I’m with my friend Mary at our usual cafe and she’s gushing. She gave me permission to talk about the newest developments in her life. After not seeing each other for about a month, I was getting worried; mostly concerned she somehow went back to her abusive ex. Mary lives on impulse (like many suffering from bipolar disorder) so I was waiting for the worse, hoping for the best.
Sitting down, she tells me that her mother arranged a marriage to a man living in Egypt, Whaleed. I’m gobsmacked. At first, Mary recounts that she hardly remembers Whaleed as one of the neighborhood boys.
“He was the little boy who always teased me that my nose was too big,” she laughs.
The two grew up in their old neighborhood of Alexandria, Egypt on the same street. As puzzling as this sounds to me, born and raised in the U.S., this type of arrangement is typical of the Egyptian community. In one emotional call, Whaleed’s mother in Egypt and Mary’s mother in Maryland, the two tearfully arrange wedding dates and celebrations. Since then, Mary calls her finance ten times a day, whispering “I love you” in Arabic. Every night, she sleeps to the sound of his voice.
The last few months of Mary’s story developed with a bang. Before her engagement, consisting of a dowry and gifts from her husband to-be, she was briefly planning a different wedding to a man 15 years her senior. He was a Christian and managed to weasel his way into her mother’s good graces on his “virtues.” Unbeknownst to Mary and her mother, he was already married with kids of his own. He wanted a one-way ticket to the U.S., a new life and a pretty, young bride at his side.
Mary confides to me the older man lacked emotional depth and his pronouncements of love were starting to wane.
“I felt hopeless,” she says to me, eyes downcast.
Mary’s new engagement is by sheer happenstance. She is a long time friend of Whaleed’s sister. Once Mary proclaimed desire for a husband and talked about her recent failure, Whaleed’s sister went to work setting the two up on Skype dates. They hit it off almost immediately. Whaleed sent the most beautiful poetry in Arabic. Weeks went by and Mary started to slowly forget about Sahib (by the way, I ran into Sahib last week at another cafe. He was alone, drinking a coke and obsessed with his cell phone. It was clear he had gained weight and hadn’t slept for days. We said nothing to each other).
“I am getting my hair and nails done with eyelash extensions and I’m picking out my wedding dress soon,” Mary exclaims.
I am asked to plan her bachelorette party, which will include a gay stripper (don’t ask).
Although I am happy for her, I don’t know what to make of such a shot-gun wedding. It’s not a custom I have familiarity. As her friend, I can only smile and listen when Mary scrolls through pictures of her fiance, take selfies with her, and overhear the two speak Arabic, which I only can imagine is full of love, hope and excitement.
Here’s hoping this type of true love exists and it’s lasting. For now this is the conclusion to Mary’s story. I wish her lots of love and only the best.
Love always, habibi.