this week has been a lesson in talking for me and in being with a single human being for long stretches of time (Sam doesn't count) without work, life, or other things interfering. and I've learned a lot--about myself, my tolerance for conversation, my tolerance for shopping (low, by the way), my tour-leadery skill level (high). and from Mona, my friend from St. Mary's Academy High School in Denver (yes, Condi's alma mater. what can I do?), I've learned a lot about women's rights in Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East. And what's disturbing to me is the dissonance between talking with this woman who, without revealing her entire life on my blog, has had an extremely varied and interesting go of it, balancing family expectations (marry a good Arab Muslim man) with her own desires/life path--the dissonance between talking with this person I've known since I was 16 and the nonchalance with which she tells me things like: oh yeah, they had to get married before they could even rent an apartment. or, well, the father has to file for divorce in those cases, the woman can't do it on her own behalf. or, yes, and so she lost her three kids to her husband's family.
it's disturbing also because when I teach images of women in Islam, or third world feminism, I struggle to get my students to understand that the veil does not equal oppression, that women in the Middle East aren't living in some backwards, horrible slave-state, and that the situation over here in the "West" isn't that peachy to begin with. and I talk about Saudi Arabia as a different case, try to diversify their understanding of women's lives in places like Iran versus places like Saudi or places like Lebanon. it's not that I paint this rosy picture, it's that I'm fighting so hard against the stereotype that I sometimes forget that oh, yeah--women don't inherit the property from their parents. women don't presume to get half of the stuff (or even their own stuff back) when they divorce (if they can). women can't live by themselves without massive stigma and even then they'll need a male relative to help them rent a place.
and so Mona and I talked about whether so-and-so had a "hijabed" wife, marriage across religious/cultural/regional/age lines, anti-Americanism, being Arab, American, Arab-American, Lebanese-Egyptian of Palestinian descent, growing up with princesses, whether buying Versace was really following Islamic tenets, and never knowing when you'll just have to pull up and leave the country.
and Mom tells me Beirut was the most beautiful place she visited when she was growing up.