Thursday, 1 March 2012

Sex and Olives

    Leaving the bar at the end of the evening, we stood on the pavement and waved Aisha’s friends goodbye, our faces reddened by their rear lights. I could see my breath in the air.
   Aisha turned to me. ‘Do you want a lift?’
   Her shawl had slipped, exposing the small mole on the rise of her right breast. I looked up to find her eyes on me. The uncertainty on her face amplified the little thrill in me, the urge towards her broken only by an instant’s thought of Anne.
   ‘No, no thanks. I’ll walk down,’ I gabbled. ‘It’s only a few minutes away and I could do with clearing my head. Will I see you at the Ministry tomorrow?’
    ‘Of course, bright and early. Look, you don’t even have a fridge in the house yet. Why don’t you come around to my place tomorrow and have dinner? My mum’s been dying to meet our new Englishman.’
   ‘I’d like to very much. Thank you.’
Olives, Page 29

Could Paul and Aisha ever have loved each other?

Talking to book clubs and readers, I have found a few people mentioning the unlikely scenario of a nice Jordanian girl being allowed access to an English boy. I've also been asked whether I thought it likely a Jordanian family would take a stranger in as readily as the Dajanis of Olives do Paul.

Having been brung up proper, I always try and hide my incredulity behind a polite smile and nod acknowledging the question/point. The truth of the matter is not only are both scenarios entirely realistic and possible in real life, they are based on a number of experiences and observations from real life.

Abdoun is the wealthy area of Amman which, although a small capital, is nevertheless a capital city with a sophisticated, wealthy population alongside its masses. The city is enormously rich and diverse, with both tremendous wealth and crushing poverty. It hosts an amazing array of people, traditions and beliefs and has remarkable culture and history stemming from the coming together of those many different influences - both in syncretism and, under the surface, a degree of conflict.

A wealthy, secularly minded family of Palestinian origin whose daughter works for a government Ministry and whose two sons are a successful businessman at the helm of the family business and a radicalised Muslim respectively is by no means far fetched. For such a family to behave hospitably to a foreigner, in fact for any Arab family to behave hospitably to a foreigner, is only natural. For them to do otherwise would be almost inconceivable. Paul is already in Ibrahim and Aisha's debt, he is already known to the family. Daoud makes it quite clear that Paul's on a 'short leash' and Paul resents the warning deeply. But "Aisha's Englishman" is also a touch of the exotic - Paul being quite as exotic to Aisha as she is to him.

Aisha and Paul are careful to behave well in public. But there's no escaping their growing feelings for each other, something the family comes to accept - the women more readily than the men, perhaps. By the time this question starts to become an important one, events have overtaken the question of an 'appropriate romance'.

For the record, I have known many relationships between Arab women and Western men. Some have been successful and resulted in marriages, some have foundered on religion and family pressures. Some have just moved on as we always sometimes move on. I never for one second thought to doubt the viability of an Englishman's welcome into an Arab home or the likelihood that love could bring together two people of very different backgrounds. In fact, that the difference in their backgrounds could spark the attraction that could lead to something deeper - with those very differences providing the basis for doubt and alienation, a constant need to reconcile differences in opinion and cultural background. It's Paul's very need to try and believe in Aisha and the culture she represents that causes him to pry too deeply and push her away. By opening to each other totally, they can accept each other.

But would a great beauty like Aisha fall in love with someone as racked by self-doubt and indecision as Paul? There are a few clues in the book as to why they share a deep commonality, least of which is the fact that Paul's English hedgerows play the same role in his lonely childhood as the olive groves do to Aisha in hers.

Besides, I've seen odder couples, I can tell you.
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1 comment:

  1. It's hardly the fact that an Arab girl falling for a foreigner, it's the "Arab girl falling for" part. Gets the blood of the Arab guys running and screaming magic words "honor" , "kin" and whatnot.. Let's take the canoodling of Aisha and Paul, switch "Paul" with a "Mohammed"* for instance, the reaction will not be as intense, still intense non the less, now let's take "Aisha" and replace her with ..say .."Camille", the reaction will be "that lucky bas*ard..". However the common discomfort factor in both reactions would be the fact it's being spoken of out loud. Everything is just fine behind closed doors. Again, it's part of the "honor" thing. Ah well, all of this aside, generally a well-educated multilingual Arab woman (I'd shamelessly include myself) will definitely enjoy the company of foreign men as she can be herself without the judgement she feels she'd get in the company of most Arab men to whom the concept of being starting out as platonic "friends" remains a bit alien. I'll stop now before I ramble on any further.