Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

Rock Star Parking

Ya’ll know that a lot of this blog is about cross-cultural experiences, but this one is cross-cultural in our own family.

You know, every family, every tribe of us, has its own rituals and ways of doing things, and even when you marry someone you think you know very very well, you are in for some surprises.

One of the surprises in our marriage was that my husband thought I was supposed to fill the gas tank. Hello? Fill the gas tank? That’s MENS stuff, don’t you know? We had some tense moments in our first couple months of marriage working that one out, especially when I would leave him with nearly empty gas tank. My husband was rightfully flummoxed by my ability to be both a feminist and a princess, thinking that filling the tank and fixing car problems was HIS work. I learned *huge sigh* to watch the level of gas, to fill the tank, and to take the car in for services. *another big sigh*

But one thing that drove my husband right up the wall was my thing about parking close to the door. Well, I will give him this, he did not grow up in Alaska or in Seattle, he doesn’t know about freezing cold winds and mounds of snow and driving rain and winds that turn umbrellas inside out. My husband didn’t know that husbands, like daddies, are supposed to find the perfect spot as close to the entry as possible, every single time, or to drop us off and meet us inside. No, given I was a feminist, he expected to just take any old spot and I would just walk with him to wherever we would go. We never got that one worked out.

Not until a couple years ago. I learned that my mistake was all in trying to explain the irrationality of family culture. I learned that it was all about marketing, about positioning, something that normally I am very sensitive to and very good at doing. I was hopelessly blind in my approach and hopelessly single tracked.

It all changed when we were taking a new employee on a sight seeing tour of Kuwait. When we got to the grocery store, suddenly a spot opened up right in front of the store.

“Wooooo Hoooooo!” hooted the new guy, “ROCK STAR PARKING!”

I could see my husband straighten up and preen a little as he thought of himself as a person who got “rock star parking.” The light went on. Once he started thinking of himself as a “rock star parking” kind of guy, I never had to walk a long distance to the entry again.



September 20, 2007 Posted by | Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Humor, Marriage, Relationships, Women's Issues | 13 Comments

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Once I picked up Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, I barely put it down again until I was finished. I found myself thoroughly involved in the lives of Mariam and Leila, unwilling even to stop to fix dinner! The author of Kiterunner has hit another home run.


There was a time when we would listen to older state department types talk – with enormous longing – about their tours of duty in Afghanistan, pre-Soviet invasion, pre-Taliban, pre-American occupation. Have you ever read James Michener’s Caravan? There are two countries I long to vist, but the countries they are now are not the countries I heard people talk about – Afghanistan and Ethiopia. Our friends loved their times in these two countries.

A Thousand Splendid Suns opens in a small village outside Herat, and then takes us to Kabul. Mariam is born harami, a bastard, of a village cleaning woman in the house of a very wealthy man. Her father builds a small hut for her mother and herself in a remote part of the small village, and visits Mariam every week. Life is simple, and difficult, but also full of kind people who visit and who are concerned with Mariam’s welfare.

After marrying, Mariam goes to Kabul and learns a new way of life with her husband, Rasheed. What fascinates me with Hosseini is that while Rashid is one of the villians of this novel, he is just a man, doing the best he can given his own upbringing and limitations. In a sense, he is “everyman”, the strutting, domineering, sometimes brutal and abusive husband we find in every culture. But Hosseini also gives him transient bouts of kindness which blow through a little less often than the transient bouts of cruelty.

He also gives us good men, in this book, in the person of Jalil, the father of Mariam, who steps up to the plate in acknowledging Mariam and supporting her and her mother, but fails to nurture in the very real way women need nurturing from their fathers in order to reach their full potential in life. Hosseini also gives us a very strong man in the book, Tariq, who, although he has only one leg, is more wholly a man than any other man in the book. I imagine that this is not unintentional. (How Kissingerian is that for a double negative?!)

Written almost entirely in the Afghan world of women, we see through the eyes of Mariam, and later Leila, the transitions in Afghanistan and their impacts on daily life. We experience happiness with them, and peaceful scenes in quiet moments, raising the children, stepping outside into the garden at night to share a cup of tea and a shared bowl of halwa.

Between the moments of peacefulness, we also experience incoming morter rounds, explosions, marauding bands of warlords, and starvation. We go into a women’s hospital under Taliban control, where there are no medications, no running water, no instruments, and an Afghani female doctor does a C-section with no anaesthesia and is required to keep her burqa on. We watch a mother abandon her role and take to her bed when her two sons are killed fighting the Soviets, we experience betrayal and we experience helplessness, and we experience a Kabul women’s prison. A Thousand Splendid Suns is a rich feast of experiences, juxtaposing the everyday chores of women around the world – cooking, raising children, laundry – with events on the world stage.

(Available from Amazon for $14.27 plus shipping.)

September 20, 2007 Posted by | Adventure, Books, Bureaucracy, Community, Cross Cultural, Family Issues, Fiction, Friends & Friendship, Living Conditions, Marriage, Poetry/Literature, Political Issues, Relationships, Social Issues, Women's Issues | 21 Comments