17. De rebelde a libre: Marym

17. From rebellious to free: Marym

A few days ago I had a conversation with a good friend, a conservation where she told me her story. Her name is Marym and she comes from Saudi Arabia. We met each other at the university, she was a student who worked with me. We no longer work together, but we have carried on learning about one another, even more so afterwards. When I decided to do the blog I told her, and she got excited. She has also read one of the books that I have talked about in this space. When we were talking about the content it surprised us that, despite having both worked in science for so many years, we have been so out of touch from our own biology.

In her story I see someone who has gone from being a rebellious girl to a free woman. Through her rebellion she has freed herself, empowered herself. I see myself reflected in some of the things she tells me. The same thing happens to her as it does to me. When I dream, I wish that all of this brings me to one day help other people to find their own path of self-knowledge, to reconnect with their female bodies. When I tell this to Marym, she also wants to do the same.

Marym started by reflecting on herself over time. “When I was a child I was so difficult. Now I have become flexible, but before I wasn’t [like] that at all. Really, I wasn’t [like] that at all when I was teenager!” I asked her what it is she did to become more flexible, and she answered clearly and without thinking twice “experience”, as if it were something she had reflected on a lot, and it was very clear in her mind. “When I switched, when I decided to start my own life. A separate life”, she continued, as if she could tell my mind was wondering what experience she was referring to.

She talked to me about her dad, who was “a very good example, he was so independent”, and who died when Marym was a teenager, from a devastating lymphatic cancer that took over in just six months. “I was very shocked, and it was so fast for me that it was the first shock of my life. I was so attached to him”. When her dad died, her mum was left in charge of everything, with the fear of being judged by society if something went wrong. When Marym described it, she talked about rules for men and rules for women. “You can’t follow the men´s and the women´s rules at the same time.” as if these rules represent a way of doing things. She talked about a society governed by men’s rules, where women’s rules don’t count. So her mum also became very strict. At that time, Marym fought with not only her brothers but also with her mum. With rebellion, rage and a courageous, broken heart. “I grew up surrounded by my brothers and we fought, literally, about everything. It was like we were living in a forest. For example, if they said that I couldn’t go out in the street because men were going to look at me and whatever, I did [go]. I went out and I fought with them … My mum, for example, asked me: you can’t go with your friend to that place, you can’t go alone, and I did [go]. And now when I remember, she was right because I put myself at risk, and at that time she was [just] a woman and society was not giving her [any] power. So, if anything happened to me, they were going to blame her”.

“Society doesn’t believe in women’s rules … [my mum] was fighting too much with the society … and now I understand why she did that with us. But [back then] that made me angrier and more aggressive with her. [It´s] like whenever she decided, I’d not follow [her decision], even if it was right, I’d not follow it. I was so angry and fighting with my mum all the time. It was horrible, I don’t like it. But we are now best friends, in the end! Marym laughed, as if she felt relieved that something which could have turned out so badly turned out so well by a whisker, and she felt grateful. I think about women like Marym’s mum, perhaps widowed, perhaps separated, perhaps single, who face society, in the east and the west, and get by with the fear of being judged. I know those women. Women who fight against labels and blame, women who are scared. I think about our societies that push women to damage themselves as well as the women they love most.

“I have always had that hate against the society, like they always put us in a specific frame and we have to do what they want. It’s like at a certain age you have to be married, you have to have kids, it’s more [of] a men’s world, they don’t believe in your rules in this life. And it’s so weird but, when I look at the situation and discuss it with other women, they all know it’s not right, but no one does anything. It’s so negative. No one tries to change the situation … They feel the way of the society is stronger than them, they have to follow it … I want to explain it but there are too many details in that life. [It`s] so hard … But I can see that the new generations start to change the whole thing. They are not following the same rules. So, thank God there is a change somehow.” While telling me this, her voice showed her anger for what she was saying. I also noticed sadness. And when talking about the new generations, her tone changed again with a certain energy and hope. If I try and imagine that world she was talking about, I think that my world was also like this, more extreme in the past. That my grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great-grandmothers, and even my mum, could have felt trapped in that world governed by men’s rules, feeling that society was stronger than them and gave them a life full of misunderstanding and oppression. And gradually, with each new generation, we are one step closer to balance, even though we haven’t got there yet. But every time we get closer.

A world can be as big or a small as your circumstances and mind allow. And the size has nothing to do with what this world is made of, a person, a family, a town, a country. Or Earth. Something that Marym and I have in common is that we have entered unknown worlds, living in other places and getting to know very different people. Marym had very high grades and wanted to study medicine, but for this she would have to go to another city, and her mum didn’t let her. “My city is so small … My mum was so disappointed. She asked me to just apply for biology because we have [in our city] a science college … It was a big big fight … I didn’t apply, I wanted to scape, I didn’t want to go to the university [to study biology]. So what my mum did is that she took my certificates and documents and … she applied for me and she chose biology … and then I studied at the university… and it was fine … but you have that feeling that you didn’t do what you wanted [to do], and that feeling is still growing in inside you. I went to this school that I didn’t want [to go], I studied this which I didn’t want [to study], and that feeling is still growing with you.” Afterwards she tried to find her own path and teach in schools, but it didn’t work. “I couldn’t cope with [the teenagers] because I looked very young. At that time, I was so angry, like I couldn’t control my anger … and [with the students] you need to be so kind, you need to understand them, and I couldn’t do that at that time … Something was telling me that this was not my place … like this is not me. I’m so active, I want to be so creative, like doing something different every day or feeling the motivation every day, but I didn’t have it”.

Reading the newspaper one day, Marym found on advert for master’s degree scholarships and applied secretly. You could pick three destinations. She picked Australia as her first choice, then Canada and then Malaysia. “Why [did] I put those [places]? Randomly”, she said laughing, “I tried to find the furthest place, where is it? So Australia”, and carried on laughing. And it was as if, suddenly, her rebellion had opened the door to freedom. She was given a scholarship and had a huge fight with her mum. She didn’t speak to her for a week, and Marym locked herself in her room and stopped eating. She was going to do it, whatever it would take. In a given moment, when they were speaking, her mum told her: “you might fail if you go there, you have a chance 50:50, but if you fail, don’t come back to me to say it. - She can’t imagine what it is going there. The things [we know] about a foreign country [are] from the news. It was scary for her” I feel sad. As if the culprit behind these arguments wasn’t Marym or her mum, nor any other woman. I think the culprit is our societies, when they lack support and we let ourselves be led by fear instead of love.

Marym told me about this Australian adventure like it was the best thing she’d done in her life. She was 26 years old and had never lived alone before. She didn’t know how to use a credit card or a cash machine. She’d never been out of the house alone, so she didn’t know how to ask for things in shops because her mum or brothers always did it. Australia was a huge challenge that made her learn a lot, also to speak English. “I was so happy, or [maybe] it’s not happy. [It’s like] even [though] I was facing such a difficult time in Australia, I was so happy to learn those new things. I feel like I did it! Even if everyone does it [live on your own in another country], but for me it was a big achievement. Every day I was going to do something different ... [A] few things, but wow! … Lots of silly things happened, but I’m so proud of it … The big big thing was that I knew myself. You [will] never know yourself if you don’t put yourself in a different situation and see [what] your behaviour or attitude [is]. It takes out the worst part of yourself or the best part”. With this Australian story now more than ten years ago, Marym has carried on discovering new worlds and learning about herself.

When Marym was younger, her dad gave nicknames to her and her brothers. Marym was the doctor. “He didn’t call me Marym, he called me the doctor, where is the doctor? He tried to grow something inside us, I don’t know what”. At the moment of our conversation, Marym just got her PhD and although she isn’t a medic, she is a doctor. Now she is going home to her country to work in the university and inspire and help other people, other women. “It’s now my turn to do something for my society. And when you told me about your story and you going back (The other journey), I felt that yes, this is me [too]. This is what I want. I’m so lucky to teach students, so maybe, somehow, I’m going to influence them … I wish that I can show them the way to do what they want, it’s like it’s not as hard doing it as deciding to do it, like this is the first step. If you want to do something, you can do it, whatever they [society] say, that you can’t do it or [that in society] they put up barriers. But if you decide to do it, you can do it. People sometimes want something, especially women maybe, they want something, but they think they are not able to do it, because they never faced such a case. So, they just need to take their first step. They can’t believe it. They just need someone to tell them: you are able to do it. Definitely. So, I think this is one of the things that I hope to do with my students if I go back. This is one of the things that you inspire me to do. It’s really important, and I think this is part of being a human being”.

After telling me her story, I asked her what her favourite part of her body is. She said her feet, because she likes walking barefoot, because walking barefoot makes her feel free.

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