Meeting some Iraqi tradition

Baghdad, Iraq.

Yesterday was the last day of the first seminar. It was great. There was some sort of graduation ceremony where the participant received a certificate signed by me. I had to give speeches and many photos were taken. For me, coming from a culture that doesn’t care too much about rituals, ceremonies and formalities it felt unnecessary. My training is experiential which means that you should be able to feel the difference in your heart, body and mind. You don’t need to validate your experience with a piece of paper with my signature. But I must say that I started to enjoy it when I saw how happy my participants were with their certificate and some words. It was endearing.

Wearing a tie and a suit, using your academic title and putting your certifications on the wall is considered important. It gives the person a certain status. Only one participant stopped wearing a suit and a tie after the first day, the rest stuck to their attire. I was told that when you live in a country where being educated is unusual, you want to communicate that you are not part of the uneducated masses. Also, making your status visible serves as a kind of protection mechanism against ‘the system’. Two of my participants were medical specialists and I could see they were treated with respect. Every bit of respect is welcome in a society with suppression, violence and fear.

Somewhere in the beginning of the course I had expressed my sadness about the loss of my relationship. Two days later I am in the car with Dr. Chudr and Dr. Salah. Dr. Chudr is driving us to a restaurant where we will have lunch. At some point he asks me: “Can I ask you a personal question?. I say: “Yes”. Then he says: “What is a girlfriend?” Now I have been asked often in my life if I had a girlfriend or what is the name of my girlfriend. But this was a question I had never answered before. I made me realize that we had very different paradigms wherein we lived our lives.

I explained how a man and a woman meet and if there is mutual attraction they will start dating. This will lead to sex and perhaps the couple will fall in love. Somewhere in that process there will be a moment where they will express that to each other and they will agree to not look for partners outside what they now call their relationship. This will be most of the time a conventional, monogamous relationship. They see each other as boyfriend or girlfriend. Two people can deeply love each other and even have children together without getting married. It was very interesting to them to hear about the paradox of strong commitment on the one side (no cheating, being monogamous, a lot of love) and the weak commitment on the other side (breaking up without any legal, traditional or social consequences).

Then it was my turn to be surprised. For me it was very interesting to hear that Dr. Chudr had two wives. Now I am the one who starts asking all the questions. How do you do that? With who do you sleep? How to manage that? Is there jealousy?

To cut a very long conversation a bit shorter: I saw that both types of relationships are founded on love and commitment. In both cases it takes work to keep the connections healthy and to stay on the same wavelength. In both types there can be happiness and joy or suffering, misunderstanding and sadness. It is not that every Islamic marriage consists of a man who is suppressing his wife. A traditional life style definitely has negative consequences but that doesn’t mean that all the parties involved don’t do their best to make the most of it. Just as a Western life style is not always a walk in the park but we try to be happy.

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