Sunday, March 11, 2007

Yesterday afternoon my younger sister Jackie and I went to Portland Oregon to attend the wedding reception of our older sister's daughter and her new husband . He is from Saudi Arabia, here on a student visa for seven or eight years.

He met her about three years ago in Aberdeen, Washington. She had already embraced the Muslim faith a number of years before meeting him, and was studying Arabic with great enthusiasm (after having mastered Spanish).

I scarcely know my older sister's three children, except by reputation, which has always been sterling: excellent students (mostly home-schooled by their dad; my sis is an attorney), both daughters started college in their early teens and had graduated by the time most students their age are just entering college. Their son is still at home (at an age where he should be) but the girls have been on their own for well over five years.

I lived in California during much of their upbringing and communication between Big Sis and me was limited, even uncomfortable until Mom died and I saw her cry for the first time. (Sis is Spock-like. I am McCoy-like. Get the picture? Both personality types are quite respectable; they just don't "get" each other, even though they certainly honor one another.) She has her own law practice and doesn't know the meaning of the phrase "take time to smell the roses." She's a working fool. You can't coerce her into even an annual weekend retreat with her sisters, and unless sisters retreat there is always so much activity going when we do connect that true communication-and-reflection time is nonexistent.

All of this came home to me in crystal-clear, high definition resolution last night. Here I was wishing two people well, one of whom I had just met (my new Saudi Arabian nephew); the other, my sister's daughter... and I don't know her much better than I know him!

I love my niece, I care about her; the few times we have been together have been pure joy. She's funny, and sweet and smart and every good thing. She wears the head covering and ankle-length attire of a devout Muslim and looks adorable -- okay, beautiful, too -- in it. Last night she looked very, very happy, having tied the knot just that afternoon in a private ceremony.

And in two years these newlyweds will move to Saudi Arabia and I may never see her again. And I wonder, will her own mother ever see her again? Will my older sister ever get to hold her grandchildren in her arms? Or, even worse perhaps, will she get to hold one of them in her arms sometime during the next two years while they are still here and then have to relinquish that joy when they move overseas to enter a male-dominated culture that is controlled in a way that is so utterly foreign to us liberated westerners?

Then I reconsider. I'm fearful because of recent events and because our media always leads with an "us vs. them" perspective ever since 9-11. ("Look how DIFFERENT they are!") We've all seen various reports about how women are regarded there; how all their "rights," or rather their permissions -- to travel, dress, interact, communicate -- are in the hands of their husbands...

But male-dominated cultures and kingdoms have existed in most countries for most of our history. In countries where there are benevolent kingdoms (and many are, including Saudi Arabia), the king and heads of households recognize their dominion over people, and repond accordingly -- quite apart from domination. Look up the differences in the dictionary if you're not clear about the two terms. It's when kingdoms or families have despotic leaders that grievous harm occurs. Kingdoms as a general rule are benevolent guardians of their people.

And if the culture is male-dominated, there is nothing wrong with that as long as the male has the best interests of all members of his family in heart and mind. Just as Christ is the "head" of the Christian church, husbands here in America and around the world are commanded (in the Bible) to be the "heads" of their households (willing to lay down their lives as Christ did in the best interests of his wife, their children and the family unit).

To say I feel comfortable with this new coupling would be somewhat (and a wee bit more) short of the truth. My heart hesitates; I have enormous concern, because I don't know enough yet to have worries confirmed or blasted to smithereens. There are too many unknowns. I don't know the gentleman's intentions. I don't even know my niece's intentions! Both are strangers to me, I'm sad to say. But I care about them, and about my older sister. I wonder what she is feeling, but because she is such a Spock, I probably will never know her innermost thoughts...

I do know this much: Every soul is important to God. Whatever the future holds for my niece and new nephew, I can only pray that it will be immense with love, joy, and fulfillment beyond their wildest dreams.

I honor their commitment to marriage and to a life together. I respect her decision and pray that what she experiences in Saudi Arabia will be so far from what we here in America anticipate for her that she will be able to share her joy with us across the ocean and re-educate us about a land we have so little personal knowledge of.


Carl Rylandert said...

It's good to 'harmonise' with people, and to try to see their point of view, but Arabic countries do have some 'cruel and unusual' punishments for breaking their laws.

Hope I haven't offended you, Kris.

Kristine M Smith said...

Not at all, Carl! That's why I'm worried!


Alison said...

The biggest worry always seems to be fear of the unknown. Fear itself. I have two aunties married to arabic men who moved to England in the 60s and are totally westernised. Yet I know nothing about them or the land they come from - not really, only that religion/faith has little to do with the regimes there.

The West needs to be educated, or to educate themselves, and now. As a language teacher I regularly tell my students that I think Arabic should be taught in schools now, as well as the history of the place so that we can start communication and understanding. You can't say it's not relevant!

In the meantime, I think we need to have faith, not fear. Pretty much what you said. Let's hope that like with every new couple, they look after each other.

PS. My Brother is a Spock, and everything I do is illogical.

Kristine M Smith said...

Sound advice. Thanks!