Margie moved to the USA from Australia as an exchange-student in nursing. She went because she wanted to see the world and travelled with two other girls. During her time in the States she was introduced to a PhD candidate from Iraq. He finished his studies and left the States to move to Turkey where his parents were living. They kept in contact.
In Margie’s words:
And I went up to Canada, and we kept on corresponding. And then I went to England and we sort of decided that we would get married.
Margie then moved to Ankara where her husband had a post at the university. When the funding that he received from Baghdad dried up, Margie was able to be the provider, as her Australian/American nursing skills were highly regarded in Turkey. She was immediately thrust into work as head nurse on one of the surgical wards and she was forced to very quickly manage working in Turkish. Margie and her husband lived in Turkey for about three years. Then her husband was offered a position in Baghdad:
Somehow we just stayed there. We weren’t going to, but then the children were born…
Love stories across cultures are timeless.
The ways in which new technologies enable these connections has changed love stories in some aspects. I considered writing up ‘Margie’s Big Adventure’ as a story with a twist. This is reflected in the title. Rather than using Margaret as a pseudonym, I initially chose the more contemporary and informal version, Margie. I thought by telling the same story with slight word changes -that the couple had kept ‘in contact’ rather than ‘corresponding’ for example – a reader might assume this was a contemporary story. I am reverting to Margaret from now on, because it seems to be more suitable for the elegant woman I spoke with.
Love stories across cultures are timeless.
The ways in which people experience other aspects of the small stuff of big moves may also be a bit timeless.
Margaret spoke to me about some of the small stuff she encountered when she moved to Turkey. Her husband’s family weren’t very religious and lived under the moderate Islamic government of Turkey. So when she and her husband visited family and friends, they were always offered a glass of liqueur with the coffee. Her husband would refuse this and get away with it. When Margaret refused it people would continue to encourage her to have it, out of courtesy, and Margaret felt that she had no alternative but to drink it, out of courtesy. This situation was very problematic on festive occasions when they would call on many different families in an afternoon. I assume Margaret’s response was influenced by her position as foreigner, new family member, and woman. This was just one of many anecdotes involving food and culture, including stories that may be familiar to anyone who has travelled in the Middle East, about how banking and other business was always carried out over the sharing of refreshments and inquiries into family. However trivial these little elements of societal life may seem when experienced from the role of a tourist, they equalled a long process of learning for Margaret who was taking on this new culture as her life.
Margaret’s life became a little more difficult when she and her husband moved to Baghdad a few years into her marriage. She was a full-time mother at this stage. She found Arabic challenging, and the social requirements of her family role(s) complex, in part because of the language barrier. Linguistic difficulties pervaded most aspects of her life. She shared an anecdote regarding asking a tradesman to help her when a bat became trapped in the house. Not knowing the noun for ‘bat’ in Arabic, she could only say, with descriptively flapping arms to an increasingly startled man, that she had caught a creature that flies in the night and needed help to dispose of it.
Another story involved asking for yeast in a shop, but mispronouncing the Arabic word for yeast, and instead ordering a donkey. An utterance that resulted in everyone in the shop laughing at her. It appeared that this was an often repeated tale, and the incident marked a point in time, after which, Margaret abandoned her efforts to master the language to some degree.
I have no doubt that if I chose to collect this kind of ‘shop story’, many people would have many to share. I certainly have my own versions of them. Margaret thought these stories were
the silly stuff
I disagree. I think these day-to-day hard-work literacy events have enormous repercussions. This incident did for Margaret. And these incidents are how increasing numbers of people experience their day-to-day world.
And, as someone who has lived in Australia, England and the USA, I feel quite qualified to say this day-to-day cross-cultural hard-work occurs even within the ‘same’ language.
you get caught between two cultures after a while.
Margaret illustrated this by discussing eggs. During the Iraq/Iran war, eggs were precious commodities. When Margaret was in Australia during this period, she would enquire whether people had enough eggs and be looked at strangely.
Margaret left Australia in 1956 and returned in 2006, spending fifty years away from her place of birth, raising a family during two wars, and eventually leaving Iraq after her husband was shot while out on an errand. She has three children who now live in Australia. At an early stage in our conversation Margaret said that she didn’t believe her children experienced this sense of being caught between cultures. They accepted the life that they grew up with, aided by the natural flow of their bilingualism. At the end of our conversation she revisited her initial statements about her children, commenting:
They never integrated, I don’t think, into the full culture because of me. I mean, because I would have open house on Easter – it was morning tea, nothing to do with the men. At Christmas time I would always have Christmas dinner and invite everybody (…) Most of the local (adults) we invited knew English, because of the university I guess, they were all bilingual (…)
But when they (the children) were with their Iraqi friends, they would always know what to do and what not to do. Because if my son bought his friends to the house, he didn’t like them to see his sisters, and the sisters would know that their brother had his friends and they would keep out of it.
I spoke briefly with one of Margaret’s daughters. She said that when she was a child in Iraq, the other girls would play with her at school, but wouldn’t invite her to their homes because Margaret was a foreigner. Now an adult with school-age children, and married to a fellow Iraqi engineer, she is bringing up her family, Margaret’s grandchildren, in Australia. These middle-school aged girls, according to their mother, never mention Islam to their friends and need to really establish a relationship before they mention their Iraqi heritage. They allow people to think they are Italian or Greek, ‘acceptable’ immigrants in their community.
(Margaret is gracious and charming, and just happens to be the neighbour of one of my family members in Australia. I am extremely thankful to Margaret, and her daughter, for speaking to me about their lives.)
This space is intended as a resource and a conversation space about global mobilities in the form of – the small stuff of big moves. A human-scaled mirror on globalisation.