Marah, a teenage girl from one of Syria’s besieged cities, recently arrived in Switzerland as a refugee, where she is struggling with her first pregnancy and the potential breakup of her family.
Marriage is a partnership in which privacy almost entirely dissolves. Each partner knows nearly everything about the other, even the things that he or she normally hides from people. Certainly, this does not mean that they lack privacy altogether, but when the man, like Eastern men often do, insists on stripping his wife of her privacy, problems arise between them.
Since I was young, I have always had my own little private things that I kept to myself. Now my husband, Karam, tries to know every little thing that I feel or do. I feel my privacy is continuously violated and it has increasingly led to arguments between the two of us. Many Eastern men believe that they have the right to know everything about their wives. But I am not a naïve wife, and I will not let anybody, even my husband, rule over my desires and my personality. Yes, I do love Karam, but I am a rebel, and I will not let anybody strip me of my rights. I have lost too many of them already to the crisis in Syria, and I will not let that happen again, no matter what.
I have discovered over the last few months that Karam and I do not share the same opinions on many things, and that, in order for us to continue together, we’ll need to work on bridging the gap between us.
These differences are not shocking. My husband and I grew up in very different circumstances and environments, and our challenges as adults have been quite different, as well. Karam grew up in a family that had many issues. His father is a well-educated man, but his mother never cared about education. They were always very different, and Karam’s mother never tried to bridge the gap between her and Karam’s father. This environment impacted on Karam deeply, and he believes that his mother was the reason for his unhappy childhood. What he went through in his childhood still affects him today, even though he is a grown man. When I talk about how much my parents, and especially my mother, sacrificed for us, Karam is surprised that a woman would sacrifice her whole life for the sake of her kids. Sometimes he feels that my family is from a different planet – far removed from the one he knew as a child. He has openly mentioned many times that he would love to build a family similar to mine.
Eastern traditions and convictions have heavily influenced Karam. In Syria, there are still many families in which the man is the absolute leader, where the father bosses his wife and children around as if he were a military commander. But these habits do not fit our times. Women have developed – they do not accept being marginalized anymore, and they work hard to prove themselves. Women in my country are qualified and capable. They are powerful. Women in my country have unprecedented courage.
Arab and Eastern women gained their equal rights long ago, and religions consider them to be equal partners with men when it comes to family issues because they are responsible for raising children and building new generations. Unfortunately, there are always some who, due to poverty and lack of education, do not realize this truth.
In any case, I now find myself needing to play the role of Karam’s therapist, and help him get rid of these outdated ideas. Interestingly enough, while I felt that he was my therapist at the beginning, now I feel that I need to be the therapist in our relationship. I do believe that I can play that role. Why not? Karam is the father of my child and he deserves my hard work to help him.
The only thing that Karam does not even try to discuss with me is my education. He knew from day one that my education was untouchable. My first and only condition in accepting his marriage proposal was that I would not quit my studies. This is why he encourages me to continue – and also because he knows that my education will positively influence our children in the future.
I do not doubt that, despite our differences, Karam and I will make a wonderful family. There is no perfect person, and we each certainly have our own issues. It is very important that we understand these issues and address them together. On my end, I will do whatever it takes to realize my dream and have a happy family. I will do that for the little child who is growing inside me, giving me strength and a greater ability to persevere with every step I take.
Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.