THEY SAY…. I SAY! [Archives:1999/33/Culture]

August 16 1999

Salwa Mohammed Sarhi
A friend of mine called me up recently telling me the update on her coming engagement.
“It is all over!” she managed to say with disappointment.
“But why? What happened?” I asked in disbelief.
“Well, he said I was too educated.”
“I don’t understand!””He said that I like my certificates more than I like being a housewife.
All he needed is a wife that can make fresh bread.”
“But you can make bread, can’t you?””Yes… but I think it was just an excuse.””What for?””I think he got too scared once he knew that I have been travelling on my own.””So what?””I don’t know…. I can’t believe that my independence is a reason to be rejected for!”I hang up the phone feeling confused. My friend’s disappointed voice still echoing in my ear. This conversation triggered a flow of memories of my own lot with education and the road to independence.
It was my dad insight and love that walked me through the uneasy path of knowledge, sweet and bitter as it was.
Dad was the man who gave me a book to read. I was too young to remember its contents but I remember him whispering in my ears that he has more of them once I finish it. When I preferred playing dad would lure me back by telling me stories of his long and difficult journey to study at the only school in Sana’a at that time. He would read me stories with so much passion that I got to believe that he and I were part of the story.
Knowing my obsession about travelling, dad assured me that reaching far beautiful places starts with education and he was right.
I remember my mother watching dad nervously as he was filling my head up with my right to be educated, to study abroad, to be a doctor, an artist or a writer. He would fill my hands with books that talk about freedom, love and the taste of life in far countries.
Dad knew my mother worries about my dislike for making bread and learning homely duties, yet he didn’t stop whispering in my ears. Often, dad called me the Queen of Sheba…
“Why this name?” I asked him feeling the burden of such a name.
“Because there is no reason why you can’t be the next queen!”
It was not only father’s ultimate love for his daughter that made him feel and say that; it was also his wisdom to pen the door of possibilities to me. Dad believed that nothing is impossible even the chance of being another queen of Sheba!!
Such unquestionable confidence in my abilities and freedom of choice were not something I found usual among my friends. In our get together, my friends would talk about cooking, engagement plans, beautiful dresses and their dreams of a loving husband who brings lots of money and kids to their life. I was eleven years old at the time and I never knew how to make such conversation. Instead, I would tell them about my family hiking trip, dad stories and the new novel I’m reading “Gone with the Wind”. I would be so excited explaining how far fetched the novel from my simple life was, how little I understood the events, and how badly I wanted to be the mesmerizing Scarlet.
As dad plans to gear my life to seek higher education were succeeding, my mother serene eyes were sending hopeful prayer. She supported my education as a must, yet she believed that my education should not marginalize my role in the kitchen. However, mom never objected loudly at my father’s provoking acts stealing me from the kitchen to his room full of so many books. I felt overwhelmed with the sight of neatly organized books, large and small, with pretty colors and pictures I have never seen before.
Dad noticed my bewilderment and didn’t hesitate to grab a green shiny book handing it to me with prevailing smile. It was a biography of some of the greatest Muslim women who fought the social boundaries and carved their names high and successful. They were women who feared nothing and spoke their minds up. Their lives were one of sound courage and strong belief in their choices.
Dad knew that such a book would fuel my so eager little soul to have a life beyond making bread in the hot clay oven, often burning my hands. Mother nevertheless tried her ways with me. She would call me now and then to help her in the kitchen, which I did always carrying a book with me!! Mother had to put up with my continuous distraction reading some lines then rushing to help her back to my book!! My book would look so littered with all the flour and oil spots I left on it while trying to please my mom, yet I loved reading it still.
I remember very clearly the day my mother lost the discrete battle and gave me up to dad. I was thirteen years old and I have been hearing talks about the visiting women who want see me. They were marriage matchmakers who wanted to check my physical statues (looks wise) and my cooking skills (absolutely disastrous).
Mother told the news to dad who didn’t say anything and kept quite. I was helping mom getting the house cleaned for the visitors and feeling content to be the center of attention. I didn’t think much beyond being talked about. All that matters is that I have something to brag about to my school friends. When the time for the visit was approaching, dad was walking back and forth in the backyard while mom was asking me to go about my business. As we heard knocks on the door, dad started calling me to join him in the backyard. My mom was attending to her guest when dad was asking me to hold the shaky ladder for him. I was holding the ladder in place feeling frustrated. How awful that the matchmakers will not see me and I will have no story to brag about to my friends. I tried to rush dad but he asked me to stand still since he needed to fix some electricity lines. I could hear nothing of what is going inside the house.. but from the window I could see my mother upset features.
I laugh when I remember this now and I thank dad for saving me from what would have been an embarrassment. My cooking abilities surly would have scared them off. Thus, little do I display my modest knowledge in the kitchen yet I go in full gear talking about my BA and MA degrees all along with my dad beside me still telling me stories about the Queen of Sheba and mom praying for my success.
My parents have never stopped my dreams from becoming a reality. They have warned me though, that a life of a woman like mine will not be easy. For a woman to have so many choices and to follow up her heart, she will face consequences! “What kind of consequences?” I asked them. “Ask your disappointed friend” answered dad honestly.