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The following post is drawn from Soad Nasr’s recent book The Daily Hazards of a Middle Eastern Wife. With her distinct and humorous storytelling, Soad offers her personal account of courtship in the Middle East. Soad is a writer, mother, and wife. Originally from Egypt, she currently lives in Azerbaijan.
By Soad Nasr
Since childhood, I have always dreamt of becoming a NASA astronaut and finding a cure for cancer. Now, as a housewife and a stay-at-home mom, I try to pursue more realistic goals—like an undisturbed night’s sleep and a great cup of coffee. While enjoying the time I get to spend with my family, I was inspired to write The Daily Hazards of a Middle Eastern Wife, which contains some of the more interesting issues regarding marriage in the Arab world.
Before getting married, I had never had a boyfriend/lover/acquaintance (whatever you want to call it) before. The reason is mainly because Middle Eastern traditions and religious customs do not support this. Since many Middle Eastern people live in a predominately conservative society, the notion of a man and a woman dating and going out on their own is frowned upon, especially for the woman. Nevertheless, many Middle Eastern women still do have boyfriends. Their families, though, especially their fathers or brothers, are usually oblivious to that fact. It is very rare to find a Middle Eastern parent who is aware that his or her daughter is dating some guy and is content with it. So as you can imagine, when I first met my husband, it was a big deal for me.
Of course, you are probably wondering how people get married in the Middle East in general since dating is not a supported idea. Well, there are arranged marriages where the mother, an aunt, or a family friend proposes a “decent girl” to a guy; they set the date to meet in the girl’s house or a café. If all goes well and the guy and girl approve, they get married and live happily ever after.
My parents married this way. Long story short, my dad was out with his friend buying a watermelon and then his friend proposed the idea to my dad—to marry a woman he knew (my mother) who was his distant relative. They set the date to meet for the first time, instantly fell in love, married, and are living happily ever after. Anyway, there are other ways to marry if you are not really into the dating scene. Another way is to meet a guy in college, school, work, or wherever; the guy then notifies you that he is interested and will marry you if all goes well. The girl notifies her family, the couple gets married, and they live happily ever after. The timeline of events is not as simple as it seems, but this, my friends, is vaguely how I got married.
Of course, there are further details to the commencement of this love story. The day my life changed forever. A love story that will leave you speechless. A love story that will leave your heart beating madly. A love story that will be narrated in the next paragraph.
It was April-something, 2009. It was the last day of my midterms in college. I went to a prestigious private college in the outskirts of Cairo. Even though this particular college was not recognized internationally and had no rank whatsoever worldwide, in my mind, I was in a classy university. I was standing near my favorite café with two of my friends when, suddenly, an unfamiliar figure jumped into our small circle and started talking to me. Most of the conversation revolved around the swine flu. Minutes later, the unfamiliar figure was nowhere to be seen. I was left standing alone, confused, trying to remember his last name. Was it Gamal or Galal? This is how my husband and I first met on April-something, 2009.
My husband revealed that he liked me, weeks after our first encounter. The fondness we had for each other quickly turned into love. I was later told that the first time Mohammed (my husband) saw me was in front of the lecture hall. I was apparently wearing brown boots and looked really good. At that instant, something clicked in his head and he was determined to get to know me. It took him about three months. He tried a lot of techniques, but they never worked. For example, he found my e-mail in the university data storage and was going to e-mail me but changed his mind at the last minute. An e-mail with the letter ‘h’ was all I received. Later, I was told that the letter h was meant to be a hello. I remember when I saw that e-mail and wondered why the hell I received an e-mail with the letter h in it from someone in the university. My wonder ended quickly as I resumed my studies (man, was I a bookworm back in those days).
My now-husband sought the help of a guy in my class to introduce us. The guy in my class ignored him. It was only in April-something, 2009, when my husband intruded into a conversation conducted by three female strangers, that we finally met. I saw him a couple of times after the first encounter. But it was the third or fourth time that was interesting; I was walking with the same two girls (it seemed that I had no other friends other than those two girls), and Mohammed again appeared from nowhere. He said hello to all of us and asked me if he could have a word with me in private. Being the good student I always have been, I claimed that I had class now and the word could be postponed until after the crucial lecture; the professor was going to stress the important points to review for the exam. We agreed and parted.
After half an hour of enduring my friends’ teasing, we met (the class was canceled) and we talked. It was the most important conversation of my life. After arranging the issue with our families and agreeing to the terms of the marriage contract, a year and a half later we were married. And three and half years later I started to write my book and reveal what most Middle Eastern women face in the course of getting married and thereafter.