She donned her layers of piety, one by one, the more the holier, barely managing to balance between pride and humility… “What could she possibly know about living in Libya?” she thought, “Her, with her tight clothes and skirt slit up to wazoo… Of course SHE would have a hard time in a Muslim country, but me? I actually PRACTICE my faith…” Nobody had a right to judge, yet, unbeknownst to her, she was doing just that.
She ignored all naysayers. She filtered all information with rose-tinted glasses. She was a realist, and only a fool would think she could just dive into another, almost diametrically opposed culture, and thrive. She had it all planned out, contingency plans and all. It would be a useful life experience. If it wasn’t as perfect as she imagined, she could count on her husband’s undivided love and devotion to ease the blows, and together, they would try to make the most of it. Failing all else, they could always dust themselves off and leave, no love lost.
But it wasn’t long before the layers of armor betrayed the lack of defense they conferred in the realm of cultural practices. What she had always equated with a connection to God, meant very different things there. It was a whole different universe, where colonialism, isolation, dictatorship, patriarchy, international politics (which in dominant countries are but a side-thought, if that), and a desperate need for a sense of belonging and agency informed not only the dress code, but language, including body language, in unintelligible ways. It wasn’t just a foreign language, a foreign culture, or a different way of doing things. It was a different way of existing, a place where each woman has to literally carve out her own beautiful nook in a pre-existing mosaic, without disrupting its fluid lines and color schemes. As inept as she was at chess, she felt grievously unprepared to decode this intricate pattern and find a suitable place that would accommodate her. As much as she would carve, she could not find a comfortable, livable nook to inhabit, without loosing who she believed she was.