourself educating a visitor about them when necessary, like, don’t walk directly behind a horse without patting him to let him know you’re there.

In the Ozarks, change comes slowly or not at all. The chances are high that when you go to sit down for a parent-teacher conference with your child’s first grade teacher, you won’t be nervous because she was your first grade teacher, too. My parents still don’t have high-speed internet; since they live out in the country, they use a satellite internet provider that offers them a limited amount of bandwidth at a speed somewhere between DSL and dial-up, and if they exceed that bandwidth limit, their internet slows to dial-up speeds. The local internet service provider still offers dial-up for customers who are unwilling to spring for satellite internet but live in places that can’t get high-speed internet yet.

It’s a place that regards visitors with only the most perfunctory curiosity, especially if said visitors come from a very different culture or place…that is, until they do something weird. I’ve been lucky enough to see my share of brave visitors come here and make their mark, including the guy I married. I like to think that it’s at least partly due to their influence that I’ve never been too severely hampered by the expectations of my home culture.

My grandpa was the original weird ethnic visitor whose arrival and acclimation to the Ozarks I observed with fascination. My grandpa, my mom’s father, lived in California. He was Mexican-American, a proud Army veteran whose daughter had married a guy from the Ozarks and moved there with him shortly after they got married. My dad never got along very well with most of my mom’s family, but he always liked my grandpa.

The truth is, it was really hard for anyone to not like my grandpa. He was brown, short, and spoke with a thick Spanish accent, which made him conspicuous enough in southern Missouri, but he was also hilarious. He was always joking or singing, and he had this laugh that sounded like a snake hissing (which, weirdly enough, my husband also does. Whenever he laughs like this, I am stopped in my tracks because he sounds so much like my grandpa). He had zero concern about what the Ozarkians thought of him. Which meant, of course, that he was incredibly fun.

One time when he and my grandma visited, he wanted to be able to drive around and get out and about while my parents were at work. Aside from my parents’ cars, the only reliably running vehicle on the place at that time was a Chinook camper truck, which my brother, my cousins, and I adored back then because we would sit in the back and play cards while our parents drove. We thought the Chinook was the coolest thing ever until junior high hit us all, when suddenly it became a source of humiliation to have parents that actually sometimes drove a Chinook camper truck around town.

My parents gave my grandpa the keys to the Chinook and told him to go wherever he wanted. And he did. We found that out when one of my mom’s coworkers at the bank where she worked, which was (well, is) located on the town square, came to my mom’s desk to inform her that my grandpa had been spotted driving the Chinook camper truck around and around the one-way square…in the wrong direction.

To be honest, I’m sure that the Summer of Grandpa in the Camper helped usher in the Chinook Embarrassment Era. Still, to this day, I giggle a little in my head at the thought of my grandpa completely unselfconsciously bopping around the square in the wrong direction in the Chinook. I miss him all the time, and I can’t help but think that he and Mr. Mostafa would have gotten along famously. He never let anyone make him feel like he didn’t belong, and I adored that about him.

My grandpa was the first diverse, if intrepid, visitor to the Ozarks that I ever encountered, but he certainly wasn’t the only one. When I was in high school, we got an exchange student for the very first time. This was extremely significant for us, because my high school was tiny. So tiny, in fact, that it was not really a high school at all, but actually a preschool through twelfth grade school. It remains that way to this day. There are separate buildings, of course (the first graders aren’t jolted from their reading circles by a bell ringing as the high schoolers spill out of classrooms and noisily slam locker doors on their way to their next classes), but it’s actually one big school. I had 29 kids in my graduating class, and this was a really large class (apparently, there was some sort of Ozarkian baby boom in 1983). People look at me like I’m making this up when I tell them this, especially people who identify as originating from a small town but actually had graduating classes well in the hundreds, like I’m just trying to outdo them with my rural cred.

City slickers.

Our exchange student, Rafael, was from Brazil. He, like my grandfather, was short, brown, and very funny. On the day he arrived in the Ozarks, his host family threw a barbecue and bonfire to welcome him. Everyone was there. We all couldn’t wait to meet the new Brazilian in our midst. I mean, a new kid from Michigan or Idaho was exotic enough to us. Brazil! We didn’t know what to do with ourselves.

At one point, Rafael was standing in a circle of about fifteen of us kids, telling us about his journey from Brazil to the United States. He described how he had landed in New York and spent one night at a hotel in a skyscraper, in a room with an amazing view. A really amazing view, as it turns out.

“I look out the window,” he said, “And I see, in the pool on the roof of the building next to me, there are two people, and they are…” he lowered his voice, and then continued, “fucking. And I go away from the window, and then I come back, and they are still there”–again, he lowered his voice–“fucking. And I say to myself, ‘Ah, this is America.'”

It was at this point that I began to feel a bit sorry for Rafael, because out of all the genuinely cool places to be found in America, he ended up having to spend a year in the one place that was guaranteed to crush any lingering notions of sex in a high-rise rooftop swimming pool as a quintessentially American experience.

As Rafael concluded his story with a laugh, every single one of us in the circle of his new schoolmates gasped in horrified glee. This kid just said the f-word! And in front of adults, too! He was funny, and we considered him brave. It never occurred to us that maybe, just maybe, he might have been brave for traveling from Brazil to America at the age of 15 in order to spend an entire year with a family he had never met before, in a place he had never been, in a culture that he probably didn’t really get and which certainly didn’t really get him. No, he was brave because he said the f-word where any adult could have sauntered by and heard the whole scandalous story. Because we all knew that if he had been caught, he would have been in trouble. That is America, buddy.

Rafael was a great kid, and we really enjoyed having him in our school. Looking back, I’m kind of amazed at how well he integrated into Ozarks life over his year here.

And then, of course, we come to Mr. Mostafa. The number of little cultural scrapes and misunderstandings that he and I have navigated here over the years is practically endless, and I expect it will remain so. Like my grandpa and Rafael before him, he always does his best to handle them with a smile. Last week, we had lunch at Ruby Tuesday with a table full of my family members and their significant others, a few of whom had never met Saleh, and others who hadn’t seen him in a few years. The waitress asked us what we wanted to drink.

“Water, please,” Saleh asked. “Room temperature.”

I immediately realized that the kid had been in Riyadh too long. No one in the States–or, at least, no one in the Ozarks–will ever ask you what temperature you would prefer for your water, while in Riyadh, it’s standard restaurant practice to ask if you want your water chilled or at room temperature.

The waitress looked confused, and a bit irked. “No ice, please,” I clarified to her. The entire table was watching and listening. Then, feeling nervous lest everyone think that Mr. Mostafa was acting snobby, rude, and obnoxious, I made some sort of joke about the situation, which I now cannot recall. Everyone laughed, including Saleh. The tension was melted, and that was that.

But later on, when we got home, he was sulky. “You really hurt me with the water thing,” he said. “I felt like the whole table was laughing at me.”

I apologized to him, and I explained that at the time, I felt like my options were limited. I could have kept my mouth shut and let the waitress set him straight about American restaurants and room temperature water. I could have “corrected” him seriously. Or I could have made a little joke that framed the situation as a cultural misunderstanding (which is exactly what it was), so that everyone else at the table would see that he wasn’t being rude or demanding. Of course, now that I have the hindsight to sit and think the incident through, I’m sure there were other options, as well. But in that split second, I could only identify those three, and I chose the last one.

“Which would you rather everyone at the table think?” I said to him. “You know the stereotypes that exist about Arabs. Would you rather them think you’re a mean, obnoxious Arab guy demanding room temperature water, or that you’re good guy who just had little a cultural misunderstanding?”

He was quiet for a second. Then he said, “Yeah, I see your point.”

Being in a bicultural relationship is tricky. This is obvious from the first time you take your significant other to meet your family, especially if your family is unaccustomed to interacting with people from other cultures. They think he’s odd. His preferences are strange. He talks about weird things. (He drives in different directions.)

And when your significant other is a Saudi, the differences are compounded because of the endlessly perpetuated stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims. Mr. Mostafa may never have to deal with the outward discrimination that my grandpa and Rafael may have had to deal with, since he doesn’t immediately appear as though he doesn’t belong (translation–he’s white). He even dresses the part when he’s here–he has an affinity for workboots and flannel button-up shirts. But the minute he opens his mouth, it’s obvious he wasn’t born and raised in the Ozarks. And in truth, when we show up at a gathering, everyone knows that he’s my Saudi husband, the guy who moved me halfway around the world to live in the desert. So not only does feel like he has to prove that he can fit in here, he also has to do his best to shed the weight of stereotypes and preconceived notions. Whether he likes it or not, he’s permanently connected to this part of the world now, and he doesn’t want to be regarded as a walking stereotype when he’s here. I don’t want that for him, either. I wonder if Rafael ever felt that way. I wonder if my grandpa felt that way. And I can’t help but feel that it’s unfair that all of them are, were, or would have been subject to that pressure.

The good news is that because of our bicultural status, Mr. Mostafa and I have a head start on finding awkward situations through which to inflict monstrous embarrassment on our child. And we’ll even be able to save some money by not having to buy a Chinook camper truck. Mr. Mostafa’s an accountant, after all. He appreciates a good bargain.

embarrassment 750x499 ozarks culture.

two homes.

October 8, 2014

I hate the movie Juno.

I liked it when I first saw it in the theater. Or at least, I didn’t hate it. I found it quirky and charming, exactly what it was intended to be. I liked the sweet, simple soundtrack songs by Kimya Dawson. I liked Juno’s cheeseburger phone. I loved the retro-esque (and subtly subversive) window art at Bren’s nail shop. I had to blink back a tear when (spoiler alert, but not really, because if you’ve even seen a preview for the movie, you know that Juno does not get an abortion) Juno goes running out of the abortion clinic and Su-Chin calls after her, “God appreciates your miracle!” (And I’m pro-choice.)

But when I watched the movie a second and a third time, I noticed something that I hadn’t paid too much attention to when I saw it for the first time, and it really stuck under my craw. (Again, spoiler alert, but you know what, this movie is like, eight years old or something. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can’t hold me responsible for spoiling it for you.)

No one tells Paulie’s parents anything.

This kills me. I cannot stomach the way the movie is basically like, “Well, Paulie’s mom is fat and ugly and doesn’t like Juno, so it’s okay that no one tells her that her son knocked up his friend and now they’re giving the baby away and she will never know that she has a grandchild out there.”

Am I the only one who thinks that this is just terrible? I mean, I’m fat. I’m probably going to get fatter. I’m probably not going to like all of my kids’ friends. Does that mean I don’t deserve to be informed if (God forbid) my child has impregnated or has been impregnated? There’s this one scene where Juno comes over to Paulie’s house, is basically a rude little snot to Paulie’s mother–because remember, Paulie’s mother is fat and ugly and does not like Juno, although I can’t say that I blame her, given how completely entitled Juno acts when she comes over to visit Paulie. If you totally disregard what I say to you and then dart past me and run up the stairs in my home, damn straight I’m going to chase you, you little brat. Who the hell do you think you are? And quite frankly, I think Paulie’s mom was much too nice when she didn’t knock down the door to Paulie’s room after Juno slammed it in her face. I would have dragged that girl out of my house by the belt loops of her edgy army surplus cargo pants.

And then, after Juno slams the door in Paulie’s mother’s face, she sits down and actually tells Paulie that her parents have agreed not to “rat him out” to his parents! Because, you know, Juno’s parents are cool.

No, Juno’s parents are horrible. Horrible.

I mean, I’m all for privacy rights for teenagers. I don’t think that I am entitled to read everything teenage Lavender writes on her computer. I don’t think that I am entitled to scour teenage Lavender’s phone for evidence of transgression. People, including teenagers, are entitled to private thoughts, private communication, private feelings, and private lives.

But I do draw lines. Pending reproduction and trouble with the law are deal-breakers. I want to know about those things, especially when my children are teenagers. Yep, I am entitled to know about those things. Paulie’s mom was certainly entitled to know about those things–especially since Paulie was still living in her house, eating the Hot Pockets that she bought for him, and wearing the running shorts that she laundered in color-safe bleach for him.

But there’s this one line in the movie that redeems it for me. Just one. It’s when Juno says, “I never realize how much I like being home until I’ve been someplace really different for awhile.”

And when Juno says this, I just want to hug her and cry and say, “Oh, little Juno! I know how you feel, spirit sister!”

We’re back in Missouri for a few weeks, and it feels so great to be home. Because Riyadh is undoubtedly someplace really different that I’ve been for awhile. It’s not inherently better or worse. It’s just…well, really different.

It’s strange how some of the superficial things I always said I missed when I was back in Riyadh are the things that I don’t care so much about now that I’m here. But there are other things that I didn’t even realize I was living without.

Like fresh Ozarks morning air. No desert dust. No city traffic exhaust. Just air. Heavy with dew. Clean. It’s so weird how you can almost taste the air when you breathe it. And it’s even weirder how delicious it is.

As if the universe is trying to really hammer home how much I am missing when I am away, I have had almost no issues with allergies, asthma, or migraines while home on this trip. Generally, I’m so busy self-medicating here that a return to Riyadh is at least a relief on that front. But this time, it seems I won’t have that ease to cushion the blow of having to leave my home.

My home.

I’m so deeply conflicted.

When we landed in New York, I had an interesting little conversation with the passport control officer at the window where we got our passports stamped. He thumbed through our passports, looked at our border declaration form, and then looked up at us, confused by where I had written “USA” as our country of residence. Yes, I know that sounds nuts. Obviously, we live in Saudi Arabia. But identifying Saudi Arabia as my country of residence felt so…final. Like I was somehow permanently discarding my American identity (which, of course, is ridiculous).

“So…” the officer said. “Which of you live here?” He looked at Saleh and said, “Do you have a green card?”

“I’m a citizen. So is our daughter,” I said. I pointed to our (American) address on the form. “That’s our house. It belongs to us.”

“But…you’re not residents?”

I froze. I must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights, because the officer said to me gently, “It’s okay. You can say that your home is in Saudi Arabia.”

I let out a deep breath. “Yeah, I guess technically, we do live in Saudi Arabia.”

The officer crossed out “USA” and wrote “Saudi Arabia” in its place. Then he continued with the process of stamping our passports and said in a jovial voice, “I thought so! Because if he doesn’t have a green card, he can’t be a resident, and I’m sure he doesn’t want to live away from his girls. He would miss you too much!”

“That’s true!” Saleh agreed.

The officer finished stamping and handed the stack of passports back to me. Smiling, he said, “Welcome home!”

I wanted to hug him.

Yes, I am home. But on this visit home, my third since I moved to Riyadh, I feel more acutely than ever that Riyadh is home now, too. There are constantly little things that remind me of Riyadh, or make me think about how different Riyadh is. There are moments when I think about how much southern Missouri is a part of me and has shaped me in ways I never even noticed until I left. There are moments when I think about how I don’t know how I will be able to bear having to leave it. And then there are moments when I think about how I wouldn’t be able to bear never going back to Riyadh.

I don’t want to leave.

I don’t want to stay.

I don’t want to leave.

I don’t want to stay.

It’s so hard. But it’s okay. The transition to having two homes is never easy, and like it or not, I have two homes now. And no matter where I am, home is waiting for me. That’s a really nice feeling.

photo 7 750x562 two homes.




oops…i did it again.

October 1, 2014

Yep. It’s true. My blog got another makeover.

I know it seems like I redesign my blog constantly. It seems that way to me, at least. But it also seems like with each redesign, I go more and more minimal. So, perhaps optimistically, I’m hoping that this redesign will stick for a reasonable amount of time.

If you follow me on any type of social media, you may have noticed that I’ve been moving back toward using my logo. I missed my logo. Yeah, it’s childish and cutesy, but dang it, I love it, and I think it represents me and my blog very well. (You can read more about how it came to be here.) Thus, when I started looking into a redesign, I wanted to find something that left the focus on the content but still gave my logo a chance to shine.

So I sought a new look for The Same Rainbow’s End that balances the minimal with the whimsical. Yay! I’m pretty proud of myself because I had more of a role in this redesign than any other since I made the migration from a WordPress.com blog to a self-hosted WordPress.org blog.

In keeping with the transition back to using my logo, another cool new feature around this here blog scene is the addition of a shop. See? It’s right up there in the menu bar. Here you can purchase a variety of items with the logo. If you’re a Saudi-American family like we are, you’re on your way to becoming one, or you’re just a fan of the blog, you might want to check it out. Who knows? You might find something you love there! I’m also toying with the idea of tweaking the logo in order to add more products that reflect the diversity of bicultural relationships. So if you or your significant other is not American or Saudi, but you would be interested in items that feature the same design with the flags of your own home countries, let me know. (My first goal is to add Saudi-Australian and Saudi-Canadian items, just because I know a lot of folks in Saudi-Australian and Saudi-Canadian families!)

Like the last time I did a redesign, I’m doing a giveaway to celebrate. A little over a year ago, I took a photo of a cute set of magnets on my mother-in-law’s refrigerator and I posted it on Instagram. At the time, I was really surprised by the number of likes it got! I even saw it being taken and shared by some folks on Facebook. Mr. Mostafa and I were pretty shocked at how the photo grew legs. Apparently lots of people were fond of that adorable little Arab couple!

Thus, about a year later, Mr. Mostafa was out and about, and he called me, all excited. “Guess what?” he said. “I found a perfect giveaway for the blog!” And he brought home a brand new set of those cute Arab refrigerator magnets.

So now, you can win the set and put them on your own refrigerator! You just have to do two things: like The Same Rainbow’s End on Facebook (if you haven’t yet–if you have, then you’re already partly entered in the giveaway!) and like the giveaway photo on the Facebook page (be sure to click on the photo first). Easy sneezy, right?

arab couple instagram photo1 750x750 oops...i did it again.

So, yeah. That’s all there is to it! Just click here to go to the Facebook page, and the giveaway photo is pinned to the top! (One more thing: if you share the photo on your Facebook timeline, I’ll give you another entry in the giveaway! Just make sure your privacy settings are set to public for that share, so I can see it.) The giveaway ends later this month, on October 20. If you’re the lucky winner, the magnet set will be mailed to you as soon as I get your address!

Thank you very much for being a reader of The Same Rainbow’s End. I appreciate it more than I can say.

Now to get back to last-minute suitcase packing…we’re leaving on a jet plane in a few hours! Squee! Soon I will be reunited with not only my family and best friends, but also Junior Mints. There’s a big ol’ box of Junior Mints waiting for me in my home in the Ozarks. And that alone is going to be one very blissful reunion.