I knew that the simple shrug response was not going to be enough of an answer for Hassan, our regular driver, who was now making inquiries of the whereabouts of my husband. He was, of course, convinced that a husband and wife living indefinitely apart was something strange. A few more weeks went by before Hassan asked if there were problems in my marriage. That was a turning moment for me. Decision time. Even though I was totally captivated by his tall stature, impeccable manners, and shiny beard, I was not about to let him be the first to know about the divorce. I still remember the pressure of that moment. He was the only one we could count on in our new host country, to help with our various needs. As a mother, I always thought, ‘Who will answer my call at three in the morning to take one of the kids to the hospital?’ It was him. I didn’t want to ruin that, nor did I want this poor man to share my problems! I decided to be honest and told him, “I am divorced and living in Egypt for the sake of my children’s religion.”
In a typical Egyptian style, he instantly told me that I was too quick with my decision, and that I should call my ex-husband, and do whatever it takes to fix my broken marriage. Through the tears, I tried to convince him that it’s not that simple. What’s done is done.
One evening, in front of my building, Hassan told me that he thought that I was a nice lady, and that he admired my strength and the sacrifices I had made for the sake of my children. He stated that he would really like to assist in putting my marriage back together, even if it meant him calling my ex-husband and offering some advice. I started to tell him the story, and ultimately the story went on and on for a month, with additions to the last narration every weekend in front of the apartment building in the taxi.
I started looking forward even more to the children’s weekend outings. He also started calling more often, and was more than happy to accompany me in any additional outings that I had. We had a connection. I laughed with him. I cried with him, lots of times. I confided in him and trusted his opinion. I liked me when I was with him. I liked him when he was with me. I knew that we were then entering dangerous territory. We liked each other… what’s next? I started wondering if I could marry him. No, he hadn’t asked me. It was not at all mentioned, but I have always been an extreme planner! What could this religious, married man want from me and my children other than marriage? I shocked myself. I was actually thinking about marrying an Egyptian -a married man- but I liked him. I liked everything about him. He was calming and understood me. He didn’t just complete my sentences; he knew what I meant to say, because my Arabic didn’t always allow me to verbalise the way I would have liked to. Hassan spoke no English; not a “yes” or even a “no.” But we got each other. Then he slipped in the question one evening. We were talking about what I was going to do in the summer and if I had permanent plans besides “just being in Egypt.” He asked if I had thought about getting married. I told him it was not a thought at all. I was enjoying the new me. “What about marrying me?” he asked. “NO way; you could never handle it. I’ve got a lot of baggage: three kids, a broken heart and a bundle of confusion.” He promised me then that he would take care of me and try to make things easier for me. No promises of love. Muslim man helps Muslim woman. I was resilient with my “No!”
A few days later, his wife called inviting me to lunch at their home. I had no idea what I was walking into, because we had not talked about her, but he did tell me that they had discussed the issue. When I arrived she was very welcoming, as always, and started telling me that I could “relax because we are all one big family.” Shocked a bit- yes I was! She and I had lunch alone in the bedroom. She asked me if I loved Hassan, and I told her I really liked him, but I didn’t know him well enough to love him. She told me that he loved me and my children. I told her not to worry because I wasn’t going to go through with it. I told her my ex-husband had married other wives besides me several times, and that I know all about the struggle against self in polygamy. She told me that if I did not agree, there would be problems because he already loved me and my children. I told her that she did not have to be a soldier, if she acted crazy and exhausted herself with tears, he would forget the whole issue and maybe delay it for at least a few more years. She looked at me with a lone tear in her eye and told me, “It’s OK. I support him.”
Hassan and I married a few months later. We didn’t do anything elaborate. We were happy, and I can admit that life lessons are priceless. I learned a lot from my first marriage about how to attempt to live peacefully in a marriage. Every person has their faults, and sometimes the faults are overshadowed by their wonderfulness. I am not dismissing the fact that sometimes two people are just not meant to be together, but I also know that marriage is complicated. Blending two different personalities, every day, all day, is quite a task. But, it can be possible with faith and patience.
Early on, my new husband and I were able to see that our future was bright. When we did not understand each other, we talked about it. We never slept angry, and we did not let speculation fester. We talked and talked and talked. One day, he told me that he never imagined that he would love me, because he married me with the intention of just sharing in my passion to preserve my children’s Islam. I told him that I never thought I would love him, because he is not my type. “I married you also for the sake of my children and making our life in the land of the Muslims easier,” was my reply. Because, we tried to make our intentions for the sake of Allah (SWT), we both swear that this is the reason that Allah (SWT) has blessed us with a successful marriage. Allah (SWT) is with the patient, and the reward is for the believers. Hassan and I are happily married with one more small bundle of joy added to our family. Allah (SWT) is the greatest.
Dorothy Salah is an American ESL teacher living in Cairo, Egypt. She is co-editor of SAKYNA magazine, and always looking for an opportunity to tell one of the amazing tales from her travels abroad.