What in the world do they think they’re doing? My blood boiled with outrage, shock, and dismay as I walked out of the bathroom into my bedroom.
How would you feel if you had been traveling for 11 dusty, bumpy hours on a smoke-filled bus, had finally arrived exhausted and sweaty, in the rustic Turkish village of your new in-laws who didn’t speak a word of English (in fact, no one in the whole village spoke English), only to find that when you emerged from a cold-water shower, that all the other women in the household—sisters and aunties—were wearing your clothing?
The women, curious about the blonde American’s treasures, had opened my suitcase, and were trying on my clothes. I was catapulted to instant rage and stood there speechless, covered only in a threadbare towel.
It was shattering to see that one of the girls—Emme—was twirling around the bedroom in my very own wedding-day dress. The lovely, ivory-colored lace concoction was supposed to be saved for my grand entrance…for me—and only me—to wear.
There they were, sitting on the bed with my clothes and belongings strewn all around, looking through everything, laughing, and playing. I was shaking inside, and wanted to shout at them in rage. Yet, I had to evaluate my actions and reactions. Here I was, in totally new surroundings, enveloped by people who were so excited to meet me. None of them had ever met an American before, much less a new relative.
I was teetering on the knife edge of disaster or grace. The challenge was to find a way to get back into my ambassador mind set. Sunni, I told myself, pull yourself together. They didn’t mean to invade your privacy; this is the way things are done here. I had to immediately shift from my emotional outrage to the eye of the observer, by just seeing them through the eyes of the innocent. They were “innocent children”—no matter that they looked like adults with no experience of the rules of etiquette to which most of the people I knew in America would adhere.
In just moments, I remembered all my years of training to be a life coach, the 12 years that had passed between first meeting my now-husband in London, and this day, trapped in a rustic village to be married again in a Muslim wedding ritual with his family as witnesses. How the heck did I get into this mess? I wondered, still gaping at the array of colors, fabrics, and jewelry displayed before me.
Thank goodness, I had traveled enough around the world to have my observer-self kick in. To be a good guest, I first had to be open to learning about the “rules” of this household and culture, and not try to force my rules on them, as it would only make us all miserable. Nor did I want to embarrass my husband in front of his kinfolk and ruin the festive occasion.
I had to choose. Would I shout and blow up, be angry and outraged, and risk hurting everyone’s feelings? Or could I surrender to their way of life and become the student with that same innocence and wide-eyed wonderment of their ways? Could I step back and just allow things to unfold without being judgmental and controlling?
The latter was my only choice. At once, through my “new” eyes, I kept my mouth shut and watched the Turkish girls engrossed in play. One was tall and slim with beautiful, waist-length chestnut hair framing an angelic and impish face; the other, her more sweetly demeanored sister, was painfully slim with revealing dark circles under her eyes. There was also a plump auntie who had pure mischief and glee in her eyes. The three laughed, full of joy and curiosity, played dress up with my clothes, scarves, and other carefully chosen accessories.
I joined them in their play, for I too love dress-up. It dawned on me that, for the next several weeks, the only thing that I would have any control over at all was my attitude…and that took constant readjusting.