Posts Tagged ‘marriage




Film "Mother"

NYC weather was absolutely gorgeous today. I took the opportunity to go hang with my youngest and watch a movie. My research assistant on Friday suggested I go watch the Korean film ‘Mother’. Since I like Korean films, those I have watched via Sundance or IFC are very well made and have intriguing plots. Mother was no less disappointing the plot has you riveted to the very end.

As I write this I recall the first discussions I had with my husband about movie-going here in NYC. At the time society was transforming itself, being more social and reviving the city. In those days movie theaters had to be well-chosen because of certain pockets of seedy areas not yet redone to spanking clean status.
For us throughout the years it has become a social, intellectual exercise, and at times a feast for the senses. It’s the routine we’ve kept as a couple, as parents, and as a family as the times and our circumstances have changed.

The NYC cinema-going crowd has kept movie theaters in business, and cinema owners have learned to navigate the film industry; going to the movies is not about social perversion in most cases. Gone are the infamous 42nd Street sex theaters, making it once again a cleaner hang out. And with theaters like the IFC Center, you also get the international films in their own language with English subtitles. Restaurants and cafes have gravitated around theaters making it a simple solution to ‘what do you want to do today?’

But in Yemen, going to the cinema is still taboo-ish and a social bad word. It’s not a family based form of entertainment. My husband still gets raked over the coals for being an avid movie-goer. His compatriots say a DVD should suffice. Obviously we disagree, because for us its a whole outing experience to be shared by the whole family or with friends. It’s about brunch before and dinner after to discuss the movie, giving us a comfortable space to process what we have seen on the big screen. Giving way to all sorts of conversations and debates. It has helped us gauge our children’s mental and emotional growth as well. The compatriots say that all that is a waste of time; some still think movie theaters are sex havens for the perverted. You go, then you are just as perverted. Sigh…

For my husband that mentality is frustrating to argue against. I told him a similar ‘social shift’ happened in many Latin American societies. I remember when I first saw Lord of the Rings  – not the modern-day trilogy, but another that came out during the era of another blockbuster – Star Wars. This started a change in Santo Domingo where I was at the time. As well as Saturday Night Fever that changed ‘clubbing’ in DR for ever. Once the society started ‘cleaning up’ the theaters and nightclubs enforcing strict dress and behavior codes these became socially acceptable. But it took DR at the very least 25 or so years to turn things around. Now you go and the Mega movie theaters can be seen everywhere; malls in some cases are the showcase pieces for these theaters.

Will Yemen ever be a movie going society? I’m not sure that will happen anytime soon, its inherent ‘no mix’ views of everyone’s place in society splits it across genders where two societies have to uneasily co-exist. There are cinemas, but not exactly socially ‘friendly’ places. Well maybe things will improve in the next 25 years.

Here’s to hope.



There is always a ‘first time’ you share with a loved one that through the years just gets sweeter in the retelling.

When we first married one of our roads was finding common ground in the things we loved to eat. Yemeni food is not world renown gourmet. Its what my husband, until then, had ever known. I happened to have a taste for many types of food. Living in NYC opens up your palette and the availability of the ‘united nations’ food buffet makes it just that much easier. But because of the winds of trade and shared histories colliding in Yemen; we quickly found common ground.

Spicy and hot foods, Basmati rice, potatoes, eggs, and fruits were all common to us both. The day I spotted Papaya at a road-side souk, I found heaven! The milk shakes I grew up with I repeated as soon as I got home. My husband would fork over precious riyal to get a chunk of ice, since at that time there wasn’t a fridge in our compound. There was a cold room- don’t ask me how it works, but it feels like a meat locker!

The women of the house would learn that not only was papaya good for your colon; it was your ticket to beautiful skin. I showed them how to mix a very ripe papaya with honey to make face masks! The tribe has kept bee hives for decades, so honey was plentiful. To this day everyone back home still uses these masks to clear and lighten their skin, and for burns and scraps the kids seem to produce out of thin air, it soothes quickly.

I would discover the thirst quenching prickly pear fruit of the Cactus, that my father in law carried one day in his ‘futa’ (the Yemeni male skirt) from the valley below. The family, once seeing my absolute delight at the taste, would daily pick them just after lunch, peel them, and put them in the cold room for my late afternoon treat. Yummy!

The one thing we had found in common was a taste for soft drinks. But the discovery would be made the first week we arrived in NY. We had gone food shopping at Pathmark. This supermarket, about 4 miles from our apartment, sold stuff my husband didn’t yet have vocabulary for. It was like watching a kid in a Toy Store. He would walk every single isle. Looking, touching, smelling, tasting! ‘What’s this?’ Ever present question. Sometimes I had the Arabic word, sometimes I was stumped. Plantains being one of them! Yellow, green, big fat ones, small stumpy ones. He would, later, get to taste them all comparing them to their banana cousins. Fried green tostones and mashed yellow ones with sauté onions are his favorite.

When we were at the supermarket’s soda section I grabbed a six pack of Pepsi. You know the one’s with the plastic chokers around the top of the can.

‘Ah, pespesi!’ My husband said smiling at something he recognized from our mountain of purchases cresting almost to his chest. Hubby is 6’2″.


‘Pespesi!’ He repeated pointing to the cans.

‘Oh, yes rohi, Pepsi.’ Another thing I quickly learned was never to correct him, just repeat the word he was misprouncing in its correct form. He eventually got it- usually by the fourth or fifth time.

This one would be different.

‘Yes Hayati, pespesi.’ He was pleased, already savoring the idea of a cold one.

‘So rohi, when we get home how would you like the Pepsi- with ice cubes or should I put a few in the freezer until they’re ice cold?’ I asked walking towards the next isle where the dairy products started.

‘Hmm, well I’ll have the first pespesi with ice. The other pespesi we can put in the thalayah’ – the word refrigerator not negotiable at the time, ‘so they’ll be cold tonight for dinner.’ He stated, pushing the cart behind me.

‘Oh ok. So pespesi with ice it is.’ I conceded.

‘I thought you said it was a Pepsi?’

I chuckled, ‘Ya Rabbi!’


the family that eats together…

One of the things I’ve always liked about my father and mother in law was their ‘no exceptions’ on eating together. Just past Dhurh for the noon day meal, any of their children and their spouses that were home at that time sat together to eat as a family. There never was this ‘women in one room after the men ate’. They all ate at the same time, or nobody ate.

I thought, mistakenly, that was the norm in Yemen. I would find out soon enough, that if anything, my in-laws were not the norm by any stretch. Not even within their tribe, nor among the extended family of their own in-laws. My mother in law would repeatedly state, ‘they’re too Saudi for my taste’. Sorry, she blames the Saudis for everything.

The realization dawned on the day after my 30th day of marriage – the official ‘honeymoon over’ time. As is custom for their tribe, we could go ‘visiting’. Bang! I got hit with a feather. Every where we went the women ate either in the kitchen, or the inner family room if they had the means to afford it. We would understand when there was no blood relation to the women, but even when all were first cousins it would still be separate. So much so that ‘they might as well be strangers’, as my father in law would lament.

Both my husband and I were not happy at being separated, and I certainly missed the fun, relaxed meals we had at home. All the joking around, usually at my father in law’s expense. He is still a major prankster! It was the time we discussed everything under the sun. Making our meals particularly long affairs we were all loath to leave. Leave for those diwans and the Qat chew.

You see my father in law never goes to the diwans to chew Qat. The few decades old social custom of the Yemeni. In reality the use of it is more recent than what most are led to believe. Qat has been around for a long time, but only until recently when it spurred on particular industries did its popularity skyrocket, much to the demise of the Yemeni water table. In my in-laws mountain-peak home, that privilege is reserved for the wife’s company. My father and mother in law are always together. To separate them is to cause one of them to get sick, my father in law can’t stand the idea! They brought their children up to be like them. The only one, ‘son of a Saudi’ as both father and mother would gravely announce, was the eldest son. Now there’s a man the Muttawa would be proud of. Some apples do fall far afield…

When he married, the eldest didn’t allow his wife to sit next to or in the same room as his brothers, father, or any woman for that matter. He kept her locked up in her room from the first day she arrived. Not allowed even to cook, wash or anything in the company of anyone. She was not allowed to bond with anyone. The situation got so bad that one day, my father in law hit the roof when his son asked for the hundredth time, in as many days, to have his wife’s food served on a platter that he would take to her when he finished eating.

What would rile my father in law was the amount his son stated had to be on the plate. ‘Since when do we price the rice by grain, or the meat by sinew?! Everyone here eats until the food is finished and had their fill. What you have in that plate won’t feed one of our chickens!’ He shouted at his son while grabbing plate and throwing it outside into the yard everything scattering, scaring even the dogs. ‘You think she’s an animal? Then she would have to eat off the floor! But before you even do that, leave this place where I can’t see or hear you, because you will surely hear the words not the meaning!’ Yemeni can be very ‘poetic’, especially when angry!

A few days later his eldest moved out with his wife. My mother in law stated as they left, ‘well at least the poor woman will have a house for a prison instead of a room’.

I married into the tribe a few months after, and this scene was recounted in all its disturbing details when we returned from the first visit outside the compound. ‘Their ways are not ours.’

In fact, because of my eldest brother-in-law the next two sons in line, right after their brother married and started this inhumane treatment of his wife, took jobs away from their mountain so they could not in any way see something they had no power to stop. For my father it signaled a horrible death for his family, it was disintegrating in front of him. Only when we were married, my husband and I (he’s the fourth son), did things return to normal and the air was again relaxed and joyous. The other two sons returned grateful they could enjoy their home. What had happened for a few months was an anomaly. When these two sons  married two years later, they kept to ‘Al-Bayt traditions’, to everyone’s relief.

The eldest, sadly, is banned from living on the compound, because he has not mellowed one bit- on the contrary ‘he seems more foreign everyday!’

Once or twice they have tried to reconcile their differences, but my brother-in-law remains a stubborn mule. To the point that his children prefer to spend most of their lives at their grandparents, than at home. When my in-laws see on TV or are read to from newspapers and magazines (neither read nor write) they cry at the injustices of people neither allowed nor allowing each other the true comforts of family living. Which is one reason my mother in law blames the Saudis: ‘Ever since our men went there to work, they have come back with the worst manners and thoughts. How can your mother, sister or wife be treated as if she were haraam?!’

Life for them was never easy, true – but they tried their hardest to at least have peace and joy in their home to be shared by all. It has not always worked in their favor; ostracized by their own brothers. But for them, it is what Allah will ask of them with regards to their own children that matters. ‘Allah knows I had no hand in making my son so foreign!’

My father in law believes and lives the motto of the ‘family that eats (and pray) together, stays together.’

Indeed we do!


the negotiations…

One of our contract furniture suppliers is Yemeni Hasidic. Over the years we’ve established an interesting working relationship. When he comes to my office we both get an opportunity to talk about common, shared experiences.

This man with 10 children, so far his youngest is about a year old, looks and is most definitely a grandfather. His long beard is almost white and he has a big warm smile. His face lights up when he talks of his children, and their spouses and their children.

Our conversations started with his remark on the ‘Shalom’ I always give him and my hijab. He said, after the fourth or fifth meeting, he could sense my mood depending on colors and design, much like his wife’s head covers. I also warmed up to him because I had grown up around the Yeshiva in upper Manhattan and many of my childhood friends were Jews. We both had a thing about Yemen. He because of birth and me because of marriage.

He would get red-eyed when I’d share photos from home. He had not been there for even a visit since before 2001, and it was painful to know it was so far off his reach, probably forever . The closest he would ever get would be those digital pictures I would later email him to collect.

In the last few months our conversations have centered around his 19 year old son who is making preparations to be wed. We dubbed it ‘the negotiations’. His son has matured during all this, his father’s comments attest to it. Even though he’s now going to college- his ways were more of the teen than the college-bound young man when all this started- the tide had turned.

His father commented the other day that while he also married as young as his son- the dynamics of his family were harsher. There was little room or time for the ‘slow’ rate this negotiation was progressing. Too much is spent on conversation. ‘But’, he said, ‘my wife says its like calling with the dream of honey- better that way. He and his future bride would not want to marry if all they are assured were lemons’. She has a valid point.

Marriage negotiations on the muslim Yemeni side are not so sweet. More commonly than not the argumentative side rears its head and few have both bride and groom going into the union with bright smiles. Don’t understand what it is with this need to make everything taste a bit sour. Stuff will happen no matter what, why start off with the bag more than half full?

Our supplier said that was how his family did things as well when he was young. But after being in America so long they’d mellowed more because the life was less harsher than in Yemen and it ‘allowed’ for more dreaming. The customs are still there: The inquiries, the rules and rituals, and the parental discussions remain pivotal. Nowadays the added pieces are the schooling, jobs, or professions of the couple. The girls I’m told may or not have a variety of prospective grooms presented to them- that really depends on the family and the match-maker.

I shared with him the story of one of my younger brother in laws and his journey to the marriage sphere. On the Muslim Yemeni side it seems men do the talking as if only the groom counts- then all hell breaks loose when the bride is not a good match-well what’d you expect!? When one of my younger brother-in-laws suggested he wanted to get married, we had not known if he’d gotten all worked up about getting married because his friends were egging him on, the reasons being used were sounding more like ‘I’ll marry your sister so we can hang out more’.

My husband was dead set against him marrying at that time. His brother still had a low rank in the army, he had little money, he hadn’t built the suite of rooms on the family compound that were necessary for him and his bride if they were to live there, and honestly ‘you don’t even know why you want to marry nor WHO you want to marry!’

The eldest brother, all mouth no brains, kept insisting that they would borrow the money for the dowry, they could take OUR rooms, and what was the big deal?! My husband was, ‘what, you’ve forgotten so quickly why you don’t live on the family compound? You expect everyone to do whatever comes into that thick head, sitting like a pasha not caring how that will affect anyone- not! He is not starting a married life based on debts and rooming in on other people’s property! Its bank account, rooms built and furnished, jeep, bought gold from his pocket, or the deal doesn’t even begin! And what of this girl? The women of our house have to make sure she’s a match. She’ll be part of the household- not apart from it. Just because his best friend has a sister doesn’t mean he will even like her when he marries her. Who ever heard of marrying your friend’s sister just so you can be better friends!?’

At the time, my husband was unaware that it was a growing trend there. Marrying for other reasons that had little to do with the union of two people wanting to be together and have a family had a new twist. The ‘work-round’ in their new definition of marriage was based more on ties between the men that had no ties to the women. The women would have to make or not the ties on their own. So it was becoming more common for two best friends to agree to one of them marrying the other’s sister. The son marrying his aunt’s daughter, since she was already part of the tribe, had always been the ‘best’ option. The father marrying off the daughter to pay a debt or plain get rid of her was the darkest and inhumane.

On further private conversations with the ‘intended groom’, my husband found out that the man didn’t really want to get married. His friend’s family didn’t want the daughter to sit in their home and were pushing to get her out before she made her eighteenth birthday (an old maid by their standards). It was as if he was agreeing to do his friend a favor. Some favor!

Later he would not even chance the arrangement, he would be transferred to the southern sea-side city of Muhkalla, another world for these mountain men. When he arrived it was to a different set of customs, and a less stringent society that afforded him a space to understand what family, marriage, rearing and living was in comparison to the vague, shadowy, and harsh world the mountains provided. About four years later he asked my husband to come home with me so we could help him decide if he was truly prepared for marriage. His condition was to not include his other older brothers. He wanted some semblance of peace during the process.

We did go to Muhkalla, and have to say it was better that time around. I was able to meet the girl’s family and find out how she was thought of and acted in her home. What her family expected of the groom. Their lives were not bound by the north’s customs, so the daughters had much more autonomy and they wanted to keep it that way. My brother-in-law, now much more freer from the Yemeni-group think of the north, liked the idea of having his own home with rules set by the wedded couple. He had always liked our own version of marriage better anyway. This was his chance for the same and he took it gladly.

They were married, yes with both families present in the festivities but without some of his family’s interference. They would later build a suite of rooms on our family compound to use for those occasional visits- but would never live there permanently. He was happy where he was. Like us, he enjoyed more the extended-stay ‘visitor status’ than the live in.

My father and mother in law would literally warm up to the idea of visiting them, like they had done for us: Coming to NY or going south every few years or so for a month or two stay. ‘I could get use to this’, I would hear my father in law say, ‘What better excuse for peace while better enjoying my sons and daughters this way’.

The eldest son, well he is still being a bully no one listens to. Times are changing, slowly yes, and that may mean that in the not so distant future all my younger in laws will follow suit. The rest of Yemeni society might not catch up in time, if ever. However, our family is seeing the benefits of changing, ‘mellowing’, and ‘allowing’ themselves to dream with more honey.


phone line switch

I have stated before how hair-raising calling Yemen can be. Nowadays it has gotten better. Yet scarcely five years ago you knew that calling during Ramadhan, any of the two ‘Eids and during bad weather were a hit and miss of universal proportions.

One such incident happened back in early 2004. Why do I remember the year? It almost ended my marriage.

My husband had to make an emergency trip just before the start of Ramadhan. His favorite sister (mine too) had been badly bitten by one of the male camels. It was a time when the camels were brought across from another mountain region. As is necessary you bring the females and calves first, then the males, keeping them as separate as possible. One of the young males was stabled at the house during the time the females were being transported. He was in a foul mood- he wanted out; he could smell females in the vicinity.

In comes my sister-in-law to feed him and her wrist becomes the appetizer. It was horrific!

My husband flew in about 24 hours later to find everyone crying, hair pulling, or arguing seemingly oblivious to the woman’s excruciating pain. He immediately put her into a jeep and headed for Sanaa a good 8 hours away. There were closer options, but the Missionary Doctor said, ‘don’t bother, go straight to Sanaa, they’ll have better equipment’.

Then the calls back and forth between us started. He was frustrated and angry at a number of medical personnel, not getting what he knew was needed to repair all the damage to her mangled wrist. I was frustrated for him and for my sister-in-law’s sake because the men that insisted on accompanying my husband were of no help, refusing to let another female of the family travel to care for her.

At one point, some two days into Ramadhan, I made the mistake of calling shortly after Dhurh. ‘All circuits are busy, please try your call again later’. I would then get intermittent access, but my husband could not be reached. I switched cards and called again. That’s when all hell broke loose.

I dialed one number, a woman answers the phone. I call the second number thinking I dialed incorrectly. The same woman answers the phone. I’m so surprised I dial a third time back to the first number, again the same woman! Now I’m angry, ready to shred my husband! Dialed a fourth time, back to number-two phone, again the same woman!

Being at work, I couldn’t go off and do a war dance. I had depleted the two cards I had. So I asked my secretary to go buy a third and different card. Every conceivable thought was running through my mind! Two different numbers, same woman didn’t bode well for my husband’s continued existence!

In the meantime in Yemen, my sister-in-law had deteriorated as people argued over her. Now that I think on it, we were all a pack of selfish fools!

When the card finally arrives, my boss walks in. He knows I have a crises back home, and wants to sit in on the call so he can advise my husband on what to do should he need the advice. I take a deep breath and call again. The same thing. But by this time the woman on the other end is also highly agitated. My boss, God bless him, motions me to keep her on the line while he calls the same number on his mobile. If the connection was true- then the call he was making would sound busy, or the woman would pick up on the other line.

The women… We were almost hollering at each other, when the line my boss is calling to gets picked up by my husband. In the background as my boss puts him on speaker are the sounds of a pack of men hollering at each other. It was not the background noise for the woman I had on the line.

My boss quickly announces towards the phone, ‘you better speak up now son, or forever hold you peace- the phones in Yemen are about to divorce you!’

At precisely that moment the woman and I both realized we had been victims of party lines- crossed at a moment we really didn’t need and would rather forget. We apologized to each other, mine being more so, because my calls started this whole mess. I explained what was happening and she, graciously, understood. ‘You don’t know how close my own husband has been to getting hit with a pot!’ She said almost with a chuckle. ‘I have never gotten so many weird calls as I have today!’

I’ll say!

The call with my husband progressed just fine, my boss taking control of the situation, giving me time to collect myself. When I finally spoke to my husband all the doctors had ‘marching orders’ from my boss the Grand Puba! With frayed nerves I asked my husband, ‘Do me a favor, let’s agree not to expect me to make calls into Yemen while its Ramadhan, at least not during the day! This has been a ‘talaq’ moment!!’


frugal is the new chique, or …

Frugality. It is the word that in this economy, has taken on a completely new meaning. Cliché? Well no, its not. Everyone knows how your job, your home or apartment, your savings, and your investment nest eggs can just disappear in a moment. Few are immune; fewer still scoff at the term, regardless of ‘social’ or so called ‘economic’ standing. Take a look at the commercials or the news. Everything says save, everything says sales, every store competing to sell you your necessities at the lowest price. They will calculate the savings per month or year so the term is never far from thought or wallet. The big name pharmacies have expanded their services to become the 21st Century ‘One Stop’ shopping centers. Go to their clinics; get your prescriptions filled, while you shop for groceries, clothes, the latest money saving magazines. Oh, and do not forget to browse around the ‘Dollar Section’ with that trusty circular newspaper in hand. Yes, we double coupon. Every trick on getting the maximum bang for the buck presented, almost minute by minute, via all Medias. Websites like ‘Eversave’ and ‘Coupon Mom’ cropping up daily. By the way, it happens to be an interesting concept she exhorts. Never knew how many loop holes existed until this past year.

Clipping is no longer a laughable or ’embarrassing’ idea. Knock offs are the order of the day. Brown bag lunches are back in style. ‘Infomercials’ are looked at more keenly for their worth compared to store buying. Online buying is no longer a trend. With Tax Season in full swing, e-fling via Turbo-tax is the way to go if your portfolio is simple enough; if not the H & R Block’s of America has the deal for you. Even your slime, slinging ‘entertainment’ shows have the ‘wear it like a celebrity for less’ segment.

All this will continue for a very long time. You see, big banks and investment firms are still handing out our hard earned money as if it was candy to a privileged few. My question is why the masses have not revolted. Maybe they are too busy counting their pennies to be bothered. I know we are.

How many times do you resist any given department store in a month’s time? Does the list of absolute essentials travel with you constantly? Do you know the price ranges for the things your household consumes, and then shop in stores according to consumables- the bulk products at warehouses and the perishables at the corner fruit and vegetable Walla? How many supermarket and drugstore discount cards hang from your key chain? Do you plan every meal? Do you happen to own any ‘Tupperware’ you take from table to fridge to work? Do you skimp and save towards a goal? Do you have ‘economic’ goals? Some will say, absolutely. I tend to disagree.

Are Muslims frugal? Well I am not sure, really, how the term is applied. I have seen the commodities some women pluck in front of their feet during, and after Jumma’ah while sharing home cooked meals. They will sport the Coach and Fendi bags, the designer shoes neatly tucked in cute tote bags, and the ‘Joneses’ coats. So I may have to guess, wildly, that the economy at home is just dandy.

I know of one couple who consider themselves tightfisted wads who end up throwing out expired stuff by the boatload, and more often than not are found on ‘return item’ lines for a purchase they really did not have to make. Do not step into the garage; the Bow-Flex collecting dust may squash you along with the hundred other boxes containing what? ‘Who knows anymore’? They are so frugal they hoard.

My husband had a similar conversation with fellow compatriots on this subject. They said they were better off than he was. You see, these men live in communal apartments paid by the owners of the stores and Deli’s they work at about eight men thick to a pack situated less than a building away from work. So what if they get paid a couple of dollars less? They do not pay for rent, electric bills, satellite TV, train or bus fare, or landline phones. The food, they chip in to cook and the actual staples come from the Deli’s they work at. The same goes for the packs of cigarettes and the ton of coffee or tea they drink in a 12 or 14-hour shift. They have enough pants, shirts,  T-shirts, a coat, a pair of sneakers, and a pair of boots to rotate in a week and to last them a couple of years. They’ll pay for these along with their laundry bill (unless there’s a washing machine in the apartment-no dry cleaning in this group), and the mobile phones with a ton of economic phone cards they hunt the lists looking for the longest mileage per call .

In essence, they save most of their weekly pay. They do not go to the movies, or the park. You never see them in a bookstore or library. The newspaper circulates until everyone has left a thumbprint on it. Restaurants and other activities are a foreign concept. They rarely have days off and they try their damnedest not to go to a doctor. Therefore, they have no insurance premiums or co-pays. And because they have ‘low’ salaries established, courtesy of notarized letters from employer and their nominal income tax returns (if they file), they qualify for Medicaid or the emergency type if necessary. Their families are kept back home. Sending them money only for the sheer necessities. That way when they go home, a year or so later, they will have saved anywhere from 20 to 40 thousand dollars. This they then spend during a 6 to 8 month stay overseas, and then borrow the ticket money, if they didn’t buy a return ticket, to come back to start the cycle all over again.

My husband, in this scheme of things is branded the fool. Our apartment should be sub rented by the bed width. Our food should only be the basic stuff, none of the fancy ‘American’ stuff. Our vacations and days off should be curse words. The university and extra-curricular courses should end immediately- why waste money on those girls. Speaking of girls- they should have been sent back home to be married years ago. That wife should also be back home tending the cows. And what’s this about medical, life, and practice insurance?! What, you don’t have faith in Allah SWT? Sell all that stuff you have. Get rid of every one, stop going out to the movies, those journals and magazines have to go (you’re already a doctor, what are you studying for now, to be an astronaut?), cut those restaurant affairs (why do you need to spend two hours eating with God knows who- they’re probably not even Muslim), and move in with the men. “You’ll be stupid-rich in no time.”

Frugality, they seem to have it down to a science. Ahh..and living, or is it existing? “Well, Allah says…”


a miss match?

Today, like any other day, at a hospital people are born, come in sick, leave stabilized, die. Like in any teaching hospital, today is a day when many find out if they have been accepted, or not, into a residency program.

According to “On Becoming a Doctor” by Tania Heller, MD a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the process for Medical Students and for Foreign Medical School graduates is based on applications whereby you are reviewed for qualifications and those “wow” factors like fluency in more than one language, projects completed both domestically and internationally, extra-curricular activities such as summers at a clinic in poor or crisis ridden areas, career goals, etc., all depending on the program’s criteria and the hospital’s ‘culture’. “Residency programs review each applicant and may invite an applicant for an interview. After completing interviews, the student [and foreign graduate] ranks his choices and submits a rank-order list to a central service, the National Residency Matching Program (Match). The residency program also submits a list to the same service. A computer matches students to programs based on the submissions, and on a specific day in March, the results are announced.”

Having experienced by proxy the anxiety that-certain-day in March can provoke, I can honestly express the turmoil that can result when you get the news. My husband was literally paralyzed that day. The man couldn’t even have bite to eat, he was so nervous. The million and one thoughts crashing against each other: Did I put down all my choices? Did I rank them properly? Were my interviews as great as I thought they were? What ever compelled me to want to become a doctor in the first place?!

Then the moment comes- and you hear those words- your selection or your failure. Those who are matched run the gamut from ecstatic to miffed because they did or didn’t rank where they thought. Those who are not matched, however, are faced with some deep, heart wrenching decisions to make. Their lives are now defined by it in some ways, and they have to calmly (something easily said, never done) assess their options and hopefully move forward.

My husband got matched to the program he had ranked second. He had put his hopes on four programs and was actually surprised in getting his second choice. He, until that moment, believed he would probably get into the fourth choice. So for us it was a cause for celebration. It would be the beginning of many sleepless nights for me- my husband being the bigger insomniac didn’t feel it as much. I kept pumping him with lots of energy rich food to keep up his stamina.

During the first two years we set up the routine that we still maintain to this day. The ‘Friday night’ not followed by an on call the next day was our night out for movies and dinner- with no shop-talk, no exceptions. Being a couple who dealt with healthcare from two different sides can have tremendous disadvantages- all we talk about IS healthcare. We understood it and promised each other that we would create a space where the term would be left out so we could enjoy other things. Going to the opera, the ballet, going for walks, dining out, playing a sport were all activities that we did in that space. It helped us survive residency as a married couple.

The other disadvantage in our case was my husband going to medical school when others his age were half way through their residency or in a Fellowship program. That added an additional burden. As well as being a Yemeni immigrant during a time when education was the least of the priorities for many of his compatriots. The men he knew from his village would go into factories or stores. Not much has changed since. Everyday more come to be those seasonal immigrants- living with one foot here and everything else in Yemen. It continues to be a topic of conversation that invariably makes my husband upset because of the “yemeni group-think” so prevalent across their country and more so in the mountains. He has “bucked” their version of traditional work and social roles. You should see the thunder cloud that descends upon his face when he is introduced to fellow Yemeni and they ask him what store he works in. Now that, is not a pretty scene.

For those that find themselves without a residency program match, that-certain-day in March can spell doom for them, depending what was riding on the outcome. This happened today with one of our volunteers. Educated in the Philippines this volunteer came to New York with her husband. He was chosen for a residency program from the-get-go last March. She applied this year. The outcome was not what she expected. My boss wrote to me, when I gave him the news, that a few things may have affected her chances and now she would have to regroup and build strategies for the road ahead. But, he said, he was not surprised: She should not have taken “the year” off. My husband echoed the same.

She was too upset to talk beyond saying that she was not matched. We told her to come in and we would help her plan next steps. But somewhere in there I wonder if being “the doctor’s wife” took some wind out of her sails.

It is not exactly easy being the doctor’s wife when your chosen career is the same as your spouse. Heck, its not easy even if you’re your spouse’s opposite. But it is less competitive. There is more room to maneuver within your relationship. Other professions, obviously, can be just as competitive or more so, but my opinion comes from experiencing two different professions in my husband alongside mine.

I hope she will be open to suggestions from our medical staff and from our administrators, whatever they may be in whatever ranges are proposed. There are options, I hope she sees them for what they are.

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