Sunday 24 June 2007

Not Married?

I walk down the street, I interact with the locals, the seirvice drivers, the shop owners, the women while we wait in line for our turn at the checkpoint. During these interactions, small conversations are started. “Where are you from?” I do not lie, I tell them the States. “What are you doing here?” I reply that I am doing a research project for my university. “Oh! What kind of project?” I explain in a few sentences the project without all of the academic garble.

Whether it’s male or female, I can guarantee that a specific question will arise, “Are you married?” I respond, No. “Are you here alone?” I respond yes, doing my research. The male may ask me for coffee, or offer me a ride, which I kindly respond, No thank you.

The women look at me with pitiful eyes, knowing that my “time is coming up” and if I am not “attached” soon, I never will be.

This concept bothered me. No, I am not married therefore I am free. Yes, I am getting older, and yes, men like younger women. Dang. Is it too late? Am I above the timetable? Why is this concept bothering me? I started thinking, well this is the modern age people live together and not get married all of the time. People have children out of wedlock, and it doesn’t seem to bother them? Why, can I not have the “modern” point of view?” What is it that has kept me in a time warp of 20 years ago?

I realized that I am half Arab Lebanese, (Hello?) although 2nd generation American, my father had very Arabic attributes. This must have rubbed off. Honor and dignity were the most important aspects of growing up. Not to defile the family name, no way could we consider our outside actions that would defile our name. Capital rule number one.

Two, meeting the guy you date, not going out after 11pm, not wearing halter-tops in public and never live with a guy. This defiles your dignity, your name, and turns you into a slut. Point blank.

Okay, now I remember. My father died when I was 22, enough time to understand the rules of the home. Being an American in a modern society, this was difficult for me to understand until I came here many years ago and recognized the similar cultural influences in my own life.

From this aspect, I recognize that some of the “traditional” models of the Arab society are written in my genes. Thus, why fight modern thinking and try to blend where I cannot? It is true, and not wrong to feel somewhat of that traditional role, this is a part of my identity and me. Yes, there is some shame in being an “older woman” and not being married. Any takers? (just kidding)

I was sharing this story with a British friend archaeologist and he offered to marry me so I can get an EU passport, thus increasing my “potential” in the working world. Which I will have to enter once I am finished with this thesis. He said that he would do that for a friend, why not lend a helping hand? And added, Why not? Of course, I would have to move to the UK and live with the guy for a while.

Shortly after the typical questions of, "Are you married?" and "How old are you?" Were the brotherly and sisterly helpful hints of unsolicited advice and "trying to make me feel better comments" like:

"It is better to wait for a man that really loves you and someday he will come along. You will know this because he will want you and want to marry you, he will want to help you and give you his hand, he will die for you if there is truly love. Many people die for their loved ones because they don't want to see them hurt. A good man who loves you will not want to let you go. This is love and it is worth waiting for." Or...:

"You must go on with your work and your life, and in that someone will come along, someone that is just right for you! You are attractive and intelligent, you will not have any problem!"

And: "I have a brother that does not have a wife, he is younger, but that may be good for you to have a younger husband. I will make arrangements for you to meet him. Do you want to meet him? He is a nice man, with a good job." (I see that the prospects are many!)

Why do I share this story? Because of this project and the theory behind it, I too am subject to its results and influence. The researcher not only has the outer surface project process, but the results are inner influence, reflective and do affect ones identity, or the recognition thereof.

During this visual ethnographic research project, I should not only make the visual central, but to explore its relations to other senses and discourses. Because ethnography does not present a truthful account of reality and cannot be objective, I chose to entail a participatory method of research that involves partners, through translation of texts, assisting in networking with the participants becoming involved in the process.

It all sounds good, reasonable, and solid along with the academic theories of ethnography and the social sciences. While the participants produce visual images, I produce visual images entering into the same process as they. The process of inter-reflection involves taking a look into my own identity, not only at the surface level but also underneath the surface “that unspoken” aspect of myself.

I am not only involved with the visual but I intertwine with the culture(s). I am outside of my “world” and entered into a different one in the attempt to see what others had to say. I also realize that the images my participants present, may not be a “true” version of reality, but will be jumbled with what is “chosen” as a representative story. My participants too, will have reservations of what to expose of their lives. A good example is that the woman will not take photographs of them inside of their home without the headscarf in Adyah Camp. They consider their home “their private place” and can become modern women inside. On the outside, remaining in the traditional garb is both respectful to themselves and to others; it promotes a sense of dignity in the world around them. This becomes “the unseen reality” that cannot be represented through the visual image.

I must ask myself, why did I choose this type of project of community placement, identity in conflict? I think there are many reasons, and mostly on a personal level. What made me think of this topic to write about? Well, for the past few days I have had cultural experiences that has thrown me into the throngs of self-reflection as in the story above.

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