I’m just watching an American series called Texas Ranch House. It’s one of those programs where they put modern people into an old world setting and then film them for a year. I have always had fantasies about living on a Texan ranch, I have no idea why, but it is possibly a past life desire! Obviously my subconscious is remembering the good memories of that possible lifetime, because watching this series feels very much like watching my life here in Luxor and that ain’t no fun!
Its not so much the way they live as the way the roles of men and women change, the more time they spend in the ranch. There is the ‘rich’ family, with their one female helper/servant, and then you have the cowboys and their cook living some way away from the main house.
Somehow, as they progress through the dynamics of life on an 1867 ranch the men seem to take control of everything and the women get pushed further and further into the house. I’ve only watched the first two episodes but already I am recognising the same dynamics as I experience here. The Ranch House mother summed it up for me. She was the driving force behind getting her family to do this project, but slowly she experiences that ‘position’ slowly ebbing away. “I was the driving force to get us here but I felt like I disappeared. I’m kind of doing the backbone job, I’m holding it up, getting it ready, making it move forward but, its so not about me, so you have to trust those around you…well you have to recognise that.”
Sucks to that! That is how I feel here. I wasn’t aware that women have no power, no input, and no value here, other than to take care of the men. What makes it worse is that the men are so inept! They are chaotic, they have no boundaries and absolutely no common sense whatsoever and yet, as a woman I am expected to trust them.
For me, being the main financial backbone is completely disempowering. I feel like Rapunzel, kept in a tower by the wicked witch (no guesses as to who that is) and I am visited by my ‘prince’ who uses my hair/love to climb to me. But of course the wicked witch cannot know that the prince loves me, it has to be kept secret, or rather, in our case, his role is take care of her and the family of brothers and their wives. If he starts to pull away from her and his caretaking role of protector to be in relationship with me then she does everything in her power to bring him back to her. I am constantly reminded that I have no place or power here and my job is just to provide for them. Everything is fine so long as I am here in my tower/flat and do not interfere with how they do things here.
Just like the woman in the Ranch series I feel like I have disappeared. I have to be here to ‘take care’ of everyone’s needs and as soon as I try stepping back into my power and focus on my own needs and goals then I too am pulled back into focussing only on husband and family. It’s nearly like a survival tactic on their part. If I focus on my own life then somehow I won’t be focussing on theirs and to them their survival is more important than mine.
I see this happening to many Egyptian/foreign marriages. The Foreign women are there to provide security and financial wealth to the families they have married into. Instead of marrying a husband they have married an entire family and that family is very large with lots of ‘needs’. If you stay with the husband and his family then you are just the finance and you have no real relationship with our husband. You become a wife, but not a wife in the way we in the West see it, no…you are just the provider and support, nothing more. Your husband may well love you dearly but could he live with you somewhere else and just focus on your relationship as we do in the West? Would he be able to build a life as a couple, without having to take care of dozens of other people too? I don’t know. I’ve not seen it here!
The problem with being the financial backbone is that they do not recognise that European money does not grow on trees. They will manipulate and emotionally blackmail you in order to get their needs met, but your struggle is not recognised at all. The fact that you have given them every penny and are left with nothing for yourself is not their problem. They don’t really care. They care about the men’s health and welfare, but if my husband was not here with me would they care about my needs after they have bled me dry? Somehow I’m not so sure. I have seen other foreign women, married to Egyptian men, who have been fleeced and left destitute. The husbands and their families took what they wanted and dumped her, leaving her with nothing.
Thankfully my husband does care enough about me and I am careful enough to know how this works so I keep myself safe. I haven’t given up my whole life in order to be here, but I have left behind people I love. I know I have someplace to go to, so if everything went wrong I know I would be OK! The same cannot be said for other foreign wives however, who may have nothing to go back to; having spent their life savings to be with a husband who swore he loved them but really just wanted her money…or body…or both!
Anyway, back to the ranch. I was speaking with one of my daughters on skype recently about a woman she saw on ‘Oprah’ who became a multi-millionaire by writing a book, and who subsequently lost it all to a man who swore he loved her! This woman had altruistic motives in being rich. She wanted to use her money to help people just as someone had once helped her. However, she found that people, instead of being just being grateful and using the money to help themselves began to expect her to give them money! She felt drained, recognised what was happening and stopped giving her money away. She was surprised at how this had happened, but I experience the same thing here. It reminds me of the scene in the Jesus movies when Jesus goes into the leper colony and all the lepers mob him trying to get him to heal them! They took what they wanted without thinking of him, not caring if he was damaged in the first place.
Because people do not have any boundaries here it is very difficult to set them. Nobody wants to acknowledge them and will actively break them until they get back to their comfort zone, even if that means hurting you. You are not allowed to say no, or to refuse what they give you. If you do you are upsetting the apple cart and they do not like it at all. If you step out of your assigned role they will do everything in their power to put you back in it. They have a system here, if they borrow something from you (and they borrow things all the time!) they then will pay you back by giving you some of their food. ‘How lovely’, you think…initially! Over time however, you realise that you cannot say no without the entire house being up in arms. You are now obliged to both lend them stuff or give them what they want…because after all they give you food in repayment! The whole system here is based on obligations.
We tried it before, refusing, nicely, their food and bread etc. because I was tired of handing things out the door every time someone was too lazy to go to the shop, which is a minute’s walk from our house! It became a huge battle and this battle was waged everyday. I was no longer flavour of the month, mother killed my duck out of spite and jealousy and my life was made miserable. I gave in. I wasn’t strong enough…yet…to deal with the fallout of stepping outside the ‘box’. And perhaps too I had not yet healed enough my own childhood guilt about being from the rich family while other people around me were not so ‘privileged’? I also did not have enough experience about what actually happens when I step outside the box! Now I know what will happen but now too I am more prepared. If I am ‘sent to Coventry’ then so be it. I have no ducks or chickens or rabbits. They disappeared downstairs…like everything else. At least I can live a life I actually want…and can enjoy, and will be free to write, to weave, to live in the way that is me!
I often feel like a small plant trying to grow through the cracks of a concrete path. I send my little shoots up only to get squashed back by the footfall of a passerby. But I keep trying to grow. I think that maybe I’m tired of it now and I need to send my shoots out to find another crack to grow through, one where there are fewer people to step on me and squash my tentative growth.
Now I’m going to watch the rest of the Texan Ranch house to see how the ‘helper’ girl becomes a cowgirl despite all the men freezing her out! I might learn a thing or two!