Breaking the Barriers for Love
By Martin Jer (Breaking Barriers)
It is said that love has no boundaries, no frontiers. That the borders of a country cannot stop love, nor the vast expanse of the oceans. However, even though borders and oceans may not stop love, there are some societies that will try to prevent it between two people. They don’t think of it as a couple coming together to make each other happy. They think you should only be together if you are of the same nationality, race, or religion.
My wife and I met in such a society, and are indeed from different nationalities, race, and religion. Luckily we have broken our way through the barriers presented to us. While it is a journey that can tear you apart, it is also a journey that will cement you together if you come out the other side. Luckily, we came out the other side, intact and unbroken…..
We hail not only from different countries, but also different continents, different cultures, and different religions. While I was born and raised in Ireland as a Catholic, Misha is a Lebanese Muslim raised in Saudi Arabia. Neither of us ever expected to be with someone who is so different to us. Neither did our families! But sometimes the more different you are, the more you have to learn about each other. And the more fun you can have showing the other person who you really are.
Our story is relatively new, but we have come a long way in a short space of time. We still have many things to learn about each other, but we have gotten over the initial and hardest hurdles presented in front of us so far. And we know we will get over anything else thrown down.
When we first met I don’t think either of us expected anything to develop out of it. Neither of us was looking for someone in particular to settle down with. We were quite happy with a friendship. We were both interested in travel, so we had a lot to talk about. We agreed to start traveling together as we were both solo travelers and its nicer to share the experiences with someone. However, as our conversations and plans developed, so did our feelings towards each other.
We started seeing each other more often. We quickly realized that even with our differences, we wanted to be together. We would have to find a way to battle through the obstacles that were in our place. Not only to maintain our relationship, but to ensure it lasted long into the future. The first step? Meeting the parents…..
Meeting the Parents
Of course meeting both our sets of parents for the first time was nerve racking for both of us. And them! When I brought Misha home for the first time I think my parents expected her to be all covered up, shy and quiet, and be running into the corner every half hour to pray. They didn’t expect her to come into the room in a whirlwind and blow them all away like she did! In fact the main problem I had was dragging her out of the door when it was time for us to go to the airport to catch our flight back!
On the other hand, I imagine her parents expecting me to walk into their house wearing a crucifix, with a can of beer in one hand and a pork sandwich in the other. Instead I bought some new clothes especially for the occasion and polished up on my Arabic greetings. It was a totally new experience for me and I didn’t know what to expect. I certainly didn’t expect to be made feel as welcome as I was. I also didn’t expect to be told to make sure and visit often to see them. I should have, but society and stereotyping had blurred my vision over the years.
We have never had any negative remarks from either set of our friends over our relationship. In fact, all of our friends and family find it exciting and interesting. Having somebody in the circle who is from a totally different upbringing leads to endless topics of conversation. My friends love hearing her opinion on topics that could otherwise be seen as sensitive to speak about with someone of her background. Her friends on the other hand have been very accepting of me and made me feel very welcome to their group.
In reality I think for both of us it made us realize that even with all the differences, the two sets of friends are very alike to each other. Mine maybe more sarcastic to each other whereas hers would not be used to firing insults jokingly across the table all the time. But that’s an Irish thing and gradually she’s getting used to it. She’s even joining in now! Of course it took us by surprise the first time she did it as we weren’t expecting it and there were a lot of open mouths! But quickly the stares turned to smiles and developed into full scale laughter.
The Language Barrier
My only problem in reality is my lack of Arabic. A lot of her extended family doesn’t speak English. However, I am trying to learn. Bit by bit I can gather what conversations are about when everybody talks. They translate for me often but I would prefer to know myself what the topic is about as I feel like a hindrance otherwise. Misha is fluent in English and surprisingly has no problem with the Irish accent so my job is made easier in Ireland!
Differences in Cuisine
One of the main differences we have is in the foods we eat. Whereas I grew up with potatoes as a staple to the diet, Misha had rice. Even now sometimes dinner comes on the table and I need a thorough detailed explanation of what’s involved before I eat it. This goes hand in hand with an in-depth analysis while using my knife and fork to dissect and examine it. I will try everything once, but those sheep’s testicles and brain that are in the fridge are something that I refuse to eat! No matter how they are cooked!
But the wheel turns both ways. Irish cuisine has a lot of meals involving pork. That is something that Misha won’t have. I will never force her to eat it, and she will never force me to eat something I don’t want. We respect each other greatly that way. Even though we know whatever we eat won’t kill us we do look out for each other. If I think something may contain an ingredient she won’t eat, I will tell her beforehand. Then it’s up to her if she wants to eat it or not.
Religious Times of the Year
The other factor to consider regarding food and drink is of course during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. This is where Muslims fast for a month for the daylight hours and only eat and drink after sunset. It’s a big deal for them and it’s something that I always try to support Misha in. While she is fasting I am sure to not eat or drink anything in front of her. I do tease her about some things as she does for me, but for this I don’t as I know how important it is to her. There are some boundaries we both won’t cross with each other.
During this month Muslims sleeping patterns usually change as they are awake a lot of the night eating. So while I am wide awake in the day she is more lethargic and tired. Then when I am trying to sleep in the night she is buzzing around the place doing nice quiet household tasks like vacuuming, using the tumble dryer, washing machine, and dishwasher. But I don’t mind. It’s only for one month and it means a lot to her.
The favor is always returned though. When it’s Christmas time she gets very involved and makes sure to make the place as festive as possible. Buying presents for the family before I have even thought about it! Thinking about meals she can cook my family when we’re home for Christmas. Small things to her, but they mean the world to me.
Our Music Tastes
The only side of the culture scene that we find it hard to agree on is the difference in music. Now I am not into Irish traditional music. I’m more of a death metal guy. While I can tolerate some other forms of music in small doses; my eardrums are definitely not designed for Middle Eastern music! Misha plays it sometimes in the car or house and it’s like an invasion of little screeching aliens in my skull! (I constantly tell her how it sounds like Bollywood music just to annoy her even though it’s nothing of the sort. But it’s nice to see how worked up and defensive she gets over it).
For her, my head banging, throat singing, Viking dressing idols are not exactly the soothing or melodic harmonies she likes to hear. Especially when sitting in my car when the radio automatically links to my phone through Bluetooth…at top volume! In fact, I think its something that no-one in the vicinity of the city wants to hear! Hence, we reach a compromise, and don’t listen to anything! Instead we talk. We have conversations about anything and everything. Our upcoming travels, things to do, hobbies we can take up, whatever comes to our mind. Sometimes it’s better to have no distractions so you can talk to each other. At the end of the day it’s what made you both interested in one another.
Showing Each Other our Countries
Being from different countries, when we visit them we love showing each other around. Whether it’s the country itself, or the places we remember from our childhood, to show somebody your own country and see their reaction makes you love it even more.
I never knew the true beauty of my own homeland until I saw Misha’s joy at being there for the first time. While I was getting annoyed that it was raining so much, she was standing out in it with her arms outstretched loving it!
Her amazement at seeing greenery everywhere, watching her sitting on the rocks by the shore lost in the sound of the waves crashing below her. It was a feeling I would never have felt if she had been from the same country.
My first time in Lebanon we toured around to see sights that are famous to the country. I could see Misha was excited to see my reactions to the history and the culture of Lebanon. To see that someone foreign to the place realized how important the country was from a historical point of view. My amazement at the Roman ruins and walking down a street where Roman Generals had walked 2,000 years ago was a thrill for her.
Fitting into the Social Scene
She also fitted perfectly into the Irish social scene. Me being from a rural area, with not a large population, where everybody knows everybody else, everyone in the local pub was intrigued by meeting someone from Lebanon. In rural Ireland a lot of people would only know Lebanon from the coverage on the news during the civil wars there.
The Irish army is currently one of the forces doing peacekeeping in the Golan Heights so again this area features a lot on the Irish news. But to actually meet someone from there was something new to a lot of people. She gathered quite the audience telling tales of being there during the war. People loved hearing the stories of how Lebanon is now and not how people think it is.
The culture differences are surprisingly not that obvious. Maybe it helps that Beirut had for years been considered the Paris of the Middle East. It’s a very open society and after the civil war people learned to accept their differences and move on with their lives in harmony together.
However getting engaged was a nerve racking moment for me! Due to trying my best to fit in I decided to do what anyone would do when asking for a Muslim girl’s hand in marriage. By that I had to go to her father and ask him for his permission. It’s something that happened all over the world a few generations ago but has since died out in other cultures. However in the Middle East it still stands. I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous! Was I ever relieved when her father told me he’d be honoured to have me in the family! However in the excitement he had forgotten to ask Misha if she wanted to marry me as is the tradition so we had to do it a second time. This time I already had a practice run so I wasn’t as nervous.
But with all that done, we could relax a little and start to plan our future together in earnest.
Our Present, and Our Future
How has that worked out for us so far? Well, we have lots of debates between ourselves, over religious beliefs, cultural beliefs, everything. But it’s just that, a debate. It’s not trying to convince the other one that what you believe is right. It’s more a way of learning about why the other person believes such a thing, where the belief originated from, and what they take from it. We can discuss anything together, and it never leads to an argument or war of words.
We wish that this was the way all over the world, that people would accept everybody else’s differences and beliefs and move on. Not to try to change people, to just accept them. Thanks to our families and friends accepting who each of us is, we have been able to do that. We have been able to remain together, plan to grow old together, and share our lives with each other. Hopefully we can share our story with people for many years to come, in the hope that it can be an inspiration to others of what is truly meant by unity and acceptance of all individuals.
Have you ever dated someone from another culture, another country? What were some of the differences? Please share your comments below!