First published in Qatar Narratives: Qatar Then and Now 2009
They all say life is different now. Yes, it is different, much more modern, much more tolerable, and much better for women. I always imagine if I was born in a different era, would I have been given the opportunity to study abroad? Would I have been able to work and improve my talents? Sometimes I even think of the small things, like meeting my friends in a café and going out with them on trips. Or even going to the beauty saloon to do my hair or to the spa for a massage. If I was born, as a girl, in the Gulf, more than 70 or 50 years ago, would I have been able to enjoy these simple things? Things I see as rights more than privilages. I would never know for sure. Because sometimes, I think despite the change, my life in a certain aspect is not that different from my grandmothers’.
I have two grandmothers whom I love so much, I visit them every week and I like listening to their sorties. Even though they are from the same generation, have typical old names and both wear ‘batoola’, they are extremely different. My grandmother from my father side is originally from Emirates. Her mother taught her how to read and write. She has a petite figure, very calm, very modern. She likes things to be neat and tidy; she doesn’t like noise or too be around many people. She only speaks with wise words, and never leaves the house, unless for something very important. She spends her days in the “hotta”; the barn at the side of the big house, to check on the goats and chickens. Then, she goes to the kitchen to check on the cook. After that she goes to the garden and take care of the flowers. She always carries a small key in her pocket; it’s the key to the storage room. No maid can fool her and steal an extra can of milk or take few more eggs, or claim that the plates and pots were broken! She knows everything, and manages everything. One day she was telling me how the house was different long ago. There was a dining room in the other majlis (reception) but, because no one liked to eat on the table they just removed it. Then she pointed at the small majlis and said:
“Your uncles and grandfather used to eat here”. I asked “Why, where did you used to eat?”. She said “ In the same place” I said “ You don’t eat together?”. She said “ When they finished, me and your aunties would come and eat“. I asked ” Why didn’t you bring your plates and ate together?” she said “No, we used to eat from their big plate after they finished“. A big exclamation mark was on my face and I said “What?” In a surprised way. I paused for a bit then asked “You mean that you used to eat what was left on the big plate?” and she said, in a calm pleasant way, as she always is “Yes “. Then, I added trying to understand what I have been told “Was it fine with you to eat leftovers?”. She said “well, we don’t see it as leftovers, it was long time ago. It was common“. Then I couldn’t help but ask “What if you were hungry? And they finished the food“. My grandmother just laughed!
I was quiet for a while; again trying to understand what I have been told, looking at her. She didn’t seem mad about it, it seemed normal to her! That was the tradition! I immediately imagined myself, I would have probably had a nervous break down!
My other grandmother, on the other hand, is a pure bedwen; she told me that she used to live in a tent which she helped make herself and used to bring the water from the well. She is a loud, cheerful person, who loves to go to the desert even in the summer. Somehow, for her, the weather is always lovely there, even during the burning summer heat. She would say “what a wonderful weather, brings you soul back“. She is kind of chubby and moves a lot. She shows affection, sometimes too much, and always likes to give things away. One time I asked her, “Why do you go to the desert in the heat? its unreasonable“. She said” I have nothing left but those goats and chickens there, they keep me occupied, and what else am I going to do? Plus, it reminds me of the old days“. My mother’s mom is illiterate, stubborn, and has a weird hobby of building and demolishing. The back of the house used to have a room for the maid and a kitchen. Now you can see the back of the house at the front of the house; there are two new kitchens, a storage room and something else that I never figured out the purpose of!. The same thing at her camp in the desert; building and demolishing, until you can’t tell the kitchen from the toilet from the storage room. But, what I find incredible about her is her rare talent of memorizing difficult bedwen poetry from hearing it only once. She is an encyclopedia for old bedwen poetry, and she enjoys telling us her poetry with passion as much as she enjoys watching bedwen soap operas. This grandmother has truly suffered in her life, she was an orphan and raised by her aunt . She was considered as a burden and was rushed forcefully to marry a man who was as old as her dead father. She was twelve years old. She told me:
“ I was playing with the kids, my aunt called me and changed my clothes and told me to wear (batoola) because I am a woman now, then gave me a piece of candy and handed me over to my husband. I couldn’t live with him. So he divorced me and they married me again to another man who was even older than the first one, I had a son from him, and I was divorced again. Then, I married your grandfather and was finally happy and had your mom and uncles and aunties”.
Both my grandmothers amazed me with their patience, I wonder if I can handle the same injustice they suffered. But today’s situations are on a different level; for example I remember once my younger brother asked me where I was going; I thought to kid around with him and said sticking my tongue out, ” none of your business”. He laughed because he saw that I was kidding, but my mom heard me and started shouting ” THIS IS YOUR BROTHER. HE IS A MAN AND HE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR YOU. DON’T DISRESPECT HIM LIKE THAT. YOU BETTER TELL HIM WHERE YOU ARE GOING”
I was surprised at my mothers’ reaction. I immediately said “Does it make sense that me, being the oldest, ask permission to go out from my younger brother? I don’t see him telling me where he goes so why should I?”. Then she added breathing out loudly “you girls are such burden, when are you going to get married to get rid of you?!”. I never understood why girls were considered as a burden and always were rushed to marry young.
I believe that the current generation should not pass those gender discrimination ideas to their children. Yes men and women are different, but neither one should suffer injustice because of their gender. I at least would love to teach my children that they are equal; I will teach my son he won’t be punished less than his sister because he is a man. Whatever mistakes they do will be equally punished, and whatever good things they will do will be equally rewarded.
My life is so different than my grandmothers’ with much more freedom, with much more rights, but always with a fight! Somehow life is still the same when it comes to certain aspects-In the aspect that we are women.