Several days ago, we ladies gathered to celebrate the return of one of my good friends to the University.
My Friend, who will remain anonymous, had taken a six month break from working on her Phd so that she could give birth to and spend time with the little monkey that I am holding in the picture above. I was so happy when My Friend returned to work. She brightens my day with her craziness. I call her the Mashnoonah, ie The Crazy One. She is one of those ladies that will tell you about all of the drama in her life and just crack you up with her stories. The modern day Lucille Ball. The Saudi Lucy. My Friend has grown up in a country were women are supposed to be more docile and soft spoken, though she is anything but that. Over the past year and a half, I have watched this Friend of mine go from Single, to Married, to Pregnant, to the Mother of a precious babe. For a woman, life can change very fast in this country. You can go from never having talked to a non- relative male, to married to one. From Single to Mother in no more than nine months.
While at the gathering for the return of My Friend, I met another woman. Upon entering the apartment, this Woman threw off her abaya and revealed a sexy black dress with lots of gold jewelry (I have quickly learned that when gathering with the Saudi Girls, dress to impress). I felt like a little girl next to this Woman. She was beautiful and funny and confident and just seemed powerful. I began talking this Woman about My Friend and her new baby girl, and then the Woman told me that she has a sixteen year old boy. I couldn't believe it. I said, "Wallah? (Really)." When I looked at this Woman, she seemed no older than me. How could she already have a sixteen year old? When I asked her this, she told me that she was married to her husband at age fifteen. And pregnant with her first child right before her sixteenth birthday. And throughout her pregnancy and the first several years of her son's life, she lived in the United States. Imagine how that would feel. At sixteen you look around you at the American girls your same age and then you go back home to take care of your husband and small child. This same Woman, after raising her son and later daughter (who is now 12), decided that she wanted to become a computer scientist, though she had never even finished high school. When she went to the local university admissions office, they told her that they would never admit her. That she would have to learn two years worth of high school study material just to have a chance at getting in. So you know what this Woman did, she bought text books, and while her children were napping, she taught herself. She got into college. Graduated at the top of her class. Completed a Masters degree in Computer Science. And now, this Woman, the wife and mother at 15, has decided that she wants to learn Chemistry. So she is here. At my University. Working towards a Phd in Chemistry and taking private tutoring at home in the evenings to learn more.
I look now at this little baby girl and wonder what her life will be like. Already, during the week, she is being raised by her single mother. My Friend, lives at the University campus Saturday through Wednesday while her husband stays in Jeddah where his job is. They meet only on the weekends. This little baby girl is so happy and so smiley. While the twenty-or-so of us Ladies gathered, she coo'ed and caaa'ed while we passed her from hand to hand. She did not cry once.
The Women here are strong. Circumstances concerning marriage, having children, and education vary greatly by family. Some women date before they get married, some wait several years before having children, some have as many opportunities as any of my friends back home. But some of the Women here do not have as much control over their lives. They might not be actually forced into any situation, but family and societal pressures push them to conform. To get married before they are ready. To refuse contraceptives. To give up their education. But somehow, they manage. They take the fate that was handed to them and they deal with it. As Women do. As we have for centuries. These Women support each other. These Women are strong.