blogosphere, and always a respectful one. She also has her own blog Anthropologist in the Making which combines personal posts with ones based on her current studies in Anthropology as she completes her BA. Both types of posts are thought-provoking, and worth reading. She has had her own personal cross-cultural adventures that are somewhat unique, and has kindly agreed to share them, and the insights she has gained from her studies, with us. Here then, in her own words, is Anthrogeek10.
I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. My family is Caucasian. Apparently I am a daughter of the American Revolution as well. I grew up Catholic. My Father is still a practicing Catholic while my Mom has diverted to an Evangelical Christian ideology. My parents divorced when I was 19. I am the eldest of 5 girls.
I believe my interest in other cultures was something my Father instilled in me many years ago. He was friends with a variety of different people. One of his best friends was Chinese. I will never forget the time we had dinner in the home of this Chinese man’s family. What an experience! The food was certainly authentic and yum.
My interest professionally really started in Chicago upon taking a class in Cultural Anthropology. That course affected me deeply but I did not listen to the “voice” within to pursue a career in Anthropology.
Marriage to a Pakistani
We met in Istanbul, Turkey--one of my favorite cities. We really got to know one another online for a long time following the meeting. We had decided to marry when we met in Istanbul, and married about a year following that.
His family apparently did not know about me. My family allowed me to do whatever--seeing as I was an adult. I did not have contact with my Mom at the time so she did not know, but my Dad signed the nikkah and thought it was ludicrous that he had to give his permission. My Stepmom was not in agreement about me marrying a Pakistani. My sisters generally accepted the decision.
At the time I got married, I lived in a suburb of Chicago and had a lucrative career in Food Science; a career that I knowingly gave up by making the choice to move abroad to Bahrain. I was getting disenchanted with the field and needed to pursue my adventurous spirit.
What were the challenges in the marriage? Ahhh…where to begin? :) Cross-cultural marriages are challenging. Marriage, as I have found out throughout the years, can be challenging and even more so if there are different ideologies/world views. My ex-husband was fairly liberal so many of the things that make life difficult for Western women in marriages such as this did not occur with us. For example, he felt it was my right to work and have a fulfilling career, a belief that many Pakistani men may not accept. He also knew he could not tell an American woman what to do, so my day-to-day independence was kept intact. :) He was also not religious in the traditional sense. I never ever saw him pray, but he read the Qur’an and was a proponent of Sufism.
One of the major challenges was regarding housework. Pakistani men, as I quickly learned, do little to no housework. He cooked, but only when he wanted to teach me about Pakistani food. I love cooking so that was ok. My issue was in working more than full time and doing all the housework too. That did not sit well with me.
Another challenge was regarding sharing/expression of feelings. It seems that women are not encouraged in Pakistani culture to share sadness and such. I felt like he always wanted to cheer me up, and I felt misunderstood, like I could not be myself regarding how I felt.
Additional challenges in the marriage centered on how to act in public (for me of course). I was always a modest dresser so that was a non-issue but looking men in the eye, shaking hands with a man, and affection between us were all off limits. Those caused tension between us.
In retrospect, I never really felt loved in this marriage. It may have had something to do with his other wife (yes, he was married in Pakistan). Unfortunately, I knew about his first wife from day one. He has a daughter with her as well. She was in Pakistan and did not know about us until later. He told me that it was his “intention to get divorced” from her. Action is what I wanted! LOL! :) Live and learn. I did go through a phase during which I contemplated having her in Bahrain with us. I knew how much he missed his daughter.
He was laid off in Bahrain and had to be sent back to Pakistan if he could not find work. I was nearing the end of my teaching contract, and they were getting ready to pay me for the summer, so I suggested I leave. He agreed. He thought it would be “good to finish the degree”, which was a big deal for me (finishing my degree). Once home, I was able to assess the situation and realize that he could have been out for the opportunity to move away to a more seemingly lucrative country (USA), so it was good I left.
Our divorce was not official. I do not really know if I am Islamically married still or not (we did not have a legal/state recognized marriage). He refused in a roundabout way to give me a divorce so I stopped speaking to him. We have since talked via email. He has moved on, and lives in the Gulf again and has built a life up with another Westerner who works there.
I have no idea what this situation means for me legally and Islamically. I need to ask an Imam. I know an Islamic scholar I trust who may be able to advise me on a future Islamic marriage (if that is what I will do). I consider myself Muslim, but I am not religious at all. However, I would like to make sure that that marriage is behind me, including Islamically. I know how to contact him, so I assume he will be more accepting now of granting me this divorce. Although, I read somewhere that after a certain period of time, if the man has been away for an extended period without giving support, then the divorce is automatic. I do need to find out.
Life in Bahrain
I was in Bahrain to be with “A”, my Pakistani husband. I taught English and Science.
A school in Bahrain
There were many good points about life there, actually. The slower pace of life compared to USA was desirable for me. I liked learning about the culture. Everyday was a new experience for me. I liked fishing for my dinner on occasion (in the Persian/Arabian Gulf). I liked the friendliness of the local people. I did spend lots of time with Pakistani’s (as opposed to Arabs) so maybe that statement is not accurate. I also enjoyed the street food once in a while. Meeting people from around the world was also fun. Taking time out to eat together 2-3 times a day was fabulous. I have never been a proponent of the fast food industry, and so having fresh cooked meals, not eaten on the run but face to face while talking, was a positive experience for me. To this day, I love eating with friends/family although I do not do it often. Finally--I loved the souk. Always makes for an interesting afternoon regardless if a purchase is made or not.
The “bad” points are all based upon my world view and where I grew up, etc. I will just mention some of the challenges I faced. For one thing, there was no central air in our place. I had to cook in the extreme heat. No “laundry room”. I washed clothes in a bucket and hung them to dry outside on the line. He took work clothes (both of ours) and jeans to the laundry (or had the man pick up the bundle), but socks and undergarments were done by hand. Not something I was used to! Ha! Having to obsess about if a shirt is covering my rear or not got old after a while. I guess I should have bought an abaya. I never, however, disrespected the culture by wearing anything attention getting.
I did not like the extreme heat and humidity. I suppose that is very minor. I live in Florida now but nothing compares to the heat/humidity combo there. I did not like not knowing if single women were welcome at certain food establishments. I liked an Iranian place but felt I needed “A” to go for me because I felt like it would be strange to go in alone especially with no abaya. Finally, one major challenge was having no libraries. That was hard. Books became my escape and so much of my salary went for new books.
However, one bad point was within me. I felt a deep loneliness in the marriage and so that was reflected in my behavior. I had a mild case of depression during the whole time I was there. I did not constitute it to living in a different culture as I thought it had to do with my marriage.
Some incidents stand out in my mind. I was in shalwar kameeze (which I love still--I hope to have one made for my graduation) and was in Seef Mall on Eid. A Saudi young man pinched my rear end and my husband saw it and grabbed him and took him to security. That was interesting. They made him apologize, and asked me if I wanted to press charges. I said no, if I remember correctly.
Once, on the way to a Pakistani wedding, some young men threw cans at us shouting something about Pakistani something or another. Racist talk I am sure. I find the racism against Asians (no matter from where) really mirrors the racism we in America have for those of Hispanic origin. Although we have minimum wage laws here (unaware of any such laws in the Gulf to protect Asian workers), there are other controls that keep Spanish speakers from excelling to the best of their ability (such as English only laws, etc).
I remember visiting a proprietor of a fast food place with my husband. The proprietor was Pakistani too--very respectful and kind. We usually ate a few shawarmas there once or twice a week.
I remember not finding high quality clothing that was affordable that also fit--especially shoes. Shoes are tough for me and I should have brought better shoes from the States with me had I known. I remember buying bootleg movies in the souk. I also will never forget the smell of the spices in the souk. Intoxicating! The gold souk is also not one to be left out. I had some really pretty pieces from there for a while.
I remember the local bar and people watching there, something my husband liked to do a lot. I remember trying to make chapatti for “A” and they turned out like bricks. He thanked me sincerely for the effort and ran out to buy bread instead.
Those are just a few of the things that stick out off the top of my head.
I did not travel in the GCC. We actually thought about it. He tried getting me a visa to KSA but it did not materialize. When living in Bahrain, I thought I had so much time to make more memories and to take pictures. That year went by so fast, and I did not have time to make the most of the experience.
Our leave-taking was mutual. No hard feelings or drama involved. I really do not have much negative to say about “A”. He was a good husband in that he provided for me, never criticized me for things like weight gain, always gave me space and seemed to like my cooking so much he gained 10 lbs during the year. He had his moments and I tended (and still tend) to defend him, and sometimes make excuses for him. But he was not mean. He did not have a temper at all, even if I pushed him to the limit.
I moved back to USA in Chicago to restart my life. I eventually made my way to Florida to finish my degree, where I am almost done with the BA leg of my journey.
An Anthropologist in the Making
Long before I went to Bahrain, I took a Cultural Anthropology class and felt the call to become an anthropologist then but I ignored the voice until I moved to Florida not knowing what to major in. I finally had a serious discussion with myself. Ha-ha!
Believe it or not, I have varied interests within the discipline. The one I am most drawn to is surrounding identity and conversions to Islam. I think this is personal in some respects but I believe that I can separate myself from any research that I would do. However, it would be an emic view. In Anthropology, the term ’emic’ is defined as a viewpoint that comes from someone who is within that culture (or faith, etc). For example, if I were to learn Arabic and study those in the Arab world, my viewpoint would be ‘etic’ (or an outsider view). So, to study American converts to Islam, I will be looking through the “glass” from an insider, or emic, perspective. :) I am fascinated by the migration of Western women to the Middle East. Diasporas are always fascinating in many ways.
I also would love to do a comparative study of Saudi women and women from the UAE regarding suicide. Sounds morbid and it is. I am interested in more than just statistics, including speaking with real women who have thought about suicide and why. However, I am interested in if there is a higher rate in KSA opposed to in the UAE. Knowing Arabic would obviously be a necessity for that work. I would love to take the time to learn Arabic but I do not have time now, as I learned when I tried it once. In any case, I have other anthropological interests that do not require Arabic.
I will be doing some applied anthropology in the Spring semester. I will be writing a major paper on Eco-tourism for a graduate class I am taking. I am currently doing work in Oakland, Fl and might use it as the basis of my research by possibly doing a “then and now” approach with regards to the high tourism traffic in the Lake Apopka area in the early 20th century; and how the tourism traffic has decreased sharply through the mid 20th century due to environmental changes. The lake health declined steadily while, at the same time, tourism declined. That’s one tentative study.
However, I need to finish the ole’ BA. That will be behind me in the Fall of 2010. I was supposed to graduate in the Spring but personal issues have changed in my life which has also changed my academic plans. Studying for the GRE in the summer is part of the plan and taking the exam to the best of my ability in the fall.
Hopefully, my results will be good enough for funding to the school I want to attend. I want to get a M.A first and reassess my needs from there. A PhD would give me lots of employment options but I am not sure if I have the longevity for that. I am approaching middle age. I need to get my second career up and running.
I would love to jump start an applied anthropology program for Anthro majors in a community college. There is a graduate applied anthropology program at George Mason University that looks wonderful. Regarding identity and Islam, there is a professor up North who specializes in that. My grades are excellent (particularly in my major) so I have high hopes of securing a spot with funding. I need to study for that GRE!! I am currently the Vice-President of the Central Florida Anthropological Society. That is a good place to make contacts and to get the public involved with what we do in the Central Florida area.
Initially, posting and commenting in the blogosphere has been a way for me to vent, talk about issues, share my successes and failures and make contacts in the Middle East who could be potential study subjects. :) I do not write much on my own blog. I have not “felt it” lately. I may actually discuss the past semester soon. There may be some current world issues that I might delicately approach soon as well.
Impression of cross-cultural marriages
Since studying anthropology more, when I look back on my own cross-cultural marriage, I think I could have been more sensitive to the culture as opposed to critiquing it. I do not believe that I was as diplomatic as I could have been in the marriage. I am a strong woman and did not want to “take any lip”; I saw any act of diplomacy with him as giving in. All marriages are about negotiation. I wish I used more negotiation skills. Cross-cultural marriages need it even more.
Generally I see cross-cultural marriages as difficult. I see many women struggling and seemingly giving up themselves for the man, and that makes me sad. I have seen some healthy marriages, but I have seen more divorces than ones who have stayed the course. I do not think my studies per se have taught me anything about cross-cultural marriages but I have more knowledge about other cultures which in turn helps me to see things in a different light.
In closing, I want to share that even despite two failed marriages (the second one to an American man), I still want to eventually try again. I find that being married to someone from another culture can be adventurous and exciting, but it brings different challenges not all people are willing to deal with. I am--to some extent. Life is a journey and for me, that means successes and some failures. Hopefully I have and will learn from the failures. I may have not listened to the call of what my life’s work should be until later in life, but I am sure happy I pursued/am pursuing it.
Oh-and by the way, I would love, love, love to move back to the Gulf. Maybe Oman next time.
Anthropologist in the Making!
What strikes you most in what she has experienced to date?
Do you agree that cross-cultural marriages are more difficult? If so/not, in what ways?
Does the mild depression and attributing it to the marriage rather than other factors sound familiar from expat /non-expat experiences?
Any thoughts on whether she is still married Islamically to “A” (which would make her the 2nd of 3 current wives)?
What challenges have you experienced in crossing cultures for a temporary stay?
How have they altered your perception of your self and life goals?
Any other comments, thoughts, experiences?