Rick and I

( from “Love my rifle more than you:
young and female in the US army”
by Kayla Williams )

“Before I got my house, I had rented a room in my apartment to a girl who worked as a stripper. She started to date a Saudi. Tariq was a friend of the Saudi guy. That’s how he and I first met.

It’s funny. Meeting a Muslim through a stripper strikes me as funny.

Tariq – everyone called him Rick – came over and we’d talk. We went on a first date…

Rick observed Ramadan – kind of. He wouldn’t drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes during the day. But he worked in a liquor store. He would not have sex if the Koran was in the room with us. So we moved it out.

Rick was Muslim in the way that most Christians are Christian. Christians believe all kinds of things. “I believe premarital sex is wrong.” But they don’t follow their beliefs. “Yeah, I believe it’s wrong – but I’m still going to do it.”

We never lived together. But eventually he began to stay at my house every single night…

Rick’s rich Kuwaiti and Saudi friends had everything. Ahmed’s father bought him a Porsche. The other Ahmed’s father bought him a house to live in for a year even before he started college so he could practice his English. Their families bought them everything. But aside from coming to America to get a fantastic education, these guys were also in the States to sleep with American women. To get it out of their system, so they could go home and marry good Muslim girls. They even admitted it. “Yes. That’s exactly what happens.” … They didn’t think twice about it. Same with most Arabic women. They boarded a plane for the States and changed out of their hijabs in the cramped lavatories – and put on make-up, Chanel dresses, and high heels.

Rich was nothing like his friends. Rick worked two jobs so he could afford community college. I respected him for trying to make his own way in the world…

Rick was gifted at languages. He spoke Arabic, Greek, English, French and Russian. Born in Jordan, he spent the first five years of his life in Lebanon. His mother told me stories of Beirut during the civil war. She described how her five- and seven-year-old children buried their faces in her lap and wept while bombs fell around them. She said she prayed simple for her family to survive each day. I could not imagine what this would be like for a mother…

Rick and I were together for two years. He taught me words in his dialect in Arabic. I shopped for vegetarian products in the neighbourhood Middle Eastern stores… All the people in the shops were so encouraging and helpful. Was I married to a Muslim? Or was I Lebanese myself? Apparently my eyes and skin tone allowed me to pass for Lebanese, which surprised me. “No, I’m not Lebanese.” But they remained just as friendly and kind. Just as eager to help me to improve my few Arabic words.

I saw an intimacy to the Arab community in Tampa that I envied. Everyone was so close in a way I never experienced in white America – certainly not at college or growing up in Columbus… The community was like a family, and people respected and trusted one another more than I’d ever experienced. Maybe be in small towns it’s like this, or certainly in some other ethnic communities you still see it. And when my older sister, Yarrow, was dying of cancer, I saw how members of her church brought food to her husband and made sure he was doing okay. But in big cities or many other places in America? Forget it…

I came to love Rick’s willingness to share his community with me. I was honoured to be a part of it for the two years we were together. It was tough, really tough, to let go…

As our relationships became more serious, we began to look at each other a little differently. I started to ask myself: Could I marry this person? If we’re going to have a committed future together, how do things need to be between us?

I criticized Rick, but if anyone else criticised him or how he treated me, I got defensive…

My mom told me: “You shouldn’t marry Rick because your aunt’s husband is Muslim – and that’s been so hard for her.” I said: “They’re still married after thirty years! They’re happy and love each other. You’ve been divorced three times. Do you think I am really going to listen to marriage advice from you?!”

At the same time Rick said that if he had kids he didn’t know if he’d want to raise them in America. I understood what he meant. If I had a daughter, I don’t know if I would want to raise her in the circumstances I’d known as a girl. Once Rick and I were in Sears waiting for my alternator to get fixed. A man and a woman and their kid came into the garage office. The girl was about ten years old. Way prepubescent. She wore low-slung tight hip-hugger jeans, a link skin-tight tank top with little straps, and little strappy sandals. She swayed her hips when she walked. Rick shook his head. Disgusted by the extent to which we sexualise children in our society – and the extent to which we allow children to sexualize themselves.

On other occasions Rick said to me: “You know, you shouldn’t wear that tank top. If you wear that tank top, people will judge you in a certain way. They are not going to listen to what you have to say. And you’re smart. I want people to judge you for what you have to say – not just for how you look.”…

When a personality conflict with a new female superior got me fired from my job in October 1999, I fell into a bad depression. Rick took care of me. He brought me flowers and orange juice. He mowed my lawn and made sure I was okay. I appreciated how genuine he was – how it was never just words with him. He never gave me a line about how he felt. He told me exactly how he felt, and I could trust he meant it.

“I’m married.”

When Rick finally told me, it felt like a violation of trust…

“I’m married. I don’t’ even really know the woman I married; we never slept together. It was arranged so I could stay in the States.”…

It freaked me out.

On another occasion he said: “In my faith the children take the mother’s religion. But you don’t have a religion. So if we did have children, of course we would raise them Muslim.”

I didn’t appreciate that, either.

And there was another thing. I asked Rick sometimes about Islam. Once he told me about their end-of-time beliefs, which seemed to resemble the Christian notion of apocalypse. IN the end of days, Rick said, all Muslims would rise up and kill all non-believers.

So I asked: “Would you kill me? Would you rise up and kill me?”

And he said: “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

That was a big deal for me….

Everything got really complicated. In the end, … it was my decision… that finally broke us up…

Rick was a big part of my decision to enlist, because he gave me confidence that I could handle the Army. He had so much confidence in me. He certainly would have wanted me to do something else. Anything else. But the respect he showed me and the confidence he had in me helped me believe that I was capable of doing something I never thought I could do.

I owe him that. Despite how much he hated what I did, I don’t think I could have done it without him….

No doubt my experience with Rick gave my more sympathy, understanding, and respect for the people in Iraq. For starters I never looked at them as having some freakish or weird religion. I didn’t look at them as being foreign. For me there were things that were comfortable and comforting about being around Arabs. I spent a long time with Rick and a lot of time with Rick’s friends. So I acquired a familiarity with Arab men…  But there was something I realize once I got to the Middle East. When I had been with Rick, his friends never looked at me sexually. They always treated me with total respect. So at the time I just thought Arab men were very respectful of women. But when I flew into Kuwait and walked around the airport in my civvies, these Kuwaiti men were staring at me. I couple of them followed me around. I was horrified.

“You’re not allowed to do this!” I wanted to tell them. “It’s against your religion. You’re supposed to be respectful!”

That’s when it hit me. Rick’s friends’ respectful and polite attitude toward me had nothing to do with their culture or religion. If had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with Rick. They were being respectful of him – not me. They were showing him respect by showing respect for his possession. Me.

But my having known Rick did help me in Iraq. For one thing I never told locals that I learned Arabic because I was Military Intelligence…

I said: ”Because my boyfriend is Palestinian.” (This had the added benefit of making me “taken”, and it prevented local guys from hitting on me.”…

My language skills and my ability to speak about Rick made things a whole lot easier for me. For the most part, locals treated me well.

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3 thoughts on “Rick and I

  1. proofinwords says:

    I find your blog very interesting. I am Australian and my best friend of 30 years married an Iraqi and now we are not friends, very sad but the clash of cultures just made it difficult.

    • Otrazhenie says:

      Glad that you like my blog. Sad to hear that you lost a friend because of the ‘clash in culturs’. My best friend – a lovely Jewish lady – has been in a relationship with a young Muslim man from Palestine for over 15 years. It took her family a year to recognise their relationship. Then they invited him to a Christmas dinner in their house and accepted him in their family. They never had any major ‘clashes of cultures’ and she was always treated well by his family and friends. There is only one ‘disagreement’ that they are still trying to resolve. My friend is not religous – she respects different religions, but does not want her children to be ‘forced’ into accepting any religion until they are old enough to understand it and make their own free choice. Her partner, however, as all their Muslim friends, believes that their children should be Muslims from the start. As they never managed to get that disagreement resolved, they still have no children and that makes my friend very sad. 😦

  2. Naomikko says:

    this story is so interesting…the moment when he says:”i’m married” it shocked me.How? i mean…wow.Marriages are not suposed to be like that. We’re hidding back to that biiiiiiig BUT that u mentioned before…i just can’t understand. His family said”ok u can go to the States and have a long relatonship with whoever and maybe even fall in love with but after a few years u came back and get married with someone that u don’t know, don’t love… ” this is not a real religion neither a real marriage. God or Allah or whatever they call him would never approve that…it’s just insane. This parents are destroying his life and other people lifes…i’m glad that Kayla had the strengh to learn someting good from this experience.. but it’s just crazy to know that there are people outside that pretend to be something and they’re actualy…i don;t even know how to call them… i just don’t..and your friend that has been in a relationship for over 15 years…she may love him, he may love her but to be onest i don’t think she’s happy..i’m not saying that a relationship between 2 different religious cultures is impossible, it;s just that when u stop doing what u want, or u stop making your dreams came true just because that other person doesn’t want it the way u want it…u’re not happy.U just can’t be happy…and is sad.

    We should fight for our beliefs and rights and dreams…

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