Tuesday, May 01, 2007

My Best Friend & I

“You know, I thought about what you said last time…it’s a little bit of a downer…”

She looked up with a knowing smile, “Yeah isn’t it!”

“I mean, here we are, back from the three-something years of studying, living and just being abroad, and we’re in the middle of a tug-o-war between what we were raised up to be and dealing with the experiences we went through…you can’t disregard either…but one is a more realistic priority than the other ephemeral one that seems out of place almost all the time…”

She bounced along beside me as we made our way down the dimly lit walkway, “I know…this sudden lack of expression suddenly got to me, I just had to vent…”

“Yeah, vent vent vent…I just thought that it was over during the first three psychologically chaotic weeks of my return and I actually did feel myself adjusting after that period of emptiness, but now that you mention it again, I know that it’ll always be looming over my head, sort of like that little annoying voice that goes, “No, don’t do, say or share that. It’s unnecessary,” or even “Lower your voice! You’re in Kuwait for God’s sake!” And you always have to think of the repercussions of every little thing that comes out even if it is well-intentioned and rooted in genuine honesty. It’s a good thing that our jobs are keeping us ultra-busy but even with that, limiting yourself in that way is ridiculously tedious and exhausting. It’s inhuman. Who lives like this? No seriously, are we actually living like this? Is this our life now? Living in self-imposed limitations that create daily feelings of unneeded suffocation?”

I frowned as I overheard one of the two hoodlums seated on top of the public walkway’s benches mimic our accents with an Americanized, “I knoooow! Cooooooool maaaaan!”

“But you know what’s also weird?” She continued, “Both you and I are hypocrites…”

I nodded as I sensed where she was going with that line, “Remember the last time when we met up with our high school colleagues for coffee? It was during the day, we were in a public setting and our folks knew where and who we were with. We were all being ourselves and having a good time. But if we extracted ourselves from that exact scenario we were in, we would’ve had some negative feelings regarding that scene. I mean…”

I picked up from where she left off, “It’s that persistent, nagging cultural instinct that’s planted in us. We may raise an eyebrow at the same thing we take part in.”

“Yup…” She sighed.

She mentioned a person she knows and how smoothly he dealt with the whole transition.

“But he has one big advantage,” I replied.

As if she read my mind (isn’t that what best friend’s are for?) she instantly blurted out, “He’s a guy.”

“Exactly!” I replied in exasperation as I stopped in my tracks.

Our conversation shifted to the multiple social groups in Kuwait, basically the major one consisting of Kuwaiti society as a whole and the minor one that is sprinkled with so-called eccentrics who avoid the general bundle and who are, in turn, avoided by the society as a whole with the exception of the usual eavesdroppers and gossipers that carry news to and fro the different social realms.

“And there’s no gray area. You’re either in or you’re out.”

“And you always lose something whichever group you associate yourself too. Being a social chameleon is harder for girls anyway. If you include yourself to the general Kuwaiti society, you’re on the boring yet safe side. But if your lifestyle is similar to those who haul in the same activities they partook in when they were abroad, you’re positioned under society’s disapproving and scrutinizing eye regardless of the actual group of friends and lifestyle itself which may be, in the reality of the situation, quite innocent...Unfortunately, the somewhat true stereotype of the few bad apples and how they ruin it for everyone else stands…”

“Yeah…and also, we both know of people who purposely outcast themselves from society because they’re sick of having to deal with the common and redundant complications of living here and the extreme narrow-mindedness that dulls their days. They form this tight and comfortable niche of trust where members share the same free spirited characteristics and lifestyle so to speak…”

“And if you behave in that manner or even mention your liking to the way they conduct themselves and live their lives, which is labeled by the general society as hedonistic and mildly disrespectful even if the group’s majority hold the same values that the general society religiously embraces, you more or less lose the advantages of, for example, snagging a legitimate and decent future-partner. I mean let’s face it, I’m sure there are some social oddballs who actually are decent, well-intentioned and truly unprejudiced individuals, but isn’t the probability of that low when you survey their culturally alien surroundings? Like their friends and such…”

“But that’s overgeneralizing…isn’t it?”

“Sure is…but I think it’s close to reality anyway...”

“Well, you can usually tell what a person is like depending on the friendships they form…”

“Again, guys are generally exempt from this particular rule unless their buddies consist of a series of nothing but cokeheads. I mean, imagine if I hang out with “Scandalous Bimbo” the whole time, I’m sure I’d be labeled in the same category as her…”

“It’s so strange though…”

“Well, it’s strange and unfair…The whole thing is…”

“It’s self-repression…”

“It is…”

We were both on a roll, “And you know when they say that no matter what, everyone goes back to their roots in the end? I mean, let’s say that someone does classify him or herself…”

“Most of the times it’s himself…”

“All right, well let’s say that a guy lives his life with no distinct and defined limits. He may be ultra-free in his ways but when it comes down to the M-word, he turns a cold shoulder to the females that too shared his lifestyle, girls that he might have told convincingly, “Hey! Chill! I’m cool!” before running to mommy so she can find him a “Good Ol’ Girl” to settle down with to initiate the breeding process…”

“And I know of some girls that have the shitty end of the stick, meaning that they do live, as you just said, “freely,” but that’s the way they’ve been brought up. Although their values and morals are quite grounded, they’re placed in that shady category which might unfortunately include the bad apples. And the double standard lives on. As they say, “El walad yinshal mina il qalam…” Oh well…On top of that, we have to deal with the whole “US graduate” label…”

“Bad apples…why isn’t it bad bananas? Or bad oranges? Why is it an apple?”

My thoughts wandered on the topic of our conversation. How ironically calming it is to discuss such a burdensome topic with someone who shares the same anxieties and conflicting opinions.

I was tired. We were walking later than we usually do. We passed by an obviously gay couple. After they sauntered by us, my friend and I looked behind us to cast a second curious glance. One looked like a normal guy but the other was tall, fat and sashayed in the most feminine manner possible. His hair was gelled neatly to reveal a deep part. His little messenger purse swung by his tight shorts and against his sequined shirt.

“I wonder how these guys are treated at home,” I thought out loud, “And you know, the ones who go the whole nine yards with the long hair, hormones and implants? How do they deal with that? How does their family swallow that change?”

“Well, they either hide it from their family, or their family accepts them as they are, or they’re just kicked out of the house.”

“That’s sad…”

“It is…”

“The whole thing is just sad.”

“Yeah…”

“I think we’re living in the moral decline of a little country called Kuwait…that was a presumptuous claim. I think it’s somewhat true though…kind of…”

We walked in silence for a while. We were both wrung out from work. Sometimes, even talking is draining. I reached a stage where after work, my sentences sound as complex as a third grader’s.

“It’s getting hot isn’t it?”

“Yeah…summer’s here…I hate the dust…”

“Mhmm…ditto. So, what is this? Early-mid life crisis slash depression?”

“Umm…maybe?”

“Well, that’s just dandy. Anyhow, I’m becoming more senseless and indifferent every day now.”

“I don’t think that’s healthy.”

“No…it isn’t. I don’t want to turn completely bitter though. Bitter butter, bitter butter, bittery butter, buttery bitter…”

“Well…”

“Life goes on.”

at 2:26 AM

13 Comments

  1. Blogger Farah posted at 3:15 AM  
    Greaat post!! i feel that alot of ppl go through that! i have one more year in the states and im already dreading comin back to the states!! lets just hope by some miracle in one year kuwait's society changed ;)
  2. Blogger Swair. posted at 7:07 AM  
    amazing post :D

    i love how you guys complete each others sentences, and the topic itself is so fully rounded that i really don't have anything to say since you've said it all lol

    ya36eech el 3afya, Erzu :*
  3. Blogger adorra posted at 8:24 AM  
    Touche!

    (I wrote a really long comment but it got deleted)

    Here's the gist of what I was trying to say. I completely agree with you on all of the aforementioned points. On the other hand, I do believe that there are certain circles and groups in Kuwait. People who live on the edge (as opposed to the norm in Kuwait) don't really worry about how they are portrayed because they befriend and marry into/within their circle. This is also the case with people who were raised in a specific way, yes, they might be offensive to a lot of people and they are not suitable "candidates" to everyone else but within their circle and similar groups, they're fine. It makes more sense in my mind then it does typed.
  4. Blogger Traveleer posted at 11:08 AM  
    I am a US graduate and I used to hang out with Kuwait girls back in the states and when I came back to Kuwait. I guess it is easier for us guys to adujst and maybe its a female nature to over-react and make a drama out of any issue. The girls who used to hang out with us in Kuwait were not all Us graduates, some were at kuwait uni. They did when what guys do at the end, they avoided us when they wanted to get married and go through the whole nice yards.

    and what adorra said is kind of true, people marry from their close circle of friends and family. People who share the same values and life style.
  5. Blogger Ms.Baker posted at 1:07 PM  
    It's sad, but as a member of the generation before yours who graduated from the US and has been through the quandaries you are dealing with now, I have to say that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    I am going to focus on a particular aspect of your revealing and eye-opening post, which reverberated and got me, as it reminds me a lot of where I was when I first got back.

    You will find your niche here post-US academia eventually :) There is much good to be had :) But you would indeed be wise to form your intimate and close relationships with those in your own close circle (unfortunately, this is another sad truth) here, the people you grew up with, your family, those they trust and are close to... it's a cliché that's true.

    A moral decline in Kuwait is only putting it mildly. Frankly, you must be very careful who you trust here, especially if it is someone unproven to you and those who care for you. In terms of finding a partner to marry who is of honest, sincere, honorable and genuine heart-felt intent, who will form an intimate, loving, and true relationship with you -one whose word is their honor - well, that, my dear Erzulie and her best friend, is very, very, rare, and becoming dangerously close to nonexistent (and isn't limited to just one sex - it's both men and women here). It is just too easy for people to become morally and spiritually corrupt in Kuwait. Many are users, who when they find someone kind and sincere with them, will use it for all it's worth. It is a gently decadent and gloriously soft slide into the Kuwaiti moral void where one's deviousness and self-centeredness is of no great consequence, and who one hurts or damages on the way (time and again) is meaningless as long as one ends up with what they want and it suits their twisted rationale. There is always a million ways one is able to justify and explain their slick and vulgar actions to their own malfunctioning consciences. No one cares what they do anymore, or about the holes in their souls. Many pretend that they do care and seem to be soul-searching, and say all the chic compassionate nonsense to make themselves appear "moral", but their actions and past history prove powerfully otherwise.


    Time has showed me much living back here in Kuwait. "Ille i3eesh bil-Kuwait - ishoof", is a good way to put it. And although I have deliberately always sheltered myself from almost all of the crap of Kuwait, and have always been very careful of who I interacted with and let in, sadly, some of it has snuck up on me to take a vicious bite. Even when I thought I was safe. There are very few "clean" people left here :( Always be careful of those you do not know well, and know that there is very likely more than a few grains of truth to whatever you hear of people's history. It's a small town, and people rarely change.

    On a positive note after my depressing and sad, drawn out comment, Hang on to the one's you love and trust, who have always been in your life, they will be with you to the end :)

    This is the same advice I have more or less given to my little sister, who is the same age as you and is in the middle of her studies abroad, and whose eyes are starting to open as she grows up.
  6. Blogger Erzulie posted at 12:12 AM  
    farah: Well, I think that there should be an official sit on NUKS that addresses this "Reverse Culture Shock" syndrome as one blogger named it. Like I said, the worst part for me was around the first month I was here but afterwards, it was all right. However, I do get these feelings of, how shall I describe it, "UGHHHHH"-ness. And I think it's more practical to work toward one's miracle rather than wait for one to happen.

    swair: :))

    adorra: I know where you're coming from and I totally agree. But the thing is, well, it's just so black and white. Like I said, you're either in or you're out.
    And the people who "live on the edge" as you said do marry within their circle of friends but just because two individuals share the same likes and disliked doesn't mean that they're adequate together when you compare their upbringing. For instance, they might agree upon and like the same things but one person is brought up with a little more of a "Western" edge while the other, who also does relate to the lifestyle itself, leans more toward, for example, tradition and safety. Hmm...

    traveler: All right, let's not make quick judgments about females; very few guys actually sit down and honestly think about the little annoying details a Kuwaiti girl has to go through. It's hard to be a confident woman here; you're susceptible to be taken the wrong way. Personally, I don't like the whole "avoid my guy friends to get married" bit. All right, it is realistic, yes, and it does lessen the chances of being negatively captioned. I suppose it's a biased yet balanced retaliation to society's expectations.

    ms.baker: I don't know what to say, I think that was one of the most beautifully written pieces of advice I've read. And I totally take it to heart. It's just troublesome to deal with the real Kuwaiti reality, and the inner reality i.e. me and all my quirkiness that bubbles out with my circle of trust i.e. family and very few priceless friends :)
  7. Blogger Trevelyana posted at 11:31 AM  
    You're right about the US graduate label, although I would argue that many of us have an appreciation for the fact that our parents sent us out here, def. not easy, and take our studies much more seriously than those at home. But I'm generalizing.

    My parents are evasive when family friends ask them where and who I live with, my mom once simply fibbed and said I live with family friends to save me from their scurtiny. Which sometimes bothers me.

    One time, this man sat next to me on the plane back from home and we got to chatting. Make a long story short, he gasps and goes "laa ishloan bitatzawajeen ba3dain..ma yseer". Well you know what, that's just fine.. I wouldn't want that kind of marriage anyway, and you can't envyy what you never wanted :)
  8. Blogger Erzulie posted at 11:54 PM  
    Trev: Very true...there's just something slightly effed up about it you know...it's a bit bothersome, especially when you have to deal with it on a daily basis. Anyhow, keeping busy with work/school/family, etc. keeps one's mind of such bullshit, excuse my french...
  9. Blogger 1001 Nights posted at 10:45 AM  
    In my experience when I first returned things like how you laugh or walking with your eyes down when there’s like 7 guys walking in front of you or making sure you lower your voice, the “self-imposed limitations”, were really draining just like you said. But after a while, it’s not that I became desensitized to them but rather I realized how irrelevant they are to my happiness. I commit to some of these limitations partly because I believe in them and partly because I have no intention of being a social pariah. But what’s more compelling here is that these external things become a focal point when you first come to Kuwait because you’re not used to them and you have to pay so much attention to them. But in the larger scheme of things they’re such small issues and ultimately, when they become second nature to you and you do them without thinking about it, you start to move on to … well, actually living in Kuwait. The REAL interactions you have with people - work, family, friendships – those things become a focal point and you stop minding the self-imposed limitations so much because really there’s so much else you’re interested in. Who cares if you have to lower your voice when you’re in a restaurant if you already got a great education, a job where you’re given a chance to contribute as an employee, a family that believes in your abilities and wants to know your opinion, and friends who can stimulate your mind?
  10. Blogger Traveleer posted at 1:42 PM  
    Erzu

    Sorry if you found my earlier post offensive. Just expressing my view.

    To make the long story short, just like you adjusted to life in the Us when you first got there at age of 18 (in most cases anyways), you will hopefully adjust to life in Kuwait with its little annoying inconvenieces. You just need to know your priorities.
  11. Blogger Hazolat posted at 10:04 AM  
    Kuwait Kuwait Kuwait ... the problem is not in Kuwait, which is what it is because of being a small and conservative society (mostly conservative).

    You get the same thing in ANY small society or town, even in the U.S., there are many small towns and cities who are gossipy, and intolerant of new concepts and ideas. Gay people are still "closeted" in small hill-billy-hell towns everywhere in the world.

    Even when constitutions provide you all sorts of freedom, if you live in a small conservative town (any town in this vast world) people would still be gossipy and small minded.

    Great topic by the way :-P
  12. Blogger Shurouq posted at 7:06 PM  
    It's funny how one's accepted by a foreign society while his/her own society won't do the same.
    But things are changing for the better I promise :*
  13. Blogger Erzulie posted at 11:35 PM  
    1001: I agree with what you said 1001% :P~ And really, I've noticed that it did and is becoming less of a burden over time; I'm just living life one day at a time and I don't usually face these things at all and if I do, I just go with the flow and choose the safe side so to speak. What I'm facing now come are occasional jolts of that feeling that makes your shoulders droop in boredom. For instance, I may be sitting with my two friends in a laidback coffeshop (as opposed to the see and be seen places where sweats and polos are a no-no...you know what i mean...i hope!) and I have this instinctive urge to sit cross-legged on the musty couch. And right then it hits me, "Ughh!" I think, and I continue sitting with my feet flat on the ground. It's those sort of things that you avoid to not be labeled, as you called it, a social pariah or a downright freak. So :)

    traveleer: Well, maybe I came off to harsh up there. I just meant that it's twice as hard (if not harder) for girls to adjust here than guys, in all aspects. In the US, guys and girls usually travel with friends to other states. Here, guys do the same with their friends - say a three day vacation to Greece - but for girls, it's a bit harder to travel with gal pals while still at a young age whilst living with the family again. I'm not complaining about being bound by my family (ironically, I like it that way) but I think that finding one's niche here is more difficult for women here.

    hazolat: Yeah, but it wasn't that way before and the mentality - or lack of it - is getting worse by the day.

    shurouq: I'm starting to wonder who are the real Kuwaitis and who aren't. People are strange when you're a stranger... *prances around to the song* :) Hope you're good shurouq :))

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