So, one day you meet this guy on Match.com. He’s quiet. He’s interesting. He’s worldly and open minded. Oh, and did I mention he’s gorgeous? How is it possible this beautiful guy isn’t already snatched up? And how is it possible that he’s smitten with you? This is what I thought 13 years ago when I met my husband. He had moved to the USA from Lebanon a year earlier to go to college but had lived in the states and obtained citizenship as a young child during the Lebanese civil war in the 1980’s.
When we met, the extent of my cultural awareness of people from the Middle East was that the women wore scarves, the food was awesome (because who doesn’t like a shawarma sandwich) and, like anyone who attended public schools in Dearborn, I knew some of the slang and profanity…say Walla bro! I was raised in a very right-wing family which was accepting of other cultures and religions. They were open minded and embracing to anyone who came to this country through the proper channels.
During the Israeli/Lebanese war in 2006, his family came to America to reside. The first time I met them, his mother had prepared a dinner of cold lentil and onion salad served with plain yoghurt and a traditional salad of greens, cucumbers and tomatoes. My first thought was, where’s the main course? I was geared up for hummus and beef with pine nuts. Where’s the amazing kababs or lamb chops that I thought everyone ate every night? I was so hopelessly clueless. His family must have been shocked at their son’s choice of future partner.
The commonality, however, that I shared with these people who I have come to hold so dear to my heart was open mindedness. A willingness to accept and learn about each other’s differences and embrace them.
Over the years as my husband and I got married and grew our family, our tastes and preferences in how we live our lives have become a blend of traditional American and traditional Lebanese customs. We celebrate Ramadan and Eid as well as Christmas and Easter. We fast and have big family dinners every night for a month during Ramadan as well as giving gifts next to a Christmas tree and taking the children on egg hunts. At Thanksgiving, my mother-in-law will make a traditionally prepared turkey and green bean casserole as well as ruz w lahme (rice and ground beef) while my mother brings her famous lasagna and candied yams. In the mornings, we listen to Fayrouz during breakfast but will also listen to Frank Sinatra or Ed Sheeran over dinner.
So, at the end of the day, there are a few things that I’ve learned due to the path that I’ve taken. First, had I chosen to date or marry someone who was of the same culture and faith that I was born into, I would not have had the opportunity to see the world through such a culturally extensive view. I never would have understood the intense family closeness between relatives outside of the immediate family. It helped me to understand why everyone lives so closely together, if not in the same house. It’s not out of necessity, but a desire to; it’s out of love. Second, I would never have had the privilege to know that, while a shawarma and fattoush may be amazing, “home food” (like mjadara, yakhneh, and fatteh) has a way of warming you from the inside out because Teta “dipped her finger in it” and sweetened it with love. Third and finally, if everyone on this tiny planet floating in this vast universe could learn to see that our differences are not so pronounced, that our contrasts give us a broader and sweeter perspective on life, maybe we as a species could find Utopia and live together happily in harmony.