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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Where Do You Fit In?

This is part rant part pet peeve part cultural differences part random thoughts that are in my head.

 I have lived my whole life alone. Even when I lived with my family under the same roof, I was alone. They barely noticed if I was in the house let alone what was I doing. We also lived way out in the country. I had lots of space to roam and allow my thoughts to just run free. It helped to quiet the raging fire that burned through my mind. Even when I moved to Bahrain, I lived alone. At night I had my quiet spot I could go to. I never felt afraid being alone. Even in a foreign country. When I first went to Bahrain, I barely spoke Arabic, but even then I wasn't afraid and enjoyed being alone. I liked my privacy. I am all about personal space. I don't go in yours. You don't enter mine. Peace and harmony will reign.

But when I married ShahJee*, all of that changed. I instantly was part of a family. I had a role to play with responsibilites and expectations. I went from living alone to living with a husband, a mother in law, a sister inlaw and 2 brothers in law, alongside a mamu (uncle) and maani (auntie) and their two children who live in the house directly across from us less than 2 ft away. To say it was overwhelming doesn't even begin to encompass what I felt.

In the beginning there were arguments. Misunderstandings. Some based upon cultural differences others due to language barriers. I didn't speak a word of Urdu and his family didn't speak a word of English. The bar was set very high. After living here 3 years, I have begun to settle into my role. I know more of what is expected of me. I now know that when I walk to the bathroom and every single person turns to look at me in the house, it's not because they are being rude or think something bad of me, it's just a Pakistani thing.

I have also learned that there is no such thing as privacy. No one knocks. Not even the neigbors. I can't tell you the number of times I would be in our room working and suddenly a strange woman just walked in. Luckily for me my mother in law is not typical. She would come charging in and quickly get the neighbor out of there.

There are times I still cringe when my SIL opens the door and just walks in to ask a question, but I know this is just how they are. I am only one person. I entered their world. I can't expect them to change it completely just to suit me. While there is compromise on their part. They understand now that I like being alone and allow me that space only entering when it's absolutely required. I don't complain when they barge in without knocking because I realize that they are at least trying so how can I not at least do the same in return?

It's a balancing act. One I am still learning. Some days I am better at it than others.

When my second to youngest brother in law married last October, it was my word of approval that sealed the engagement. Eventhough I am an outsider by every means imagineable. My word carried just as much weight if not a little more than others because I am the "bara bhabi" (eldest sister in law). I am not eldest because of my age but simply because my husband is the eldest son in his family. My age has nothing to do with it. My responsibilities come from being married to him. He is the head of the family because his father is deceased. It is a huge responsibility but it is one of great respect.

In the TV room he has a spot that is "his spot". Regardless of how many cousins, nephews or friends are sitting there, regardless of how long they have been there, regardless of what they are doing, the sound of his footsteps approaching causes them to start to part. Wiggling this way and that so that when he finally arrives his spot is free. If they are reading the newspaper, they without a second thought hand it over to him. He is the eldest. It is what he does when he sits down in that spot.

It doesn't matter what they have planned or where they are going. If he calls them and tells them to do such and such they drop everything. Not with a huff and sigh, but with eagerness. They don't backtalk and ask why or say they will do it later. There is no thought of annoyance that enters their minds. He is the eldest. By default that same respect due to him falls upon me. It's not like that where I come from.

So while there are things that get on my last nerve there are other things that capture me and pull me in. Ensnared in their grasp I can't pull away from them and even though a part of me wants to run away another part longs to be taken deeper within.

*Not his real name but what he is called. He is a syed and it's a title of respect that is used specifically and only for syeds


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