Expat Life: Looking for Love in Palestine

by missfootloose on December 10, 2011 · 18 comments

in expat stories, love and romance, Palestine

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.

Downtown Ramallah

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.

The view from our apartment

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!

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosa December 10, 2011 at 3:01 pm

LoL I don’t have a microwave. Maybe I have been bringing my sons up with limited opportunities!
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missfootloose December 12, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Forget the microwave! You’ll do your prospective daughters-in-law a big favor if you don’t raise your sons to be mammoni 😉

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Red Nomad OZ December 11, 2011 at 12:20 pm

I don’t have a microwave either!!! But getting one by going to Ramullah and marrying a local is probably a bit extreme …

Funny, but I never thought of a microwave as a spouse drawcard before – it makes the usual livestock in countries I’ve lived in seem a bit dull by comparison!!
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missfootloose December 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm

To think my mate didn’t even own an animal or an appliance of any sort when I married him.

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Walter Knight December 11, 2011 at 3:06 pm

The microwave should have sealed the deal. What is she waiting for?

This all reminds me of a movie called “Borat” where a felllow from a former Soviet Republic in Asia comes to America to seek a wife in the traditional manner: Throws a bag over the prospective bride and runs off with her. It did not end well.

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missfootloose December 12, 2011 at 1:54 pm

I can’t imagine why not.

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Walter Knight December 11, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Tell her I have a microwave, AND two TV’s.

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Walter Knight December 11, 2011 at 6:56 pm

Did I mention my home even has positive pressure water?

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missfootloose December 12, 2011 at 1:42 pm

How about flush toilets?

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missfootloose December 12, 2011 at 1:53 pm

WOW! I’ll let her know!

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MaryWitzl December 12, 2011 at 2:10 am

What a shame that Marianne couldn’t have gotten together with Samir, who sounds much more her type than Marwan.

In Japan, many people still have ‘omiai’ or arranged meetings with a view to marrying — they’re rather like formalized blind dates. Some people go on dozens of omiai and never meet anyone they remotely like well enough to settle down with while others are luckier. One of my friends used to bake pound cakes with her mother for the omiai men she’d turned down. She reckoned she’d baked at least three dozen in a couple of years.
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missfootloose December 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm

I love reading about the different ways people find their husbands or wives in different cultures. What you describe as happening in Japan happens in (some) Indian communities as well. I recently read LOVE IN A HEADSCARF by Shelina Janmohamed, a well-educated Muslim woman of Indian ethnicity living in England. It described (among other things) the formalized meetings she had with “suitable” young men found by her parents and the “Aunties” and how she couldn’t find her true love. A fun and fascinating read.

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Claire December 12, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Haha, this is really cute! Perhaps this is why the American divorce rate is so high…….the couples haven’t fully looked into each other’s microwave status!
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Rambles with Reese December 15, 2011 at 5:56 pm

:-DDD this story has certainly left a smile on my face. I wish I had a similar story to tell you Karen but that’s why I come to your blog!

Have a wonderful week! xo
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missfootloose December 17, 2011 at 10:24 am

Glad you enjoyed. You have stories of your own!

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Nikki December 20, 2011 at 12:43 am

When I met my first husband he had a brown belt in Karate and a car with flames painted on the sides. My new man has a microwave. Now I know where I went wrong.
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Ayman December 12, 2012 at 10:22 am

Hello
Funny story, even for me, a Palestinian. But I may be able to have an clarification, for each one.

I assume, for Samir, he went to study abroad, achieve many things to start his “not-regular” life. Although he could saw his colleagues, relatives maybe, getting married, may be have a a baby. And he start feels that he missed something. That`s because he is not finding the balance for not-regular life he want to have.

For your read-head fried, Marianne, I am sure she is magnificent. And Marwan could fall in love with her for no reason. Actually one can imagine a reason when he fall in love.

Anyway, for the microwave 😀 She could be meant that he is ready for marriage and commitment, he finished furnishing his house, he even brought what she consider an accessory, a microwave. may be.

She is may be trying to fill the gap between her brother and “the foreigner” Mariane. and she is thinking that she is presenting the same life-style Marianne would love to have or keep.

She is surely direct and simple person, she is honest, and she entered the phase of telling even such a detail in a wrong way to convince, convince her to think at least about her brother.
The microwave is not a prerequisite for marriage, but it is just one of items the sister thinks is ready to be used by her brother and his wife.

Regards

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