Wednesday, July 7, 2010

When all the little things add up to One Defining 5

I grew up in a house in which my father didn't believe in sleeping in or idle time for the most part. If we weren't actually busy doing something when he came into the room...then we damn sure acted like we were. I spent my childhood outside chopping wood or hauling coal for the house stove. I helped my father in the yard making those 6 ft high fences he loved so much, digging post holes or nailing up slabs of wood, or hauling new timber from the truck. I shoveled snow, put up skirting on our trailer each time we moved, or climbed up on the roof of our homes or garages etc to help him fix holes or set down tar paper. I was physically fit at a kid...much more than most of the girls my age...and many of the boys as well.

When I entered the military I had no problem full filling the morning exercise stint. An hour of push ups, sit ups, jumping jacks etc....followed by a 5 mile run. No problem. I wasn't even winded by the time we rounded the final curve. I was in the best shape of my life...I just didn't know it at the time as I had always been in pretty good shape anyways.

I arrived in Bahrain almost 4 months pregnant, but I wasn't even sporting a little bump at this time. I was wearing a size 10/12 (I have always preferred loose clothing) and my entire wardrobe consisted of t-shirts, jeans and pajamas. No dresses, skirts or shorts because I loathed wearing such things and wasn't about to start now.

So, to come from this background of hard work and being physically fit and having the great outdoors at my disposal and then to be thrust into a single little room that didn't even have space to do a jumping jack was like a slap in the face. For the first time in my life I had absolutely nothing to do and no place to do it. Each morning I would wake up, get dressed in my jeans and t-shirt...then sit on my bed and....that was it. I had nothing more active to do then visit the bathroom or go out onto the roof and look out into the street. The only time I could get any form of physical activity is if my husband or his sister took me out of course I had to wait for one of them to decide to do that.

An entire day could pass by and I had nothing more to show for it then a few steps one way or the other...and as my cautions were thrown aside and I ventured more often downstairs...then going up and down the stairs was about the most exercise I got.

It was during this first month or so in Bahrain that I learned something about myself. All my life I had pretty much eaten what I wanted without gaining too much weight. There was a period of time in my early teens that I put on some "pudge" but it didn't last long and I figure it was due to puberty...other than that I could eat and never worried too much about my waist line. I quickly learned that all the hard work my father had me doing was probably the reason I could eat and not gain weight...I was busy burning lots and lots of calories. Not to mention when I was young "junk food" was an exception in our house and not the norm as it seems to be today. We ate fairly healthy food growing up and junk food was still a treat that was greatly appreciated when it was given.

Changing cultures and countries means, for many of us, changing the food we eat on a regular basis. I would be willing to bet for all of my 18 years of life previously I had eaten rice a dozen times. Rice was just not something we ate a great deal of in my house (not sure about the rest of American homes). I learned right away that Arabs love rice, and they have about a 100 different ways to prepare it. Within that first month in Bahrain I would bet we ate rice about 5 or 6 times a week for lunch...along with either meat or chicken on top of it. Included in this meal were greens (aka salad) that were very unfamiliar to me but seriously looked like grass and weeds. They were very bitter to my taste buds and I would never be able to tolerate them.

As I mentioned before, each morning I would wake up and get dressed in my jeans etc but eventually found it very difficult to sit on the floor for any length of time while wearing jeans. It made eating nearly impossible for me as the waistband pressed against my stomach (which was expanding alarmingly by now) and chaffed other areas. I told my husband one day about this and that evening he came home with some jelobias (traditional house dresses Bahraini women wear). The first time I saw these dresses I thought they were nightgowns...just more elaborate...all though some are fairly plain and are worn only at home for daily wear...others are decorated and expensive and are worn for visiting or parties etc.

I was actually excited when he first brought them too me as the idea of just wearing a nightgown all day rather appealed to me and my little bump I was developing by now (let's ignore the fact that it was weight gain as well). I rushed to remove my jeans and put on one of these jelobias...and that would be the last time I wore jeans for many many years. My removal of my jeans that day and the donning of that jelobia was almost as significant as when I first was made to wear the hijab a few years was as if once the jeans were removed I couldn't put them on again...or in the case of the hijab...once it was on I couldn't remove it.

My husband threw away all my jeans declaring that it would just be more comfortable for me to wear the jelobia from now on...not to mention that women in Bahrain didn't wear jeans. (they did of course...just not Bahraini women) Not only was this another defining moment in our marriage (wearing jeans is a very American cultural habit) in which he changed something about me that was a part of who I also signified a turning point in my weight gain. As most of us know, wearing pants is a great indicator in warning us about weight gain. If our waist band gets a bit tight...we take it easy on our food choices until they loosen up again. However, wearing a jelobia takes away that waistband indicator and a few pounds of weight gain are hardly noticed...then a few more and a few more...until before you know it you've gained 20 pounds and don't know how it happened.

Also, because I had never worried about gaining weight before I had no clue about portion control and calories etc. I just ate until I was full and, without a waist band to tell me for the most part, quite often ate more than I needed of course. Mix that in with my husband bringing home sacks of junk food everyday and my extreme boredom...I suddenly found the only thing I could pass the day doing was eating...and I did. Mix that in with a developing pregnancy and by the time I went to have my first pre-natal checkup I had already gained 15 pounds...and I was only 4 months along...barely a month in Bahrain.

By the time I delivered my first born in late October, I had gained nearly 80 pounds...and would never be able to lose it all due to my inactive lifestyle. To this day I struggle with my weight...and it's a battle I am constantly losing. I ate from boredom, I ate from stress, I ate from loneliness, I ate because I had nothing else to do for the most part. Eating WAS my main activity for much of those first few years in Bahrain.

Obesity is a huge problem in the Arab world, among both men and women but mainly among women due to their enforced sedentary lifestyle. I happen to know that many Bahraini women rather liked not doing much all day everyday. They had housemaids to do everything they needed, from cooking and cleaning to practically raising their much so I often had the ugly little thought that these same women would of gladly had their housemaids sleep with their husbands just to do away with that little bit of physical activity as well if they could have...since gossip told me they didn't much care for sex anyways.

As I mentioned before, by the time I had my first pre-natal check up I had already gained 15 pounds...and I had no idea then that my weight gain was actually just another means my husband had of controlling me.

Fat women are unappealing to other men...and thus less likely to cheat...or so he believed. More on that later.


janice said...

CoolRed, you certainly have figured out all the reasons for how and why things occured. Age, wisdom and time are great rearview mirrors.

Can't wait for your next installment.

Susanne said...

Still enjoying your story . . . you know how to keep us coming back for more. :)

coolred38 said...

janice...well maybe not ALL the reasons...but that hindsight is a kick in the ass sometimes.

susanne...thanks and you havent seen anything yet. stay tuned.

Anonymous said...

I had a "weight problem" all my life, but managed to remain somewhat normal until I went to Saudi Arabia at the age of thirty-six.

Extreme heat coupled with the emphasis on home-bound activities practically guaranteed that I'd get fat, and so I did.

I'm still fat. Now, though, I can't blame heat or inactivity. Let's see, what can I blame? How about no longer caring? As long as I don't end up at Brookhaven, that is...

Angel Darling said...

I hear ya' sister! I'm trying to eat more healthy now, but the inactivity doesn't help matters either.

I don't know how you hung in there, I would have gone stir crazy with nothing to do... I'm a bit of a work-a-holic. I guess there was no choice, huh?

Lat said...

It's sure is difficult to live in a foreign land like this.

Seriously I wouldn't be able to cope, cooped up like that.Your young age and mind was a easy tool for him or them to mould you they way they want it.Just because it happens everywhere in the world doesn't mean we should condone this unless it's extremely good for the person.

At home we should be able to wear comfortable clothes we want.Jilbabs are not the only answer.

Looking forward to your next post!

Anonymous said...

Bahrain restricted you being slim,….
Do you think there are only few slim women in Bahrain?
When everything is free in America and other western countries, why men and women are fat and obese there?..
Is obese not genetic?.. Or due to somebody’s natural hormonal or gene defects?...

Anonymous said...

Hurry up and write the next chapter!
You are a GREAT writer!

coolred38 said... nice to see you back online...I cant say as Ive reached the point of not caring so much now..but I think about it less simply because I actually have so much else to occupy my mind.

angel...I work in a convenience store such thing as healthy and I apparently have NO will power to deny myself junk food...ugh. Always tomorrow.

lat...that is why some men prefer very young girls I would mold as they please. I developed infinite was my only salvation I believe.

anon...Im not speaking of EVERYONE anywhere...just about myself and my personal observations. I dont know why other people were/are obese...I just know why I was and still am to some degree.

anon2...thank you. working on it. LOL

Photo Cache said...

i'm a big fan of your writing. i'm sorry that you had to endure hell.

more power to you.

oby said...


You're killing's like trying to read a book and you can't turn to the next chapter! I am holding on for part 6. This is gripping!

Seriously though...can relate to a weight issue and the comfort of food... Only too well.

pioneer said...

Great writer coolred I come back to read you every so often. Just love your spirit and character.
Many of my friends and I were all expats and some of us returned to Australia as single parents some years ago. We had to get jobs like you and we were lucky that we were well educated and there were plenty of jobs available. Now we are at retirement age. Success has touched many of us and we can look at our children and for the most part are very proud. When we worked it was then a novelty for mothers to "do it all", and we had to work much harder than the men to advance further. You will make it you have spirit. Cheers and beers from an old "aussie"

Chiara said...

Hanging on your every word! But in the meantime, I got a shock this morning reading the French news, and this was the result.

Pretty pictures of swastikas alongside the Celtic Cross (for white Catholic real French people) and xenophobic/Islamophobic slogans. :(

Why, even if you hate the niqab, you should hate the French "burqa ban" more

All are welcome to read and comment. I hope this post explains better the stakes in the French ban, than others less familiar with French politics seem to realize.

Chiara said...

Hmmm. the link:

Why, even if you hate the niqab, you should hate the French "burqa ban" more

Anonymous said...

Where u at Red? Were waiting for pt 6.

Anonymous said...

It is amazing reading what you wrote about Bahrain I am sad to say that you got the raw end of the stick marying that bahraini lose. I married a loser American, I was 19, he treated me worse then your bahraini husband, I did not hide and did nothing I took him for what he is while I planned my escape, yes I planned it for 12 years then boom one day I was gone I had 2 daughters, I took every apportunity I can to learn what ever I can to help my situation I even went furthur to study him and I outfoxed him..and his family his mom, sister and 2 brothers,his friends his whole town!! you are lucky your bahraini husband worked all day and probably partied all night, mine had me watched and tracked I made him believe that I was totally under his control.
I had faith and patience I prayed everyday. I hated him so much that I looked forward to everyday so I can study my plan of escape.
I did it and I am porud of my self now I am a successful business owner with a very good reputation. I heard that he is riddled with cancer and his affairs are all a mess.. God works in very strange ways. I have more to my story..some other time.
but I am amazed you stayed 23 years there !! where was the Embassy, the mail, your family,your friends,your brain !!
I think you should write to warn other American girls of what to not to do when an arab man walks into their life and not to look at the promise of money, fame and wealth as the only reason to marry.
Oh I forgot to mention that I am an Arab !!!

janice said...

Oh CoolRed, I'm going thru withdrawl. Please post the next installment.

oby said...

OK...I am going to officially start whining...wheeeeeere is paaaaaart 6 pleaaaaaaase??????????

Chiara said...

Oby-Coolred's lap top overheats and implodes before she can finish a post. Hopefully she will find a solution soon!

oby said...

Thanks for letting me know, Chiara. I was just teasing and trying to be humorous...No pressure Coolred...well maybe a teeny bit! LOL!

Anonymous said...

Coolred ,your blog is wonderful.this is the first time I comment.but for this post I cant resist to dont write. I dont undrestand why there is such a insist to wearing abaya or jilbab.may you dont believe but I read in a muslim woman blog that women should not wear jean when going mosque!!!!.I was shocked! what is in their mind? may be ,cause , we Iranian women never wear abaya , always are seen as not enough good muslims!!!!in eye of arabian people.
dear Coolred is it posslble to change color of background? it make reading difficult.I am a glassy person! : )

Anonymous said...

Now a days every man is a mula in the arab world all he has to do is grow a beared and ware a short thoub and boom he is a muslim scholar and those people who claim that women can not wear jeans are dump and the ones that follow them are dummer.

Kaleema said...

I, too, am looking forward to part 6. You are a good writer

Susanne said...

Miss you and your posts. Hope you are having a good summer! :)

E said...

I'm new to your blog and just finished reading your last post about your life in Bahrain. Your story has really brought me to tears. I'm glad you're back in the U.S. now. You're such a great writer; have you ever thought about writing a book about your life? I would definitely buy your book. Everyone is self-publishing now. Anyway, looking forward to your next post :)

Sand Gets in My Eyes said...

Coolred - Glad I finally go back to reading other blogs - darn work was getting in the way lol.

As always, a really insightful narrative. Since you're near great bookstores, I'm going to suggest you pick up a book titled The Writer's Diet by Marcia Golub. It has made a huge difference in my life - I know that sounds corny as heck but it is true! - and I think it might be something you will find helpful as well.

Keep up the great writing! And, like the last commenter - I'm looking forward to a book outta you! As someone who has six of them out there, I can assure you it isn't all that hard and you'd be fab at it. Take care SGIME

Jaz said...

Sorry. I was just checking to see if it was moderated or not! Just incase you didn't read I replied to you on my blog and I support what you say. I'm sorry that sometimes people take it upon themselves to decide how other people worship or believe. Or judge how valid your belief therefore is. I wish they weren't doing it on my blog especially when it gets personal. You can delete this comment if you like, so that it doesn't mess up your post :)

coolred38 said...

No worries Jaz...I can handle whatever they choose to throw out there. Thanks for the support.

coolred38 said...

SGIME...well thank you...and I will check into that book. Another added to my list along with some others recently pointed out to me.

Thanks for stopping by my blog amid your busy schedule.

coolred38 said...

E...thank you and I hope to be back to regular writing here shortly. Stay tuned.

coolred38 said...

Sooo many comments asking for my I left a post to make it easier for you all.

Thank you for caring enough to come visit and ask about me.