Monday, December 17, 2007

Another treasure from Bahrain

Mideast Youth is a group blog made up of young people from MENA. This young woman describes her mother and maternal grandmother, writing in the first person as though her mother were writing.

(About the writer, Esra'a Al Shafei...
A 21 year old student from a Kingdom the size of a bathtub in the Gulf: Bahrain. She comes from a long line of lift engineers and personnel managers. She likes hardcore acoustic noise-terror music and people who can take a joke. She thinks college ultimately does not matter in the slightest, but unfortunately, some kind of socio-political imposition of cultural norms forces her to attend. She enjoys drinking flavored milk and writing about herself in 3rd person to remind herself of her existence.)

People say I resemble my mother. They say I share her eyes, her gentle voice, and though she had no form of education, she had a natural wit and intelligence about her. Growing up as an Arab woman she was not allowed to go to school, though it has been suspected that if she did, she would have gone far. Times have changed since then, I attend school and do well. I thank God everyday for what I have: a life far better than my mother’s was. She was young back when women were treated like cattle, bought and sold, leading the life of an animal following her father or husband like an eager dog. Men viewed her as a desirable, worthy prize, and though she was wanted by many, she had been arranged to marry a man named Ahmed, a kind, meditative and somewhat self-indulgent man. They were wed a young age and my mother delivered nine children, my siblings and I.

Our family was large but of common size for most Arab households. It was a kind of chaotic clockwork, enough to keep anyone’s hands full and at times a difficult number of mouths to feed. I was the second oldest and one of two daughters. My elder sister was married at fourteen, to a man she was forced to wed. She belonged to him now, so it was an unwritten law that I was to look after my seven younger siblings. Everyday I would cook three meals, every night I would send them to bed and force them to sleep.

My parents rarely helped me in the raising of this small army. I empathized with my mother’s past, I knew the hardships she had endured without knowing better, and in the quasi-modernized world I felt fortunate and wanted to help her in any way I could, as if to compensate for her slavery. So I raised her sons. I felt I had to work to please my father, who detested any toil outside of his immediate desires. I could tell by his eyes that I held a special place in his heart. I did his bidding without any command from him, and I did everything he ever expected of me, not wanting to lose his favor.

But the man of the house left for another woman, leaving his family to fend for themselves in a world where women are not beradwinners. The rest of the story is a study in character-building and role modeling.

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