After my last post about the control issues here I continue to experience the ‘flow’ of dynamics. When my husband came back from the field his mother told him that I had come running down the stairs when I heard the cow and that she had stayed with me while I was there. Omar understood immediately what she was doing and told her that it was my cow and I had every right to be there. It was her own jealousy that made her sit and watch me and what did she think I was going to do anyway? Carry my cow over the wall and run away with it? She kept her mouth shut throughout, but everyone was there and heard him. One of her other sons, one I like, also said that I had paid for the cow and that if I wanted to take a knife to her and eat her then it was my business. I was upstairs and hadn’t heard a word of this, but I could hear Omar shouting downstairs. When he came up and told me I explained how I had felt and how I continue to feel here.
Because Mother knows that Omar always supports me she plays a different game, as does his elder brother who is always in cahoots with her. In this culture the older brother is the boss, he makes the decisions for the whole household, taking the role over from his elderly father. This is also the system in Pakistan and seems to be a particularly Islamic cultural tradition. Although in this case the brother isn’t the eldest, he is the next eldest and takes it upon himself to tell everyone else what to do, even if he does it badly and makes selfish, and often foolish, decisions. A manager he is not!
The dynamic never changes; mother tries to dominate and control me, thinking that her son will support her, but when he doesn’t she pretends to really like me telling him that my shoes are better than all of the women here. I know she doesn’t believe a word but she needs him to ‘stay’ within the family system of control so she does whatever has worked in the past. Then, for the days afterwards, she and other family members try to ‘pull him back’ into being dependent on them, inviting him to eat downstairs with them. He only ever eats with me and they know that, but it is their way of ‘capturing’ him again and putting him back in his ‘rightful’ place. Any attempt at independence is curtailed at all costs. Then they will subtly suggest that my actions make everyone sad. For example our gas ran out and we had to wait a week to get another gas bottle from Aswan. We have a little emergency hot plate, which I bought for this purpose, but Mother told Omar that his brother’s wife was sad with me because I did not use her cooker to cook on! I do not like unhealthy dependence in any shape; and they also know that I manage my life perfectly well, without depending on them for anything. Their lives are chaotic. Why would I depend on them? But they want us to be dependent on them so that they feel secure! It doesn’t matter if we feel disempowered so long as they feel OK.
To make matters worse we sold our ram yesterday a the souk, because we want to buy another female. We had originally bought this ram from the Elder brother when he needed the money but he didn’t want the sheep to ‘go outside’ of the house. Usually he takes control of everything here but Omar wanted to sell it himself and said as much to his brother. As a result his brother was angry and yelling at everyone all morning. We sold the ram and Omar built a feeding trough for the cow and the brother was still angry. Omar felt so uncomfortable that he left the house to go to the field when I left to visit my friend as he didn’t want to be at home! That is most unlike him as he usually has a very thick skin! But this time his family’s behaviour got to him.
The family cannot handle anyone being independent of them and will do anything to bring an ‘errant’ family member back into line. But its not just me she has a problem with, it is all of the wives, bar one. On the same day as the cow incident, one of the wives had an argument with her husband and was leaving to go her parents. Mother starting shouting for Omar, who thought something terrible had happened, only to hear his mother tell him to stop the wife from leaving. Omar went ballistic and shouted at her to mind her own business. It was his brother’s and his wife’s problem and nothing to do with his Mother or anyone else for that matter.
The system here is that when a wife marries and moves to her husband’s home she is then under the control of the Mother-in-law. If Mother doesn’t like the wife she will complain about her endlessly to the son who then starts to treat his wife badly! This goes on until the mother dies. It is as if the mother is taking unconscious revenge on the ‘new’ wives, paying them back for her own mistreatment at the hands of her mother-in-law. In our house Omar’s dad, who is lovely, but senile, left his family home when his father died and created his own home, so Mother was in complete control; she didn’t have to deal with her Mother-in-law’s behaviour for long. But she still continues to control and manipulate the other women’s lives because she can!
The petty jealousies and envy here are often hard to tolerate. No matter what is given it is never enough and they ‘covet’ what other people have all the time. A couple of days ago we bought Dad a chicken from the local chicken seller as Dad decided he would rather eat meat than go to Mecca! Knowing how Mother gets jealous of anything anyone else has we thought we would give her some too, to keep her quiet. As soon as Omar brought the chicken home her first question was ‘where’s my part?’. Omar immediately replied that we had already thought to give her some before we even bought the bird! She apologised and said she was only joking! Of course she was. After killing the chicken she then decided she had to go to visit someone’s family whose father had just died, telling Omar that ‘Ann will have to pluck and clean the chicken herself. I have to go now’. She didn’t have to go, she was just jealous and trying to ‘get me back’ for not buying her a chicken! There is nothing like revenge in this culture! But, Omar did the cleaning as we still gave her some. Personally I know that giving in to these tactics mean that they never learn or never respect your boundaries, but try telling that to her son who has seen them struggle for food his whole life!
There are comments made about everything we give to anyone else and she watches everyone like a hawk and then puts on the ‘act’ that says ‘everyone else is getting something but not me,’ no matter how much we give her. What we paid for the chicken, we had paid her to get her rotten tooth extracted in the dentist the night before! She had been in agony for days, refusing to go to the Dentist but Omar gave her no choice! This jealousy is so boring now and it takes all the pleasure out of doing something loving for someone else. The older brother’s wife is exactly the same, plays the guilt trips to get us to pay for her needs when it is her husbands job really. We usually step in when it is something big they need and which I know they cannot afford. We sacrifice our needs for a time so that they are looked after. But there are limits and I try to make sure they are kept…even if it makes us unpopular! We are not rich!
I think in many ways, you have to develop a very thick skin, which I haven’t yet, in order not to care about other people’s games and manipulations. It sure isn’t easy and I often find my self feeling rather hopeless, especially when I have given most of our money away to them and they still demand more, making us responsible for their happiness. If I lived by myself it would be lot easier but my husband reminds me of myself about 15 years ago. Over-extending himself, giving everything away to care for his family and generally not even thinking of his own welfare. There is nothing worse than living with your younger self; but I do understand him as a result, even if it frustrating!