Guess who’s coming to tea

8 June 2011 § Leave a comment

It was two years ago this week that PG first met my parents “officially”. As I’ve said before, we were friends for many years before any romantic involvement, so my parents had met him once or twice before, but in June 2009 they met him as a suitor (a word which must be said in the voice of Geoffrey from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air).

In the days before I told my parents about us I started a Twitter account (different to the one I use now) for the sole purpose of updating my friends about the situation. I had absolutely no idea how things would go, and I was on some level genuinely worried that my parents would never let me out of the house again or something drastic like that. If this sounds a little paranoid on my part, there was a precedent. A few years prior, during my last year of college, I had gone to Cairo to see my parents for winter break. At the end of the trip I was so wracked by guilt over the changes that were happening to me in terms of thought and attitude toward life (and love) that I decided to start coming clean with them about it all. I barely got past the first statement before my parents started freaking out and saying that they were going to pull me out of school and make me stay in Cairo so I could get my head straight. I was meant to be meeting Artemis in a few hours at the airport so we could head back stateside together, and there they were barring me from leaving. It took several hours of soothing monologue on my part and many tears before they let me go as planned. My father stopped speaking to me for months afterwards.

Throughout that situation what struck me most was that I had no mobile, no computer other than my parent’s laptop to use and basically no way to notify anyone – Artemis or otherwise – about what was going on. I felt trapped. And maybe it sounds like I’m overstating the situation, but actually I’m understating the argument above.

So in 2009 I had my own mobile and laptop and Twitter had been invented, and I started the Twitter account as a guaranteed way of letting my peeps know I was still of this world. (Easier than sending out a text message to each of those friends who felt invested in our situation and who numbered about 6.)

The point in bringing this up is that I kind of live-tweeted PG’s first meeting with my father. Top tweets from that night/the next day:

A few odd things emerged from that evening. My father was totally composed and my mother was an emotional mess, which is usually not how things work in our family. My mother is usually the one who has a good social face and my father the one who has little control over his feelings about a situation. So the meeting was led by my father, not really because this is the traditional thing to do but more because I don’t think my mother was able to bring herself to really sit with PG until the end of the evening.

Having said that, my father acted like PG was not a suitor. They talked about anything and everything other than our relationship to each other. To the point that afterwards my mother wondered if my father was actually aware of PG’s intentions in visiting our house that night. This situation emerged from the fact that PG’s father and my father are kind of in the same line of work, and PG is a somewhat knowledgeable about the topic. Thus, they were able to safely steer clear of any uncomfortable subject matter by instead discussing – in great detail – the history of multi-national accounting firms.

Meanwhile, I fell asleep.

The other thing that emerged was that apparently people in Egypt are obsessed with undershirts (vests for you Brits) as a sign of good taste. Both my mother and sister energetically pointed out that PG had not been wearing one under his dress shirt and it was obvious. I, naturally, told PG this and he promptly went to JIL in Zamalek and bought undershirts in bulk. At first I think he wore them a bit begrudgingly, but now – judging by the contents that spill out of his undershirt drawer and the trips he makes to JIL practically every time he’s in Cairo – I think he’s become a full on undershirt convert.

So the moral of the story is – when introducing a Farangi suitor to your parents make sure that he 1) has a working knowledge of your father’s line of work and 2) wears appropriate undergarments.


Meeting the perfect gentleman

28 September 2010 § Leave a comment

Lest I be seen to be going down the path of Hend Sabry’s character in this Ramadan’s popular show Ana 3ayza atgawiz (I want to be a bride) where the longed-for husband was faceless, nameless and nothing more than a prop in her wedding fantasy – allow me to introduce my Farangi. For the sake of accurate anonymity he will be referred to here as “PG” – the Perfect Gentleman. Because, ultimately, that’s what he is and also because there may be some relevance to the popular Wyclef Jean song.

[Sidenote: I have to take a moment here to say that the great irony of my life and this blog is that I never really wanted to get married. I recently discovered an “obituary” I wrote for an 8th grade newspaper project in which the last line was “Knewgyptian (obviously, not Knewegyptian) is survived by five adopted children. She never married.” I never dreamt about the perfect white wedding. I never longed for a man to call my own. I do not know how I got here, and though I am not at all disappointed that I am here, my stubborn independent woman heart needed to just put that out there.]

So…I met PG about five months after moving back to Egypt. Our first meeting was unremarkable – I went along with a friend of mine as “protection” and was neither impressed nor unimpressed by PG. He seemed like a lovely guy – which probably explains any lack of immediate attraction. (Remember, I like ’em a little damaged.) But we quickly became friends and enjoyed a good bit of banter, and that went on for several years.

I’ve told the story of how we finally got together many times, and I’m frankly tired of saying, “No, but seriously we were just friends, until we weren’t anymore.” I’m tired of the story and it’s not actually so relevant to this here blog, but to sum it up: there were certain events going on in my life and PG really came through for me as a friend. One Eid – soon after said events were resolved – while in Ras Sudr with the friend who had introduced us I had my very own “Oh my god I love Josh!” moment, and the rest is history. Er, except for the long time period in between that realization and my actually doing anything about it.

Luckily, PG – not always the most discerning sort – managed to figure out there was something up with me. And I managed to get over myself and see that things with PG could work out in the long run, both through a wonderful ability on his part to appreciate and understand my cultural and religious background and upbringing, and a fantastic ability on my part to function on a Scarlett O’Hara-esque level of optimistic denial.

Though as it turns out – as evidenced by the very name of this blog – I guess I wasn’t being that blindly optimistic.

Early warning signs

14 September 2010 § Leave a comment

I always never thought I would actually marry a white man. Despite several indicators to the contrary early on in life I always assumed I would crush on whomever, but when it came time to settle down I’d at least find myself a nice Muslim boy of any Arab origin to make my parents happy.

But much like I chose to study engineering my first year at university despite all the clear signs (SATs, AP exams, grades) pointing to a future in the humanities, when it came to thinking about a mate I blatantly ignored what had been there all along.

I believe it began with Neil Fields back in the second grade in Bahrain. Oh, he was a wild one, Neil, and in retrospect he most certainly had ADHD. But dear lord did I love him. He was always trying to emulate Chuck Norris and climbing up the walls or throwing paint around or knocking a desk over. I mean, what was there for my chubby, tom-boyish, seven-year-old self NOT to love? Alas, it was not meant to be for us, as he only had eyes for Dutch Barbara and her stupid stick-straight honey blond hair. Also, we were seven.

Then there were Jonny and Bradley (shocking I somehow never crushed on, say, a Biff or a Whitney) in the third and fourth grades respectively. Jonny and I used to sit next to each other on the bus to and from school, but jump onto separate seats whenever we passed Lover’s Lane (eww! cooties!). Bradley, however, barely even knew I existed. And if he did it was only because I kept him from kissing the other girls during the daily recess game of “kissing tag”. (Were New Jersey kids more promiscuous than kids elsewhere or was this par for the course?)

Oh, and then there was a string of blond-haired blue-eyed biker/skater boys from fifth grade onward – Griffin, with his sciencey-type parents who wouldn’t allow him to eat tuna because of the dolphins; Ivan, whose parents were exiles from some Eastern European country and who had the most rad skater boy haircut; Brian, the seemingly all-American son of an abusive alcoholic; Seamus, also the son of a recovering alcoholic who had been sexually abused as a youngster (oh, have I mentioned that my penchant is not just for white boys, but tragically damaged white boys?)…

The list goes on really. As an early-blooming but late-blossoming (that means I, erm, developed early on, but was otherwise unattractive to the laddies until the age of maybe 15 or 16) being raised in a conservative Muslim household I had many, many latent crushes. Most of them passed without me realizing them until much later. In those formative years, until I entered university, there were only one or two blips on my white-boy-loving radar – Ahmed and Mohamed (the only two names in this list that I have not changed in order to conceal their identities because, really, why bother?).

Ahmed and I had a two-year long flirtation which consisted of me throwing his possessions (often Swatch watches, which he collected) out of the window during Arabic class, and him sticking wads of paper in my frizzy hair. At the end of the 8th grade he finally got our mutual friend Tareq to pass me a note in which he told me how he felt about me (and how he knew I felt it too) and to call him during the summer if I wanted.

I did wanted. And I did call and we talked a few times using a complicated system of ringing and hanging up to alert the other that the other was waiting by the phone in order to avoid parents picking up. (Oh, middle school in a conservative Arab country.) But then when freshman year of high school rolled around, suddenly Ahmed started ignoring me and hanging out with the all-American crowd (as opposed to my Silk Road crowd) and that was that. And then Seamus (remember Seamus?) arrived on the scene and Ahmed was relegated to a mere memory of middle school loves lost.

Mohammed was, if we’re to be honest, much more than a blip. He was my first love. Our relationship was kindled over his ability to use this newfangled thing called the internet to find Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, which he read to me over the phone that first heady summer. From that point on, we began writing each other passionate love letters (and someone may or may not have written one such note in his own blood. Maybe.).

I mean, this was real love, man.

But despite his name (and actually most people knew him by his decidedly non-Arab nickname—”Freddie”) and his chocolatey-brown complexion, Mohammed’s soul was white as the driven snow. He played in a band. He wore his hair long and lived in flannel. He wanted to be a rock star (alongside being a dentist, of course) and live the life when he went off to college in Canada. My point is, Freddie was as Farangi as you could get without actually being a Farangi.

But it was only when I got to college – and even then it was more like three years into my university experience – that I realized my long and storied history of white boy loving. And once I realized that I set about on a mission to de-program myself. I couldn’t possibly actually ever end up with a white guy, and so I was going to focus on getting myself straight and clean. Of course, I was doing this all while becoming further entangled with the smartest, kindest, most helpful whitest white boy ever. Followed by another entanglement with the most devastatingly intelligent, musically talented Midwestern white boy ever. Followed by…well, you get the idea.

But I persevered and after six years back in the US I packed up my things and hauled ass back to Egypt giving myself one last-ditch chance to kick the whitey habit.

But God has a sense of humor, all, and He’s not afraid to use it…

Coming out of the walk-in closet

1 June 2010 § Leave a comment

If the disapproving but resigned folks at the Ministry of Justice are anything to go by, the rate of Egyptian female to Farangi male marriage is skyrocketing. Who knows why? If you’re anything like me, you did it because you chose to fall in love with your best friend who also happened to be a mutt of European origins who came to Egypt several years ago “for a few months” and decided to stay…a few years.

In the year or so that has passed since I’ve “come out” with my farangi beau I’ve had numerous friends – both male and female – ask me about the experience. How did my family react? Was it difficult to convince them? How did his family react? How are we keeping it together? And so on.

Unlike many western countries – cross-ethnic, cross-cultural marriage is still pretty uncommon in the Middle East. This should probably be the spot where I offer some statistics about such things, but I’m lazy and love to rely on anecdotal evidence. So, let’s put it this way – I’m the first female in my entire extended family of 12 aunts and uncles and 52 cousins to marry a non-Egyptian. I have one uncle who married a nice European woman, but that’s still more palatable than what I’ve gone and done because he’s a man (though, surprisingly, still not as easy as I thought it was for the Egyptian lads – more on that eventually).

The idea for this blog was born out of those questions, though the title was born a little bit before that during an email exchange with an old family friend. Said friend had herself already married a Farangi, albeit one who was only Farangi by nationality and not entirely by ethnicity. Meaning, he was not all white and he was born Muslim and not a convert like my particular Farangi, but at the end of the day they too had to get married at the Egyptian Ministry of Justice because he is not an Egyptian national. I had emailed my friend to ask about the intricacies of Egyptian-foreigner marriage and at the end of the email apologized for the umpteenth question in that day’s installment of “so I married a farangi.”

She thought that was hilarious and said we should write a book together. Instead I started writing a skit about it for  the Bussy Project – an Egyptian student-led dramatic initiative which “Raises awareness about women’s issues and rights by tackling problems in areas like sexual harassment, early marriage, female circumcision, equal opportunity employment, education, and more.

Basically, Bussy is the Egyptian Vagina Monologues and I knew a friend of a friend who was heavily involved in the project so I joined the Facebook group. I have some theatre background in technical crew and thought I could help out with the set-building or lighting for the show. But then I found myself one day thinking of transforming that email exchange into a comic skit about the real life experience I was having at the time – namely, convincing my family that their worlds would not come tumbling down if I married a Farangi.

However, true to my flighty nature, I never finished the script for the skit. And now, instead, I offer this blog.

Hopefully it will be a resource for practical advice on marrying a Farangi in Egypt if one should choose to do so, but it will also be a place for me to put down my thoughts and explore the difficulties of marrying a Farangi. Surprisingly enough, breaking the news to your conservative Muslim, nationalistic parents that you want to marry a white-boy convert with a funny accent is not the most difficult part of the process. And while my particular Farangi and I had many years as friends to think about the choice we were making, we always thought that getting my parents’ approval would be the toughest part.

This here blog is a document of how wrong we were about that.

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