Monday, September 8, 2014

Dhofaris Marrying Expats: The Sad Side of the Story

Hello world! Dhofari Gucci is officially out of hibernation now that the tourists have left, the mud isn't as bad, and I can actually go out and enjoy the mountains. The past two days have been rainy, but cheerful nevertheless.

Today's post is about  something I've been meaning to write about for quite some time now. It's a sad topic, and I know victims of this issue may be reading my post, so please forgive me in advance if any of my words hurt you.

After the oil boom in the 1970's in Oman and influenced by the Dhofar Rebellion, many Omani young men from Dhofar were sent abroad to study (by the Government or by the communist revolution) since no institutions for higher education were available in Oman and definitely not in Dhofar at the time (the first university in Oman was established in 1986 - Sultan Qaboos University). These young men (and I refer to men since women were not normally considered for overseas scholarships back then), were sent to places like Cuba, the Soviet Union, and later on to the UK and the USA. 

Naturally, being sent out to the world for the first time away from the conservative gender-segregated society in Salalah meant that these young men discovered beautiful women. To cut a long story short, many Dhofaris married Cubans, Russians, and later on American and British women. 

Many of these men married foreign women and kept the subject of their marriages hidden from their families back in Dhofar since the thought was so taboo, they knew their families couldn't handle it. A lot of these men came back to Dhofar, married their first cousins or a local girl and established a family here in Salalah. They would go back and forth to their foreign wife, keeping each wife hidden from the other. This has happened so many times. I've seen it. I've heard about it. I've helped people through it. 

Anyone who knew Salalah back in the 1980s knows that it was a harsh place, particularly for someone coming from more economically developed countries like the US. Our society is still harsh to women , particularly outsiders, but it was even more harsh back then. Therefore, it is understandable that very few of these Dhofari men would even think of bringing their expat wife to Oman in the first place. So many of them attempted to balance between their wife abroad and their wife at home.

Another set of men  braved society and brought their wives home to Oman. Some tried to adapt, some couldn't, some ran away, some marriages ended badly, and of course ... a handful succeeded.

Now, from my experience with mixed marriages (many of these foreign women have emailed me over the past few years seeking advice ... some who just discovered their husbands had married a cousin, and some who were contemplating marrying an Omani man full of promises), .... so where was I? From my experience with mixed marriages -  the ones involving a Dhofari man marrying a Western women -  most of these marriages don't work.

Sad, but true. They simply don't work. 

This post is exclusively about Dhofar since Muscat is another world. Being a foreign wife married to an Omani in Muscat is much easier and there are plenty of success stories. 

I have seen so many families fall apart. I could list 20-30 if I had to. People close to me. Colleagues. Friends. Family. I've seen ugly battles for custody (mostly won by the man of course - this is Oman after all), I've seen women run away (with or without the children), I've seen some ugly shit. 

From my humble experience on this planet, I will list the reasons why many Dhofari-expat marriages have failed. Then I will list the characteristics of the Dhofari-expat marriages that worked. I do this because I constantly get emails from women mainly who want to marry a Dhofari (most in the USA). If you're contemplating marrying a Dhofari man, please read carefully: 

So why do many Dhofari-Expat marriages fail? 

1. When a Dhofari man studies abroad and falls in love with a girl (say... in Portland for example), he's going to be charming, funny, handsome, and most likely he'll try to avoid talking about his family and societal pressure in Dhofar. He's not going to tell the girl about his family's expectations that he will marry a cousin. He's not going to tell her that he's 'already' married to a cousin. I'm not saying all of them do this, but many do. 

2. He's probably going to have a completely different personality than the one he has at home in Dhofar. Men here play a particular role in public. They put on a completely different face. Our culture doesn't promote individuality or personal interests. 

3. Our society in Dhofar is dismissive of outsiders, be it someone from another part of Oman or someone from another country (or even another tribe!! Been there, done that). We are proud and very tribal, often stupidly so. Dhofari society does not welcome strangers into the family. Most of them don't. Some families do (they remain a handful)

4. From a western perspective, Dhofari society can be described as 'dismissive of women'. Men are always in charge. Men are in control. Women play a secondary role. Unless the Dhofari husband is very liberal (very few of them actually living in Salalah), usually the wife is shocked. 

5. When a Dhofari man is brave enough to bring his expat wife home, the woman is usually shocked by the way of life. Quite often, the man hasn't given her enough information or details on what life is really like at this end of the country. Dhofaris aren't very good at going into personal details. It's not part of the culture. 

6. There is very little privacy in Dhofar if you're married to a Dhofari. People will constantly be sticking their nose in your personal life. If you can't handle it, think again. If you want an independent life, you want to raise your kids your own way, you want them to speak your language, you want privacy? Don't come to Salalah unless you're a very strong person willing to stand up and fight for what you believe in. 

7. Family roles and expectations here are very high. There is very little respect for your own private life, your private plans with your family, etc. Expectations are that you/your husband will attend family funerals, weddings, gatherings, and that people can drop by at your house whenever they wish. If you try to object, they'll be offended. Men here WILL not and CANNOT stand up to their families. I've seen it.  

8. The dress-code. If you don't already wear an abaya and cover your hair, rest assured that society won't leave you alone until you put on a black abaya and cover up. It's their way or no way. I'm not saying it's right, but it's reality. I've seen foreign wives forced into the face  veil as well and gloves. Hidden behind closed doors, told to be demure and quiet. 

9. Once you're pregnant, you're stuck. The law in Oman does not protect you if you get a divorce and want your child. From my experience with some ugly divorces here, the Omani husband always wins custody. The law does not protect you if you are a foreigner and your children are Omani. 

10. It is very difficult to make friends here, particularly if you're married to an Omani. He/his family will be very picky about where you go to make friends. Expat meetings at  local hotel? Forget about it! Meeting someone in a cafe? highly unlikely. I tell you, society is harsh. 

11. Your husband will be constantly 'needed' by family members, friends, relatives, etc, etc. Want him to spend a lot of time with you? It's difficult here. 

12. Relatives will also always be wanting money. All...the...time. 

13. If you're a Muslim revert/convert and you've come to Oman with your Dhofari husband to be in a Muslim society, you will probably become irritated by many things practiced in society that are contradicting Islamic teachings. 

14. There will always be a risk of him taking on a second,third, fourth wife.

15. There is very little compromise. Your upbringing and your history and your traditions have little or no value here. 

Do I sound depressing? Maybe I do. But, truly, I'm writing this post to help you. If you are contemplating marrying a man from Dhofar, make sure you really know him. Ask to come to Oman and meet his family. Judge their reaction. Get a feel of Salalah. Discuss the important issues (listed above). 

If you are a strong and confident person  who is able to adapt to a harsh culture and who is ready to fight for what you believe in and stand up for your own life, then good luck. Otherwise, think again.

I am not proud of everything listed above. I'm not proud of how harsh and horrible our society has been to some foreign wives. It's sad. I'm writing this to help anyone who needs help. I don't want to see another shattered wife torn away from her children. Really I don't.

Now..... the success stories.

Naturally, there is a silver lining to each problem. There are of course, a handful of successful marriages involving a Dhofari man and an foreign woman. I have met some of them. I know some very well. I have seen happy marriages. 

From my experience, Dhofari-foreign marriages work when (in no particular order)...:

1. They live in Muscat or anywhere outside of Salalah. (a major factor) 

2. The man is ready to compromise. 

3. The man is usually liberal.

4. The man is ready to stand up for his marriage. 

5. The woman takes an interest in understanding the history/culture of Oman. 

6. The man doesn't immediately try to enforce his traditions/dress-code/beliefs/lifestyle on the foreign wife. 

7. They take it step by step.

8. They make it clear to family members and relatives from the very beginning that they want their privacy to be respected. It won't be easy, but it's possible. It needs to be done gently. 

9. Expectations are clear from the beginning. 

10. The wife arrives in Oman knowing exactly what is waiting for her.

11. There is clear agreement from the beginning about things like the idea of multiple marriages, languages spoken at home, circumcision of children, privacy, whether or not the woman will wear hijab, whether she will work, whether you'll be living with the in-laws, etc. If you figure this stuff out from the beginning, your chances of success are much higher. These discussions should happen before you think of having kids. 

So, that's the end of my schpeal on foreign marriages. I'm fully aware of the fact that many people won't agree with me. However, I remind you that I have lived through many horrible marriages with close friends who ended up marrying Dhofaris. Or, some Dhofari guy or other has sought me out at the end to 'talk to his wife' and 'be her friend' and maybe convince her not to leave. They think it's so easy. Well, it's not. 

If you have more points to add to the bad list or the good list, let me know and I'll add them.

Yours from rainy Salalah