Being Kuwaiti

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A foreign mother is being forced by her Kuwaiti son to go propose to his secret girlfriends mother. Confused and desperate, the mother hasn't a clue about the Arabic cultural norms when it comes to marriage...

Submitted: June 01, 2015

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Submitted: June 01, 2015



It is 12pm. Two hours to go until I have to meet the mother of the girl.  Back home, if a man and a woman love each other, then they can be together. And it is nobody else’s business.

It began this way.

‘Mom, I need you to call Noora’s mother and tell her I reserve her daughter for marriage. But they have to wait a year or two until I finish my studies and raise enough money from work, since I just started working.’ My son announced.

I am completely clueless about the rules in marriage in this culture. Having been divorced from my Kuwaiti husband for more than fifteen years, I was never prepared for such situations. My son has only known this girl for three years, and he is still a student. He is not ready for marriage yet. I must somehow try to make the mother understand, and be patient with my son.

‘Are you ready for the meeting, mom?’ My son poked his head into my room, as I was fixing my hair in the mirror.

‘I wish I didn’t have to do this, Why can’t your father go and meet Noora’s father? I am sure he knows much more about this than I do,’

‘Don’t worry, her mother is Moroccan, I’m sure she’s as foreign to Kuwaiti marriage rules as you are.’  

‘At least she is an Arab. I don’t even know what to say…’

‘Just be yourself, and order one Noora, please. Then she will say “That will be three thousand.” You know, like your ordering from Starbucks, but instead it’s a wife for me.’ He laughed at his own joke, ignoring my worried expression.

 He stopped laughing and continued more seriously, ‘Look, just explain to her that this is the 21st century, and girls don’t have to be forced into arranged marriages by the age of 23 anymore. She can wait a couple of years, because I am twenty four, jobless, and still working on my master’s degree, I just can’t afford her right now.’

‘Ok, I will try and tell her.’ I assured him.

After having a light lunch, I started on my way to a quiet restaurant in a mall nearby where we had agreed to meet for the first time. I was extremely nervous, and my heart was pounding in my chest. I took deep breaths and tried to stay calm. This was just a meeting to discuss our children’s situation, nothing to be that worked up about.

Stepping into the restaurant, I see a few people sitting here and there enjoying their lunches. I grab my phone and start calling the number my son had given me. I noticed a woman sitting at the far end of the room, dressed in black traditional dress and a black head scarf, reaching for her phone and putting it against the side of her face.

‘Hello?’ a voice said in my ear through the phone, synchronizing with the woman’s lips across the room.

‘Hi, I just entered the restaurant. I’m standing by the door. I think I see you,’ the woman’s head turned towards the door and smiled, waving gently. I hung up the phone and rushed towards her. Greeting her with a handshake, she gestured towards the chair for me to have a seat. She had a pleasant face and no makeup on. Little wrinkles around her eyes made her look kind, but the lines on her forehead made her look worried.

‘Would you like to order a drink or some food? I already ordered a drink for myself.’ The woman was very nice and smiled sweetly. She seemed almost as nervous as me.

Her name is Laila, and she spoke perfect English. She seems wise, very open and understanding. It is very rare to meet a woman of such class here, even though judging by her appearance, one would have never guessed so. Women that wear simple traditional attire usually tend to be conservative, narrow minded, with weak English language skills. But I am thoroughly impressed with Laila. She speaks Arabic, English and French, being from Morocco. I suddenly started feeling mediocre in her presents.

‘I am afraid we have a little problem with our children,’ Laila said, sounding uneasy.

‘Unfortunately, yes. I was asked by my son to ask if you were will to wait until he finishes his master’s degree and starts work and saves enough money for marriage,’

‘That’s the thing, you see, how can I be sure that your son will marry my daughter?’ She gave me a skeptical look, ‘Your son and Noora have been together for three years, I understand that but her father would not share the same understanding if he knew about this. And after those three years, what happened? They broke up.’

Embarrassing flushed my face. It is true, they did break up, and they had been apart for six months, because, according to my son, she was over dramatic, created a lot of trouble, and was uncontrollable.

‘Your son broke her heart.’ Laila continued with a worried look on her face, ‘She was really hurt. And now suddenly they are back together again. Now how can I trust him?’

‘I understand, but that’s love. If they love each other then they will want to be together. You can’t stop young people in love.’

‘But she won’t be young forever. There are already perfectly good suitors coming by our house and asking for her hand. One I really think would be good for her, too. He comes from a very good family, educated, handsome, and wealthy. But Noora refuses, because she wants your son. I don’t know what to do. If she will keep refusing and in the end your son doesn’t come through with his promise, if he changed his mind, then it will be too late. After she turns twenty five, nobody will come propose to her. And she will be alone forever. Not only that, but because she is now refusing everybody, what am I supposed to tell her father? I know about her and your son, but her father doesn’t. And everybody knows that if a girl is refusing perfectly good suitors then she must already have someone she wants.’

‘Maybe if you told her father, he would understand,’

‘You know this not the way in Kuwait. If her father finds out, he will kill her, and kill me with her.’

I felt ashamed of my son. I never really had a communicative relationship with him, he always seemed to distance himself from me. I assumed as a boy living in a patriarchal country, that he would natural grow up to be like his father. A dominating closed minded chauvinist with a very Arab mentality. For more than twenty years I had watched him grow more and more like his father. Until one day, he suddenly introduced his girlfriend to me. And she was the sweetest little thing, quiet, pretty, well behaved, and very well clothed, mostly in designer outfits. After that we got back to the same old routine of rarely communicating. Then the breakup happened. He moved on pretty quickly, didn’t really seem bothered by the situation. I suspected he was seeing other women. Six months later, he comes to me with the news of their rekindled love, and demanding me to ask for her hand.

Secretly, I knew that this woman’s daughter was probably too good for my son. And I have no doubt that the suitor that proposed would be better suited for her and would probably treat her better too. But I couldn’t say this to them mother. I had to stick by my son, no matter how he is or what he does.

 ’I don’t know what to say. I am sorry that he broke your daughter’s heart. I honestly don’t know the details. And I can’t promise that he will be the best husband in the world. I had my heart broken countless of times by my ex-husband, and they are still young, they have no experience yet. They need more time to get to know each other fully.’ I said. Laila nodded her head and frowned deep in thought.

We sat like this for a little while, thinking deeply. At least she looked like she was thinking deeply, I was studying her expressions. She looked very worried. The lines on her forehead deepened. I couldn’t fully understand her worry, but I knew that marriage is very important in this culture. ‘No matter how much or hard we think about this, we can’t really do anything. I will tell my son about the situation and we will see what he says,’

Laila was silent for a moment, looking down at the table. Then her features suddenly hardened and she sternly said ‘Yes, you’re right. But we have to be Kuwaiti now! I will make her go to the right path! She will be a good a girl, I will make sure of that.’

I was slightly taken aback by her sudden stern outburst, but I nodded anyway to avoid any discomfort. Laila, again, mentioned the perfect suitor, that asked for her daughter’s hand; the rich, handsome, educated man, and I simply nodded some more. ‘The only solution would be for your son to tell his father to come and propose to Noora’s father officially. He has to do that, and then they can wait for as long as they want. But just make it official.’

‘I will tell my son about everything and we will see what he decides to do.’ I said. Then I had a thought, I was wondering if she had married her husband out of love.

‘Yes, I did love him before marriage. And my mother was against it.’ Laila said quietly.

‘Me too,’ I nodded.

After a while, we decided to end the meeting with the decision that I will speak to my son and tell him about the official proposal.

When I got home and had a talk with my son. He declared that his father will not go anywhere, he is sure of it. And It is Noora’s choice whether she wants to wait for him or not. He is not going to do anything now, because he just doesn’t have the time. 

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