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Posted by dshalabi in 20. Dec, 2012, under society, people, and life in Amman
When I met Um Ahmad for the first time, I really didn’t know that I was about to be sent on a journey of self discovery for myself, my temper, my tolerance, and my expanding list of pet peeves.
I have to clarify here that Um Ahmad in fact was a friendly old woman, in fact the minute she saw me, she oddly asked me to sit in front of her so that she can understand my face, whatever that meant. When I heard that request I found it rather odd, but it was still too early in the morning for me to argue. I thought to myself “Whatever? I am not going to discuss such an issue with someone years older than me”, so obediently, I sat in front of her and she examined me only to say that I looked “nice”.
I know what you are thinking while reading this, you are thinking that she probably wanted to see if I am the right face for an eligible bachelor, so let me put your mind at ease right here and right now and tell you that that’s not it. She just wanted to see how pretty I look or don’t look as a means of personal validation, and the next sentence she told me proves my point.
You see after Um Ahmad diligently checked out my weight, my high, and my eye color, and hair color she went on for no reason, what so ever, to tell me that everyone thinks she is at least 10 years younger than her age and that she doesn’t understand why people lie about their age. At that point, I didn’t get if she was trying to say that I am lying about my age, which I never do, or if she was trying to prove she is just as young as me in spirit.
Again, I thought to myself that I am just going to tell Um Ahmad whatever she wants to hear so I said “Aunty you do look younger than your age, I only know how old you are because you told me the age of your kids and I did the math”, although knowing me, the math is something I would never successfully do.
To put things more into perspective, that day I met Um Ahmad by chance, through a mutual friend, and I happened to be in the same car as her because we were driving together to a joint destination with a few other people.
Seeing that it was going to be long drive, I opted to cut conversations short. I just knew that the possibility of us arguing was more probable than not, especially since she went on to tell me that the coffee I was drinking was not healthy, a fact I all ready know and I am fine with, simply because the world is better off with me drinking my coffee in the morning. Oddly enough she told me how bad coffee is for the health while lighting a cigarette, and at that point I couldn’t help but ask myself which is worse for the health the coffee or the smoking?
Unfortunately, silence was not an option with her. A few minutes later into the journey, she went on to tell me, how she only likes documentaries, classical movies, and things with meaning, oddly enough linking this preference with movies like “Meet Joe Black”, “Forest Gumb”, and “The Terminal” as her choices of classic film.
At this point, I have to say that I am not for the all pretentious type , nor am I one of those people who believes that everything in life has to have a higher cosmic purpose. Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t have judged her on her choice of film whatever it may have been and I personally love the movies she had spoken about. After all, I don’t claim to be the most educated and cultured person on the planet, and like all people, I enjoy good taste in books, films, and whatever else, but I am also all for the pointless silly songs, films, jokes, and other attributes that make life interesting.
So, I nodded and told her that those were great movies, which they are in my opinion, but I would hardly call them non-commercial films.
As we left Amman, Um Ahmad seemed to get bored so in her attempt to make conversation she asked me what I studied. I told her that I had studied English and Comparative Literature. She then went on to tell me in response to that, that no school in the Middle East teaches literature properly and that I should read the classics.
I smiled to myself while wondering, what was it exactly about my look that gave off the impression that I was a bimbo, or that I didn’t read the classics, was it the blonde hair that made her believe that I was a dumb blond?
Is she assuming that I am faking my field of study too?. With these questions in my head I calmly said “I did read the classics Aunty” but this response wasn’t convincing enough for her. She replied “But universities these days only make you read the summary not the real thing. “.I replied “No I actually read the………….” and then I paused for a minute and thought to myself , why should I care what this lady’s opinion is. She obviously is someone who seems to enjoy being the most cultured, well read, and well aware person in the room, the car, the house, or anywhere else she happens to be in. It seems like she can only achieve this goal by putting others down, so let her be.
She didn’t really care if I read anything or not. She just wanted to prove that she knew better than me. So, I consciously decided to give her her moment of fame and said “Yes Aunty, you are probably right” while smiling on the outside and bubbling with anger on the inside.
I really wanted to tell her that I read Latin literature in their original size and form, medieval literature in medieval English, and that the university I went to didn’t make us read the summarized version of anything. I also wanted to tell her that for some classes we had to literally sleep in the library , and that I know what I was talking about when I say I studied literature, but then I figured that by doing so, I would be just as annoying as she is. I figured, who on this planet cares if I or this lady read anything be it a newspaper, a classical 1000 page novel, the encyclopedia, the dictionary, the Holy Quran, the Bible, or the nutritional facts on the side of a cereal box?
It is not like we should go through life telling everyone we meet what we know and what we read. We are not required to list our certificates and life achievements to the random stranger. In fact, doing so would make us seem like pathetic people who flaunt knowledge because our real personalities contain nothing of real value to share. After all, we only learn to develop ourselves and certainly not for the sake of listing what we know to some random stranger on the bus , who is only interested in a “who knows more” contest.
While thinking in that direction, Um Ahmad interrupted my thoughts again and said, “Your generation sweetie only cares about TV, and not even documentaries but rather silly shows, because moms don’t take the time to educate their kids.”
I nodded in agreement while looking at my watch to see how long I had to put up with her. “ My kids were brought up to appreciate the finer things in life. My son doesn’t smoke, or drink, or do anything wrong because I made sure I did my role as a mother “ she said as she lit another cigarette .
At that point, I thought to myself “Does this lady seriously think we come from broken homes , where our mothers’ were bad at what they did, are we all shallow people who don’t appreciate the finer things in life , or is her son the only person on this planet who is well raised ?” I really wanted to ask her these questions, but I let her be. Instead, I calmly replied “Aunty you are right, your son is lucky to have an educated and aware mother like you”
I simply decided then and there to practice my right to remain silent, not out of weakness, but out of the need to save myself the headache.
So, for the rest of the ride, I listened to Um Ahmad talk about how her best friend is an Israeli and how some Israelis are so considerate and even better than the Arabs, and I also listened to her talk about how she prepares the best food, and how everyone begs her to cook for them. I listened to her endless talks about how the people of today have no taste in music, and I listened to her speak about how she was preparing her autobiography, since obviously her life lessons are so important that we should all read and learn from her. I listened , and I listened , and listened nodding my head and smiling at everything she said.
Whenever I did allow my thoughts to drift to more pleasant factors in life, I glanced out the window, and for a few seconds I even forgot she was talking.
That sense of relief never lasted more than a few seconds, because she would notice I was not listening , and would instantly seek to gain my attention by either patting me on the shoulder, grabbing my hand, or clutching my arm to turn my head to face her again.
In fact, it was on that day that I even discovered something new about myself. I was not sure if it was just her or a general trait in me, but I realized then that I can’t stand women touching me, or calling me 7abeebtee (My love). To add to her “pleasant” traits Um Ahmad was in the most platonic of ways a touchy feely woman and it was aggravating, suffocating, and annoying. I was about to scream on more than one occasion, “Don’t touch me.”, but then I figured that doing so will grant me a reputation as a homophobic or freak.
No one will understand that although our culture seems to be ok with women holding other women’s hands, women walking arm in arm, and women even pecking each other on the cheek, and men doing the same, it was so not ok with me and that is just me.
I swallowed that interesting trait too, but I did wonder about our right to remain silent. I wondered how many people this woman annoyed in her life, and more importantly, how many people in our society just go around making assumptions, telling lies, and pretending they are something they are not, just because people like me decide not to fight them .To that effect, I wasn’t even sure if I had done the right thing in keeping my opinions to myself that day, but at least I had saved my ability to argue for people who are worth the argument.
Maybe that is why we practice our right to remain silent, that, or we are on a two hour ride with someone and we want to hold the peace.
Is it always a good idea to let people be, or is there a time where we have to tell the annoying people to shut up, the fibbers to stop fibbing, the assumers to stop assuming, the fakers to stop faking, and the arrogant to hit reality?
After all, not everyone practicing their right to remain silent is weak, just ask anyone who had been unfortunate enough to argue with me and they would tell you exactly how weak I am…………….. not .
Note
Some facts in this story have been slightly altered and names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. You can call it part fiction inspired by fact.

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