Sunday, September 10, 2006

In the same boat

Living half a world away is not an easy thing. You miss all the things from home; junk food, conveniences, the sights and smells, flowers and plants, wildlife. But most of all you miss your family and friends. This is especially true during holidays. Last weekend was Labor Day weekend in the US - I imagine there must have been family reunions all over the country.

But more difficult than missing out on holidays is not being there when your family and friends really need you. Like when they are sick, needing a shoulder to cry on and the very worst on the list... death.

Yesterday I got an overseas call from the niece of one of my friends who lives here in Libya. It was bad news. My friend's best friend in the US had passed away. She'd been sick for a while and it had been arranged that the family would let me know first so I could break the news to her in person. It was hard, but I was happy to do it because I know how hard it is to get news like that. It's not something you want to hear over the phone or read in an email. You need someone to be there.

One of the weird things I discovered after living here for a while was how insensitive most Libyans are. If someone from my friends or family in the US dies, few of my in-laws or neighbours here even gives it a second thought - it's just another day in the neighbourhood. For example, when my father died not one person from my mother-in-law's family even called me to express their condolences. I had a few neighbours stop in and some from my father-in-law's side of the family, but mostly my visitors were my friends here - others like me, living here with their Libyan husbands. If I didn't have my friends I would have found myself very alone.

In a way it worked out quite well for me because now I never have to visit any of my mother-in-law's family. If I happen to run into any of them and they ask me why I didn't attend so and so's wedding, or some other family event, I just have to tell them 'They didn't come to me when my father died.' Simple as that - they shut right up.

I've come to depend on my immediate family; my husband, children and my mother-in-law. But mostly I just rely on my friends to get me through things. We're all in the same boat, after all.


  1. I'm sorry for your loss.

    Most mother il laws are insensitive (ref: Letter to MiL)

  2. Teri: You are in a tough position, and I understand your conclusion about the widespread insensitivity of Libyans. I think, the level of sensitivity and civility of Libyans depends strongly on whether they feel they're being watched, and by whom. The same Libyans would behave totally differently when you remove the observer and change them, which is the kiss of death for trying to sort out any "systematics" of Libyan behavior. Imagine if physical system (atoms and molecules) behaved in a manner depending on who is observing them! A good example is how much Libyan behaviors can change when they go visiting abroad, i.e., when they get out of the familiar microscope. If you had a support system, perhaps a loud mother and some reptilian sisters living in Libya, ready to pounce and get even with whoever slights you, then you would receive a lot more sensitivity. And isn't it odd how Libyans can be obsessed with "dissing arithmetic?" You know, they count and keep records of who came to see them on such and such occasion, and who didn't! It seems that you caught that bug, too, KT, and you're using it well! :-)

  3. Teri thank you so much for being there for me and my family the other night .Since you are such a intergal part of our family, no one else could have done what you did for us that night .Sydney

  4. A good friend is hard to find. May God bless you Teri.

  5. Maybe because your dad was a Christian?
    My maternal granddad was a Christian, and I remember one of my friends refusing to accompagny me walking across a Christian churchyard (we wanted to cut time) because she believed walking on a Christian burial ground was going to make her walk thru invisible flames of hell. She then told me it was haram to put some flowers on my granddad´s grave.

  6. Suliman - yes, I've learned to count visits by the Libyan system. It's not my style, but hey, it's what they understand here, so I've got to go along with some of their culture.

    Syd - you are as a sister to me. I'll always be there when you need me. :)

    Safia - I have had the most ugly things said to me by Libyans about my family that are not Muslim, and many times they are said to me personally because they are of the opinion that only they are really Muslims because they were born that way! I used to try to correct some of the things that I saw they were doing wrong by explaining particular hadiths etc, but they would never take any advice I gave them (even if I dragged out a hadith book in Arabic and pointed it out) - I found I was just wasting my time.

  7. I realy understand your situation dear. You do your best and want to be thought of belonging to your hubby's world .This my dear is because you're American, you feel and committ yourself totally to your choice whereas your hubby's family can't comprehend this attitude due to being ignorant. They simply can't stand your happiness,so in return make you feel uncomfortable.I believe they even envy you and deep down wish they could do what you're doing, but respond negatively so that you get hurt and feel unwanted and unworthy.
    You have a lovely family and fantastic friends MashaAllah so don't expect too much from anybody else.

  8. My sympathy. It is odd that they are so insensitive. When my mother recently had a heart attack my wife's Saudi family were full of well wishing and the like.

    As to being over seas when tragedy strikes, I was in Germany when my father got ill and eventually passed away. It is very hard.

  9. Dear Terei,I lost my father a year ago..I know how you felt then.I am sorry.I wonder what will you do if you come to Sudan,concering the sensitivity of our people;meaning ;maybe 2000 could be ,at the same place..same time,at a wedding or when one is passed away.And you have to keep up with ALL those who came to you!!Thank God we do not care about religion ,but we care about pesonalities and characters.I think you more important things to do than those relitives!!Ignore them and keep on postings.You are great!It was s enjoyable to read your blog!Hala Fawzi.Sudan

  10. I'm sorry for your loss to Khadijateri. As much as Libyans are hospitable as much as they can be xenophobic, and that is a weird combination. I know exactly what you mean, butI still cannot bring myself to count by their system who visited and who has not. I just do what I feel is right and forget the rest.

  11. Sorry to hear about the loss of your father. A net work of support is really needed when a loss occurs especially on that scale. As for the insensitivity, I was discussing that aspect with a relative the other day, and she made remarks on how a person who is a Muslim is better then a non Muslim no matter what, my response was with a simple question such as "Better in the eyes of the creator, or you?" As far as I am concerned Religion is how you treat people, so your faith is represented in your actions and how you perceive others and how you treat them. And as long as I am concerned, my understanding of Islamic teaching is that it requires people to act more then say or illustrate. If some one is carrying the package of "Islam-Muslim" and can not even recognize the very humanity within the souls surrounding them, they cease to be a human in my humble opinion. As for network of friends, I have found that friends can be more of a family to you no matter where you are since you choose them while relatives; you have no choice over.
    I do not know you but I know what you have presented me and the readers of your blog with; such a wonderful work over your blog. I respect you and your presence and I share your feelings of belonging and trying to connect with your immediate world and the greater one, the British proverb goes" if you are my friend you are not going to hurt me, if you are not my friend , you are not going to hurt me"
    Keep your heart warm and also the awesome work.


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