A few days ago, Mr. Mostafa and I had a fight. A big fight. A big, ugly fight. A big, ugly, semi-public fight.
We decided go to Ikea to check out some of the furniture possibilities for desks, bookshelves, and a new bedroom set for Lavender. Now, quite honestly, we don’t go to Ikea very much these days. It’s on the far edge of the city (traffic after maghrib is a nightmare), it’s always super crowded and crazy, and as we discovered, we don’t even like Ikea furniture that much anymore. I still love me a good Lack table, but as we meandered through the meticulously designed maze that is an Ikea store, Saleh observed, “Is it just me, or do you feel like we’re too old for most of this stuff? Like, when we get a house, I don’t want it to feel like a dorm room.”
Sadly, I had to agree. But the kids’ section still made me light up. And it wasn’t just the furniture–I still loved the toys and the art supplies and the perfectly designed Antilop high chair (beloved by baby-led weaning advocates worldwide). I excitedly grabbed a few toys for Lavender, and Mr. Mostafa heaved a great sigh.
“I don’t want to buy anything,” he whined. “I just want to look. You know the lines are going to be crazy downstairs.”
“We aren’t here very often,” I insisted. “And we don’t have any reason to hurry. It’s not like we have to be somewhere.”
He sighed again, and he became more and more short-tempered as we moved through the rest of the store and he saw that I wasn’t going to give up on bringing home the toys I had chosen for Lavender. He didn’t want to wait, he kept insisting. He wasn’t going to wait. He hated waiting, he repeated numerous times.
I didn’t care.
The thing is, being a woman in Saudi Arabia is all about waiting. Constantly. The concept of just deciding, “Hey, I’m going to go somewhere” and then actually doing it right that second is nonexistent for women here. Obviously, we can’t drive. We can’t really walk anyplace (except maybe on Tahlia Street); the transportation infrastructure is not set up for pedestrians. There’s basically no public transportation yet (I cannot wait until the Riyadh Metro is finished. Four more years). Even if you have your own driver, you still have to wait for him to show up at your door. If you take taxis or Careem cars, you still have to wait for them to arrive. If you go someplace, you have to wait for a car with a male driver to show up to take you home. If you’re an American wife of a Saudi, you’re probably waiting for the next time you get to see your American friends and family. If you’re a Saudi woman, you might be waiting for a dude to show up at your house and say he’d like to marry you. Or for your dad to say it’s okay for you to go abroad to study.
So, waiting is an integral part of life for a woman in Saudi Arabia. Waiting is thickly woven into the fabric of our existence here. Waiting is a skill that every woman in Saudi Arabia must develop, to the point that we don’t even realize we’re doing it anymore. After awhile, it’s not even a big deal to most of us, and we do it without even thinking about how inconvenient it is. It’s just a part of life in Saudi Arabia, the same way in the Ozarks, we slow down on the back roads during deer season without thinking about how annoying it is that we’re being delayed.
But, like many Saudi men (or men in general, honestly), Mr. Mostafa does not have that meticulously cultivated sense of patience. Like, he gets irritated when he shows up at a store or something and it’s still closed for prayer, even though the athan was half an hour ago. I never understand why he’s so bothered, especially since he grew up here, and that’s basically the only time he has to wait for anything. I mean, yes, it can be annoying, but just take out a book and read until the place reopens, I say. Learn to wait. I certainly have.
And that is why I had very little pity for my husband when, after we reached the checkout lines at Ikea and saw that they were very long, full of people pushing huge carts stacked high with furniture boxes, he announced once again, very loudly, in the middle of the store, that he “didn’t want to wait.” Or that he “hated waiting.” Or that he “was not going to wait just to pay for some stupid toys.” Nope. I had no pity at all.
I made him ask an Ikea worker if any of the lines were for people who just had a few small things to purchase. The man said no, they used to have a line for such people, but when the store became more busy, they opened it up to everyone.
“There’s no fast line,” Saleh repeated to me. “I’m sorry, but we’re not going to wait.”
Angrily, I handed my chosen toys over to the worker and skulked out of Ikea like a shamed child, not wanting to escalate the fight in public.
But in the car, I lit into my husband. I screamed my grievances at him; if he was going to treat me like a child, I reasoned, he could deal with me screaming like one. I told him that it wasn’t fair that he couldn’t possibly wait. I told that him I spend my days waiting; that waiting is a skill a woman cannot live without in Saudi Arabia, and the least he could do is stand and wait for a few minutes so I could buy some toys for our child. He accused me of being stubborn and inflexible. I replied that he was just as stubborn, if not more so.
“Would your dad have stood in line with your mom for a couple of toys?” he argued.
“No, probably not,” I admitted. “But he doesn’t have to! My mom can get in the car by herself and go stand in any damn line she wants to!”
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah, that’s true.”
I told him that I was horrified at how he had controlled me in the Ikea store.
“I didn’t control you,” he insisted. “I don’t have any control over you!”
“Oh, really?” I said. “I’m calling Mohammed right now.” I took out my phone, unlocked it, and brought up the number of the family driver. “You go upstairs and sit with Lavender while I go back to Ikea with Mohammed and get those toys that I wanted.”
He opened his mouth to speak.
“Tell me no, I can’t,” I dared him. “And then tell me again that you didn’t control me in that store.”
He took a deep breath and turned the car around.
When we got back to the Ikea parking lot, I got out of the car, slammed the door, and stomped back into the building. It took me awhile to work my way back through the entire store (seriously, Ikea is designed so sneakily, just like a casino–labyrinthine, with no windows, so it’s easy to lose track of how much time you spend in there) to re-select the toys and get back downstairs to the checkout lines, which had more than doubled in length by this time. I didn’t care. I got into what I could minimally identify as the shortest line, and I waited.
And I waited.
Considering how long the lines looked when I chose one, they actually moved quite quickly. It took me about a half hour to get up to the checkout counter.
As I swiped my debit card, I looked up and saw Mr. Mostafa standing there at the counter, with Lavender in her stroller, waiting for me.
We walked out to the car in silence. Finally, as we sat in the post-maghrib traffic jam that we could have avoided if he had just been willing to wait for me to check out the first time, he apologized.
I ignored him.
Once we got home, and Lavender happily played in the floor with one of the toys I had made such a fuss to buy, he watched her and said, “I’m really sorry. I feel ridiculous.”
I ignored him.
The next morning, when I woke up next to sleeping Lavender after Mr. Mostafa had already left for work, I picked up my phone and found this text message waiting for me:
We’re all good now. He’s still my favorite. And I think, finally, we’re both figuring out that life together is worth learning to wait.