The Best of Both Worlds, Perhaps?

The Best of Both Worlds, Perhaps?

Twenty years ago, handfuls Saudi university students started graduating with a B.S. in  Medical Technology. They came to KFSH for their clinical internship, and I was fortunate to have initiated a few of them into the practice of analytical laboratory testing.

One student,  a woman who covered her face, except for her eyes, became a friend, of sorts. After I got over the uneasiness of not seeing her face, and after she lifted her veil in the women’s cafeteria a few times, I relaxed, and we started to compare notes regarding our lives, experiences, and goals, etc.

She told me she was a third wife. She already had a daughter from a previous  marriage, in which she was a second wife. The divorce bothered her not because of polygyny, but because the first husband did not want her to complete her education and work. She, on the other hand, had developed a passion and a talent for her field, and with a strong personality, was not about to give it up.

The current husband, who had two other wives, was fine with her career, and she was fine with the other wives. They all had separate villas, small but comfortable, and this woman lived with her mother and still small daughter.

I was dying to know about the sleeping arrangements, but could not ask directly, of course, so I ventured to ask, “Where does your husband live?”

“With ME!” came her indignant response. At that moment, I wished my own face were covered to hide the redness of embarrassment. I never asked again, sensing that I’d hit a raw nerve.  She never elaborated, except to complain a few times that he had mixed up the nights, and inconvenienced her.

This woman had her cake and ate it, too.

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
This entry was posted in Home Life, Life, Memoir, polygamy, polygyny, Saudi Arabia and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to The Best of Both Worlds, Perhaps?

  1. Chiara says:

    Great new banner. And a great story well told. You should link to American Bedu’s recent thread on the second wife, since it adds an important perspective with a concrete example (also on the value of the niqab 🙂 )

  2. Hala says:

    I think I know that woman, and I agree that women are opportunists when nothing else is possible. I worked in Riyadh for 2 years, and I was struck by the widely accepted practice of second wives, I saw a lady at my work looking for a suitable match for our department chairman, a 50+ married doctor with 5 kids, she approached all the young interns and staff, and some were actually considering it…he married someone else afterward, but I’ll always remember how some of the young women did perceive the position of a second wife as a gate to power, in a power-depriving society…How when I argued with them they claimed the disadvantages of young single men as demanding and poor…I always wondered what may change the nature of women from romantic seekers to such opportunists…

  3. Chiara says:

    Hala–interesting comment. I think your answer is the one you gave–power deprivation leads to other compromises. Women in Western relationships also marry their way up the career ladder, sometimes divorcing a previous husband to do so.

  4. susanne430 says:

    Enjoyed this story! I wonder if the other 2 wives were pleased that their husband was living with the third wife. Thanks for sharing!

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  6. Marahm says:

    Chiara, thanks. I don’t know how to link to another blog!

    Hala, the perception of certain women as opportunists is interesting. I hardly think the woman in my story was opportunistic, in the usual sense of the word. I never learned whether the polygnous marriage gave rise to her enthusiasm for career, or the other way around.

    Susanne, the husband did not actually live in a single house. Rather, he made the rounds, dividing up the days and nights so that each wife would get an equal portion! I often wondered how a man could be happy living like this, but maybe that’s just my feminine “nesting” instinct asking the question.

  7. Chiara says:

    Marahm–I just linked you with a crude copying URL technique rather that whatever blog-to-blog technique might be used.

  8. Hala says:

    Marahm, I didn’t mean opportunist as evil or looking for own interest over others. I meant treating marriage decisions according to what it would add to her status without much struggle in her own life, many of the second wives I met are not so much interested with the person rather than the position that it would give her, as living alone without the family for a divorcee is not an option for many women here, she rather have a marriage for the immunity it would give her rather than being controlled by her own parents or brothers…I would dare to say that if women were allowed to live alone without social stigma, many second marriages wouldn’t occur…

  9. coolred38 says:

    “This woman had her cake and ate it, too.”…hmmm I could be wrong but I dont think it was cake she was having and eating… 😉

  10. Achelois says:

    Coolred, You naughty girl!

    Marahm, I really enjoyed reading this story. I would have liked to know why her first marriage was to a married man. I can somewhat assume why she became a third wife to this man – she was divorced, had a daughter and of course a married man may have been better than no man in a country where you need a man even to buy eggs. But I wonder how much this man was really helping her if she was living with her mother.

    I had a Pakistani friend who told me when we were both 19 years old that she would like to marry a married and “experienced” man because he would know how to treat her like a queen! She did indeed became a second wife to a much older man and he affectionately called her his “child bride”!

  11. Sumera says:

    Dont these wives want their husband to spend more than just nights with them? What about days? Going out, taking the kids out somewhere etc? Its not just always about sleeping arrangements, but thats how it seems when it comes to having more than 1 wife.

  12. Irving says:

    I think the point of the story to me was not the husband/wives aspect, but the woman’s passion and dedication to her profession, which she would not give up. I admire her for that.

    Ya Haqq!

  13. Mike says:

    Just passing by.Btw, you website have great content!

    Don’t pay for your electricity any longer…
    Instead, the power company will pay YOU!

  14. Marahm says:

    You are right, Irving, even if the plural marriage came first and the career development later. I’ve know a handful of other professional women who claimed they would consider ploynygy rather than give up their careers. I don’t know whether they’ve actually done it or remained unmarried. One thing is sure– they were older than twenty-five, and hadn’t received proposals from men who respected their involvement in their careers.

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