Relationships in Flux (Part II): Somali Stories
This is the last part of a two-part series of true stories of some Somalis in America and their relationships. The series is part of a book the writer is finishing titled, “Courtship and Marriage: The Somali Experience in America.” The names of these individuals and their locations have been changed for privacy reasons.
I am going crazy because I can’t stand my wife’s family.
In reality, my wife and I come from two different regions: I from central Somalia, and she from the south. Her family tradition is for relatives to live together or close by. Her grown-up siblings and their families all live either in the same building or a block away from their parents. When I married my wife, her father asked me to live with them but I politely declined.
Apparently, he has not forgotten this snub and has carried a hateful resentment toward me ever since. In fact, he has declared war on me. Quite simply, this man hates me.
My father-in-law tells my wife what to do, how to spend her own money, and how much money to give him. Once, my father-in-law collected a sizable amount of jewelry from all his adult daughters and paid off a debt totaling $30,000. He also stockpiled obscene amounts of money from a dozen community members for a failed business venture. My father-in-law’s daily drill includes calling his adult children and inquiring about their circumstances, grilling them to tell him if anything is new in their lives. At times, he talks to his grandchildren, like my daughter, 11, and reprimands them for some infraction here and there. To him, I am merely a figurehead, not the head of my household. Two of my sisters-in-law went through a divorce because of their father’s interference in their marital relationships. I have talked to my father-in-law about all his meddling, but to no avail. My wife, on the hand, is too accommodating to him and fearful of him for a legitimate reason: He is known for his temper and confrontational behavior.
I tolerated my father-in-law for a long time and, in fact, I was resilient in the face of derision. However, I finally snapped.
One day, I went to a city 300 kilometers away from home for work and ended up staying there longer than I anticipated. I sent an airline ticket to my wife to visit me over the weekend. On her arrival day, I went to the airport and eagerly waited for her. Unfortunately, she was a no-show. Concerned, I called home and, surprisingly, she answered the phone.
“Nothing. I decided to stay home.”
“My father said so.”
“It is not safe for me to travel, he advised.”
“Who is your husband? Me or him?”
“You are, but I have to listen to my dad, too.”
I was burning with fury and started unleashing a litany of vile Somali curses on her and her dad.
“I am done with you,” I screamed. “I have had enough of you and your father.”
All hell broke loose after my split from my wife. My father-in-law was elated because he had finally dispatched his old nemesis with ruthless efficiency. However, my children and their mother were heartbroken. Subsequently, my ex started to challenge her father for the first time and, according to my children, became more assertive and rebellious toward his demands. It was indeed a new imbalance of power dynamics: A father who once was a stern presence in his large family’s life suddenly becoming a man with a diminished role. For me, it was a painful two-year period in which I was single and miserable. I missed my family and had allowed one man to ruin my marriage.
Long story short, I am now back with my family but things have changed drastically. My wife is a changed person and tells her family that she will not allow anyone to come between her and her husband. My father-in-law is not involved in our life, and everyone in my immediate family is ecstatic with the change. Mark Twain once said: “Adam was the luckiest man on earth because he had no mother-in-law.” In my case, it was my father-in-law who was a thorn in my flesh. At least, for a while.
* * *
The Unforgettable One
I have been married three times.
My current husband is kind and generous, a great provider. He is good to my children, who are both from a previous marriage.
Husband number two was a hard-working man whose loyalty was unmatched.
My first husband is the one I still remember today. In fact, I have developed an ongoing habit of comparing all men to him. He was my first love. I was barely 19, and he was 27. The age difference was a blessing for me because he was mature, responsible, and attentive, and he spoiled me rotten. We joked around, laughed, and cherished each other a great deal. I grew up in a small village in southern Somalia and he came from Kismayo, the third largest city in the country. We lived in Portland, Maine, in a sizable Somali community. We were true partners with strong love for each other and a stable marriage. I still shed tears when I recall all those good memories. What is painful is that our union came to an end four years later.
My husband wanted children but we couldn’t conceive. We went to numerous doctors and clinics, but no problem was ever detected. I also wanted children, but I was more flexible than he was. I believed we had a unique marriage full of compassion, passion, respect, and love—a marriage that could grow without children. I guess it wasn’t meant to be. My husband and I talked about the problem of conception, and he decided that we had to split.
After the divorce, my life spiraled down into depression. I quit my part-time job, went to live with my parents, and isolated myself from all my friends. I was a total wreck. My husband left Portland and moved to Columbus, Ohio. He found a nice job, and, after a year, got married again. I also moved on after two years and married my second husband. Then, three years later, I got divorced again and married my current husband.
Something interesting has happened, however.
Both my first husband and I are now parents, separately: He has three children and I have two.
Many intense memories came back to me when my first husband and his family came to visit us in Maine. My current husband and my first husband were schoolmates in high school in Somalia. They had stayed in contact and, of course, my current husband knew about my earlier marriage to his friend. What a small world! It was the most awkward moment, seeing my first husband so many years after our divorce. At dinner, I found myself going out of my way to give more food to him. “Do you need anything else?” I kept asking. In a way, my question brought back the memory of how I used to overfeed him. His wife and my husband definitely noticed how I was catering to my ex much more than to anyone else.
After our guests left, I was depressed. I became obsessed thinking about my ex-husband and the life we could have had. I know it was not meant to be. Most likely, he is happy with his new family, but now I am no longer happy with my life. I am miserable. I feel that another woman has taken from me what was rightfully mine.
Suddenly, I view myself as unhappy. My current husband does not know what is bothering me. I keep telling him that I’m not feeling well, but I don’t want to get professional help. He is patient, but deep down I know he is frustrated with me. I have a feeling that one day my husband will leave me. Maybe I should get divorced and try to win back my ex-husband.
Do you think I’m crazy?
I think so.
* * *
My Best Friend
Okay, online dating has been getting a bad rap, but I can’t complain. I met my best friend, Anab, through online dating several years ago.
Anab lived in Europe and I in New York. That, of course, made our relationship desperately hopeless. She told me upfront that she would not move to the United States and I told her I would not move to Europe. She had a big family there and most of my family members and friends live here.
Thank God for the internet. Anab and I have exchanged emails for the last five years. I tell her what I do every week and she does the same. We have—and still do—exchanged pictures, gossip, and ideas. I constantly seek her input and she gives me her honest opinion. I look forward to her frequent emails because they are nourishing. I never had a female friend—or male friend for that matter— with whom I felt so comfortable. In a nutshell, Anab was the woman who got away, but instead ended up being my best friend.
Anab and I have never met; however, there is a new development in her life: She got married two years ago to a “wonderful’—that is her word—man. She is happy and I’m rooting for her to have a successful and lasting marriage. I’m not married yet because I’m a workaholic. I haven’t tried online dating since 2010. Anab is always encouraging me to settle down, to which my usual answer is: “Insha’Allah” (God willing). What else am I going to say?
I was looking for love and matrimony on the internet; instead, I got a best friend. I got a jewel from the bedlam of the internet. Not everything about online dating is bad. That is my personal view.
Hassan M. Abukar is a freelance writer, Sahan Journal contributor, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.