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.


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