Saturday, January 14, 2006

To be an Arabic woman

I've been reading lately about the position of Arabic women in Middle Eastern cultures. I started thinking about an Arabic woman I knew, over 40 years ago, in Lakewood, OH.

Her name was Mrs. Nadar. If I ever knew her first name, I've forgotten. Then, children seldom knew adults they weren't related to by their first names - they were either Mr. and Mrs., or Mommy and Dad. Indeed, many children were puzzled when their teacher asked for their parents' first names. We just never thought of them that way.

Both she and her husband were from Egypt. They were Christians, and had spent their entire married life in America. Mr. Nadar worked, Mrs. Nadar did not. This wasn't unusual in the late 1950s and 1960s. The rare woman had a job outside of the house. Even without children, women didn't generally work.

But Mrs. Nadar was even more tied to her home than most women. She never left without her husband. It took several years, and patient coaxing on the part of her landlady, to make her comfortable with the notion of sitting on the downstairs front porch without a man present, in the company of her neighbors.

Mrs. Nadar was well-treated, by the standards of the times. In a working-class neighborhood, her furs and jewelry were the envy of the local ladies. Her husband was a quiet, gentle man, who also acted with the utmost courtesy towards a wife he openly cherished.

Mrs. Nadar originally was to have married another man. The betrothal was all but done, when Mr. Nadar laid eyes on her, and proceeded to out-bid her other suitor. He paid a substantial dowry for her, and considered that he got a bargain. Mrs. Nadar was a very pretty woman, modest, and a very good mother to their two girls.

But, all was not well in the Nadar household. Mrs. Nadar had failed to bring forth a living son. She regularly suffered miscarriages, 6, I believe, before her last pregnancy. Mr. Nadar would, I believe, have been content with the two girls they had produced. He glowed as he walked around the neighborhood with his plump, dark-haired beauties.

Not so Mr. Nadar's mother. Nothing would do but for Mrs. Nadar to have a BOY grandchild. With each new failure, her temper got shorter. We could her her scolding Mrs. Nadar for her "weakness" in again miscarrying.

Finally, the old crone had had enough. She laid the line in the sand. If Mrs. Nadar didn't give birth to a boy this time, she would send her back to the old country, and make her son divorce her.

Mrs. Nadar spent the entire pregnancy in a state of fear. She knew that old bat would do it, if she produced another girl. In vain did my mother try to convince her that the man determined the sex of the child.

Well, a small miracle happened. Elijah Nadar, called Billy Bounce by the family, was born. At last, Mrs. Nadar could relax, and not fear her mother-in-law's wrath.

At the time, my mother was a little amused by the situation. I doubt she really believed that Mr. Nadar would let his wife be sent home in disgrace for something not her fault. I'm not so sure. Picture the same circumstances, but the husband and father not so well educated, not so loving and patient. Would there have been beatings, abuse, and terror? The cultures of Western and Middle Eastern families are very different, even today.

Tags = Culture

No comments: