Love in The Middle East

Love. I rarely feel equipped to talk about love. Love in the middle east or anywhere else in the world in fact. I barely understand myself so I observe other’s  lives  and love stories. I pay attention to them. What is it that is love? What is it that they value? And I am simultaneously taken aback by both how similar we are as human beings, and yet how different we seem to represent things.

I seat in the veranda with cats around me, Mahmood, and Ihab, and we wait for Sam in Nablus. Sam is my friend since the first time I came to the west bank. He is probably my most assiduous reader and has commented almost in all the texts that I have ever written. And Sam believes in Love, Love with capital letters. The archaic type you read once about in a fairy tale.

Sam has had a life that is nothing short of epic and yet he loves the same woman for the past 18 years. I now know his whole family. He is tall. He is strong. And now he is nervous like a child. He speaks Arabic. We are all tense. We all know what that call means. It is a call to render life in the middle east a bit like the Arabian Nights…

Sam, like most boys here, married when he was very young. In Palestine boys and girls rarely speak alone, and never touch each other if they are not part of the same family. They are expected to marry virgins. I know little about the Christian Palestinians but I realise that even the way they greet each other sets the boundaries of “no transgressions”. How you say Hello and how you answer establishes immediately which relationships are possible to you or not.

I know the Muslim Palestinian better since I have stayed in their houses every time I stayed in the West Bank. And they love like in a story tale. They love for years on end a particular woman they have never really known much about. They love them forever. They marry different girls to revenge from disrupted hearts. Some fight for them. I am something like a psychologist here. I hear what they don’t tell others. The stories of their broken hearts and that of others. I am puzzled by the amount of love they can feel, but I can recognise the fear everybody of my generation and younger seem to have of love.

I left my marriage a year ago never understanding what it really meant to leave. I never wanted anyone to have so much power over me. So I was married but I was never fully there. Not that I knew that consciously. Did I ever understand what it meant? I am not sure. I am not even sure I understand it now. I know I have been searching for rescue all over the path. In Gods, Goddesses, silences dances and eventually in Love.

I loved an Israeli in secret. I never wrote about it. It was a fairy tale like. A fairy tale like the rare ones you hear in Palestine. And as a fairy tale they can only exist in our imaginations. I crossed the world for it. And when I was finally there I was met by despair. I just needed to go away. I could not stay. I just needed to go. It was a palpable fear. A lack of air. A feeling of being a burden. A fear of possibly being abandoned and so I left while I could.

There is this stupidity about fear. It makes you generalise. It makes you less empirical and feel safe. I left and I suffered all the pain I could not even grasp where it came from during this year. The pain of my abandoned marriage, of my lost academic life, my house… It felt like I had been uprooted, so it was easier for me to relate to travellers and to refugees. The only big difference is that while refugees have a clear enemy..mine was never going to leave me, it would go with me everywhere I went.

And that is why I understand why some Palestinians marry other women they do not care about. It is because though they are not afraid of bombs, fasting when is incredibly hot, or the war they are terrified, like me, of Love. Some lucky ones among you might not understand it. But those of you who do know what I am talking about know how our brains can just flee any situation. While they escape to live temporarily safer lives instead of paying the price of real truthful commitment. While in the west we entertain ourselves with other relationships, in the middle east they marry someone else.

But not Sam… Sam marry young, and according to him, for all of the wrong reasons, and so he divorced her. And then he married an American even though he had always loved for the past 18 years the same woman. A woman who would not say yes to a divorced man, nor would she say yes to anyone else.

In the middle east love is like the earth…it belongs to someone forever, and you either fight for it or it will destroy your life and someone else’s.  And now after, 18 years, we wait for that one call which is to settle for good whether the woman Sam, now divorced again, always has loved would accept him or not as her husband.

We are tense. Sam is tense. He can barely contain his anxiety. We seat waiting. Seconds .. Maybe minutes but the weight of the years weigh in the air. But suddenly all the heaviness seems to lift up and be replaced by enormous agitation in the air. I still have not heard it, but I feel the particles dancing around me. That huge tall man is under uncontrollable joy. The answer is yes!

Not a yes that was said by her. She could not speak to him. Her brothers, and nephews were giving the answer that was given to them. That is how it is how it happens here. Sam is over the moon. Now that the men have agreed to it that would be much harder for her to change her mind about getting married. He wants to marry yesterday. It is Ramadan so things must wait.

Aida, his mom, is over the moon she has accompanied this love story for the past 18 years. Now it was her turn to visit the lady bringing gifts. The lady was very happy I was told. Every person is happy. I am invited for the wedding. I go buy clothes with them. I feel a mixture of total admiration and just awe.

I needed so much to be rescued like that in this past year. I needed so much a god, goddess or a man to rescue me from myself. But now I look in admiration. I can admire it, but I am fine. There is something true about time. There was something soothing about me waking my parents in the middle of the night and hoping to sleep with them on a broken foot. An internal agitation that never seemed to leave me. I remember my father just saying half asleep noticing my pain, saying calmly that ” It will pass”.

It did. I am now in the Middle East and I still travel but now I have a home. It did not depend of God or a man. It is inside creating itself. Sometimes I loose it. Sometimes I run outside but it is creating itself. And when I see Sam’s joy I admire the commitment to it rather of letting my cynicism win the argument. When I hear of the Palestinians who married someone else as a form of revenge, of self-preservation I feel sad. And in this deeply religious and contested place the only prayer I can possibly utter is one to love. I rarely pray but when I do I pray that I too learn to be patient and that I never let my mind leave when all that I am wants to stay.

Love, me

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