Many people enjoy living the expat life in the Middle East, but Ramallah, Palestine, is not generally known to be an expat haven. Yet it is a lovely place full of surprises for the uninitiated, and I was one of them.
An American foreign aid project brought my husband and me to Ramallah and we enjoyed living there for a couple of years, loved the warmth of the people, the delicious food and the ambiance of this exotic little town with its narrow winding streets lined with small shops selling Middle Eastern sweets, jewelry, household goods, meat, and so on. Like everywhere else, young singles here look for romance, love, and happiness ever after. Here’s a story about looking for love, with a little local color. (And edited version of a previous post.)
HAVE MICROWAVE, WILL MARRY EXPAT
One Biblical way to find a wife: Go to a party and hide. When the women come out to dance, grab one and carry her off to be your wife. (Judges 21:19-25) — Anonymous.
I’m having lunch with a few friends in a small boutique café in Ramallah, eating Greek salads piled high with feta cheese and lots of olives. Although we love shwarmas, falafel, hummus and all the other wonderful local fare, once in a while we treat ourselves to a lunch at this trendy little eatery.
My friend Marianne is a Danish redhead with big blue eyes and a delicate problem: Her Palestinian colleague Amira is putting on the pressure for Marianne to consider marrying her handsome brother, Marwan. Marwan is looking for a wife, which is not that easy in Ramallah, as it is not so easy anywhere in the world. His sister is doing her best to aid in his quest.
“Amira has been singing Marwan’s praises for days,” Marianne tells us. “‘He has a good job, Marianne! He makes lots of money, and he wears nice clothes and speaks English very well!’” Marianne laughs as she recites Amira’s words. “‘He is so wonderful, Marianne! Please, think about marrying him!’”
Marianne sips her wine and forks in a bite of her Greek salad before continuing her story, which goes like this:
She tells Amira that, having met the marvelous Marwan only once in passing, she’s not convinced she knows him well enough to start considering marriage, and besides she doesn’t want to get married yet. The wrong thing to say. How can she not want to get married? Doesn’t she want a husband? Children? A home of her very own? And so on and so forth.
Yes, says Marianne, but not just yet.
But Marwan is so wonderful! Amira cries out, and again catalogues her brother’s good qualities, his education, his handsome face, his generosity. Really she should think about it. She should get to know him, meet with him.
Marianne says no thank you. She wants to travel more before she settles down on a cold Danish island without hummus. She doesn’t want to get romantically involved just yet. She’s too busy with her job with the water-project here, too busy discovering the world.
“Amira was so upset,” Marianne says, coming to the end of her tale. “She just couldn’t imagine why I wasn’t interested in her wonderful brother. She looked at me in total frustration and said, ‘But Marianne! He even has a microwave!’”
Later that week my spouse and I are invited to dinner at the house of Samir, a new Palestinian friend who spent his university days in Georgia, USA, getting an engineering degree. He is single and lonely. Living the bachelor’s life in Ramallah is a bore, he tells us as he uncorks a bottle of wine. He’s ready to be married and he’s looking for a wife, but it’s not easy here. His mother is looking for a suitable girl. His sister is looking for a suitable girl. He rolls his eyes. Then he sighs forlornly.
He has a nice apartment in a new building. The furniture is of the dark and well-stuffed formal variety, but a full complement of silvery gleaming electronic equipment–TV, CD player, VCR — brightens the decor.
There are five of us, the other guests mutual English friends, expats like us. We are offered wine and nibbles, the usual pre-dinner munchies of nuts and seeds and olives. We talk about this and that — Russian cars, scorpions, travel, and airports. I’m off to my native Holland next week to visit my family, so I ask Samir if there’s something I can bring back for him. Chocolate? Cheese? Pickled herring?
“Bring me a wife,” he says. “Any size, any color.”
While we talk, Samir runs in and out of the kitchen where he’s fixing us musakhan, a traditional Middle Eastern oven-roasted chicken dish. He’s doing the cooking himself and I tell him I am very impressed. He laughs. He has a very nice laugh. Also he’s handsome and has great hair. He’s a catch, as my daughters would say. My daughters, however, are far away, and taken.
After a yummy meal and an entertaining evening, we leave Samir alone in his wifeless apartment and drive home through the narrow winding streets of Ramallah. I squeeze my man’s right hand, glad I’ve got my mate, glad that I’m not in the market looking for one. The air is redolent with roasting nuts, narguila tobacco, shwarma cooking. Music everywhere — American love songs, Arabic love songs. People are out in the streets enjoying the summer air, eating ice cream, laughing. Young couples in jeans, groups of boys, groups of girls. Hormones quivering everywhere.
“Surely Samir can find himself a wife,” I say. “He’s handsome as a god, he’s nice, has a good job, a car, a great smile. He can even cook!”
My man nods thoughtfully. “Yes, but does he have a microwave?”
In some countries you’d better have a couple of goats or other livestock if you want to get yourself a bride. Or soap or gold or cases of Johnnie Walker. Do you have any fun stories about the trials and tribulations of finding a mate and what is needed to marry in places where you have lived as an expat? Hit that comment button and entertain me!