Sunday, September 23, 2007

Thinking back...

Every Ramadan I take some time to stop and remember my father-in-law. Actually I think about him more often than just once a year, but he died during the month of Ramadan in 1996 so the month makes me think back and mark his passing.

When I first came to Libya my father-in-law wasn't particularly thrilled with me. I think the whole idea that he was stuck with a foreign daughter-in-law just kind of ticked him off. Just shaking my hand seemed a huge effort for him. But seeing that my first year in Libya was spent living in the family house we were forced to get to know each other. There were good times... and there were bad. I swear that was the longest year of my entire life.

Once I nearly killed my father-in-law. It was kind of an accident that marked a turning point in our relationship.

Being stuck living with the family and only having one small room was pretty miserable. I was going through culture shock and hubby was going through re-entry shock. These were trying times and because we had little if any privacy it meant we couldn't yell and scream at one another to get it out of our systems. I quietly steamed away wondering why in the hell I ever decided to come to Libya in the first place. I found sitting with the family day in and day out extremely boring so a lot of the time I would just stay in my room either writing, reading (the same books over and over again) or listening to a small cassette player that I had brought with me from the US.

This pissed the hell out of hubby. He seemed to think I was being anti-social and he decided to break the cassette player - thinking this would just make me have one less thing to do alone in my room. Well, there was no privacy to have a screaming battle but there was still revenge to be had. I waited for hubby to leave for work the next morning and carted his stereo system up to the roof and tossed it over the side. I leaned over and looked four stories down, satisfied to see it was completely broken. Then I went downstairs to the kitchen and made myself a celebratory cup of coffee with some nescafe I had managed to hide away for myself (there were 14 people living in that house and the only way you could keep anything special for yourself was to hide it).

As I was pouring the hot water into the cup my father-in-law stormed into the kitchen. He was white as a ghost and furious, holding parts of the broken stereo system in his hands. He shook them in my face and demanded to know if I was the one who had tried to kill him. It turned out that he had been standing in the carport area below the building and the sound system had landed about two feet away from him. It could have landed on his head had he taken a step out but instead the fright nearly gave the poor man a stroke. I explained why I had thrown it off the roof and I asked him, 'How was I supposed to know you were standing down there?'.

I gave him my coffee and we made up. I think he felt sorry for me. When dear hubby came home and found the broken sound system he was not pleased but my father-in-law told him off and the whole event was pushed aside. Thus marked the beginning of my friendship with my father-in-law.

Over the years we became very close. He was retired but worked on the family farm everyday. One of his favourite things to do was to go into the fields and cut fodder for the cows and sheep. I often picked up a sickle and followed him into the fields where we would work together and talk. He told me about stories of his life or we'd talk about our fears, current events or the future. Sometimes we would just work together in silence and oftentimes he would sing, always the same song; the national anthem during the king's reign.

He suffered from diabetes and hypertension which in his later years caused him to have heart problems. We had long since moved out of the family house and into our own apartment in another area of town but every time we went to the family house for a visit my first stop would be to check on my father-in-law. If he wasn't busy we'd have a nice chat and then I'd go off and sit with the women. One visit he told me that he wasn't feeling well and thought he would be going into the hospital that night. After I left him I found my husband and told him what his father had said. He went to see his dad but came back and said his father was fine. Sure enough, later in the night my father-in-law asked to be taken to the hospital. He sent word that I wasn't to visit him in the hospital. I went off for a walk and found a smooth rounded stone the size of my fist. I gave it to my husband to take to his father because I knew he wouldn't be able to wash for prayers but he could use the stone to perform his ablutions symbolically. The kids took out their crayons and drew pictures for their grandfather.

After a week and he insisted on being released from the hospital and taken to Tunisia. He came home before leaving for Tunis and the family gathered round to see him. I was able to spend some time alone with him. He told me he wanted me to take care of the kids and look after his stubborn son. He begged me to be more patient with the family and attend all the weddings and occasions even though he knew how much I hated the events. He told me he was going to die and we would never see one another again. He told me to fear only Allah. We said our goodbyes. He didn't say goodbye to anyone else. He had a heart attack and died within minutes of arriving at the hospital in Tunisia.

I'm really lucky to have had such a good relationship with my father-in-law. I have found that it is a pretty rare thing indeed.

OK... you can stop crying now!

My father-in-law with my daughter Sara, 1992


  1. Assalaamu 'alaikum,

    MashaAllah, how wonderful that you had that relationship with him. Did you already speak Arabic when you arrived there, or did your father-in- law speak some English? I really wish I could have that close of a relationship with my in-laws, but language is always the problem.

    I hope you are having a wonderful Ramadan.

  2. Dear Khadija
    I read your posting about your father-in-law, I felt really bad, and sad at the same time about what you had to go through and about the bridges of understanding you had to cross to get to know and understand your father-in-law and made the best and most out of the friendship. You are a very brave lady. Attached please find the photo of your father-in-law after I did a little enhancement to it.
    God bless you and the family
    have a pleasant day
    California USA

  3. May Allah bless his soul.

    a very heart warming post for a very misrable rainy Monday morning in London, thank you.

  4. Khadijateri , after I read this post I went to your website and read your story "My missing Link"

    May Allah bless their souls (your father-in-law 7 your missing link "Najiyah"

    Have a nice day

  5. What a moving story!

    Did you REALLY throw the stereo system out of the balcony unto the street? LOL!

    I´ll bet they still talk about that one in the family ROTFL!

  6. Carol - I had some Arabic before arriving in Libya but being surrounded by it 24/7 I picked it up quickly. Also my father-in-law spoke fluent Italian so we managed to communicate pretty much from the beginning.

    Thanks Mahmud!

    a.adam - ahhh seems I have too many stories about people passing through my life...sigh.

    Safia - not off the balcony - off the roof from four stories up.

    I should post more of my weird 'We've got an Americania in the family'

  7. Khadija! I'm always threatening to write a book called "The Adventures of Englizia in Libya"
    Great minds think alike!

  8. My father in law passed away just before Ramadan so I read this piece with a tear in my eye; What a shock to the system it must have been for him to have this foreigner invade his home but we became very close

  9. Dear Khatija

    I beleive that at first it is hard to live in a foreign country with different cultures. However, if you learn to accept the differences you may notice that the Libyans have a good heart and when they welcome you, they are honest and they love you as you are one of them.

    Ramadan Mubarak

  10. what a beautiful post...and I can't stop crying! I hope I can develop that sort of relationship with my inlaws inshaallah

  11. I love the post
    It's really sensitive words .
    I wish that in the future
    en sha Allah I'll be able to have this kind of relationship.

    fe aman Allah

  12. Salam KhadijaTeri,
    I laughed, I cried, this moved me. What a precious man your father-in-law, alhamdullilah. What an incredible experience to be able to have the dear moment of being able to say good-bye, alhamdullilah. Your bravery reminds me of my dear sister-in-law's bravery to move to a foreign country. How fortunate to have such strong women around, alhamdullilah.

  13. Wow Teri! You are an AMAZING, KIND, SENSITIVE, hilarious woman.........(Thanks to your dad maybe???????)

    You might even be called an angel! and I am NOT KIDDING. I love your stories. Sandi

  14. thats was realy touchy story, he must of have heart of gold, both of you, u made it up in such a difficuilt times, allah bless him and promise him heaven,he sound a very wise man.thanx for posting it,

  15. Sorry to hear about your father-in-law Aileen. He suffered so much. Write a book! You can do it Aileen!

  16. I wish I could have met him...

  17. Queen khadija, some times you show proffessional skills in writing with GSOH, i like this post in particular, please manage to write again when u r in good mood about the culture shock, i couldn't even imagin american girl could manag to live in a room sharing the house with the whole family, its truely hard even for the very local libyan and even if they are relatives, no one can tolerate it unless there is a great love deserve to victimiz for it, all the best and god save Mr huby. and god save the queen.

  18. Thank you for sharing. May God rest his soul.

  19. Abu Sinan - has someone hijacked your blog?? I get some other blog when I click on your link.

  20. dear khadija
    its my first time i ve been through u web site ,i ve been searching for it since long time as i heared about it from my friend whom was enrolled in one of u english course ,
    i ts really nice blog,it touched my soul deeply when tears start to run on my cheecks.
    frankly ,i wasnt convinced that there are sweet hearts like u in western world as i had some experince that pushed me to come out with that impression ,but it looks that i am goin to change it .
    ALSO i am sure that i am gonna be regular reader for u blogs

  21. woow mashllah that is an amazing story and so nice of u to share it with us, ur so lucky and blessed to have been landed with such a great man as a father-in-law
    Allah yarhma wey gmith ruha fel jena inshalah
    take care and i hope u fine more and more wise and genrious ppl like this man, the wisdem and hope in the older generations of our country r soo hard to find in todays world :(

  22. I loved my father in law more than my own father . He was a kind, compassionate ,understanding man , and generous to a fault .He made my life here as easy as he possibly could .I called him boui and meant it in my heart . I miss his intelligence and his sense of humor .We are so lucky to have had such men in our lives .

  23. Salam Khadija Teri,
    This is such an incredibly touhing story that reminds me of the relationship between my own mother and late grandfather. She too is an english woman married to a libyan man (i'm sure you twowoul dhave a lot of funny stories in common) and also shared a similar bond with my fathers father. I enjoyed your story so much as it just goes to show not only the incrdible path you are forging simply by living there in Libya but also the way you have touched and changed others and them you. Keep up the amaxing work, I truly appreaciate your whitty entries and take on daily life.

  24. hey so there is a soft side after :p
    nice post really, may God have mercy on his soul

  25. تدوينه رائعة .. كما انت دائما رائعة

  26. Beautiful story. I enjoy clicking on your old posts:)


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