May 17, 2009

In Which I Inherit an Aunt

What is a common and perfectly acceptable occurrence in the west, is a virtual impossibility here in the Middle East; placing an elderly family member in an old-people’s home.
Parents that can no longer take care of themselves, or no longer wish to live alone, are overall taken in by the family. They either provide a live-in housekeeper, take turns among the siblings when it comes to care, or move the parent into their own house.

These pictures are not related to this post, but the aunt in questions does not want to be on a blog. So you get to see H, who spent her entire day lounging in the pool today.

Placing them into a house with lots of other older people, and visit them on Sundays, is just ‘not done’ in this place. It is not (only) because the care for the elder is not that organized and up to standards, but primarily because of the shame it would bring to the family that does not take care of its own.

And thus, last week, I came to inherit an aunt of the family.

The lady in question moved in with the family when she was quite young, in order to take care of the children of the family.

In Holland, in the old days, when large families still existed, there were always a few children that did not marry, but instead went into the convent. Here, they did not send them into the convent, but they got to take care of other family members’ children.

My friend joked that my daughter looked as if she were a religious muslim (which the friend can joke about as she is a muslim herself, but not ‘that kind’ of muslim, as she explains it), swimming with a shirt and cap. But as it happens, the pool required that the girls wear bathing caps, and she wore her surf shirt at the end of the day because she was getting a sun burn. So no, we do not bathe like this in general in Lebanon.

And so she has lived with my husband’s family forever. The children grew up, moved out, married, and had children of their own, for whom she baby-sat. More family members moved out, or died, and since a year she had been living on her own in the ancestral home. But the house had become too big and lonely, and in her advanced age, she could use the help, but more importantly, the company. For some 50 years, she had taken care of the children of the family, and now it was time for the children, to take care of her.

And thus, I inherited the aunt. Without much discussion, she moved in. It was a smooth transition. She knows our ways, and we know hers. That it had to be my house was purely because of logistical reasons. I happen to have the place, and my house is near her old house, enabling her to stay in touch with her old neighborhood and friends.

And we’re finally having decent food on the table again.

(That this is another post on the positive side of Lebanese culture is purely a coincidence. It just so happens that I haven’t had anything to gripe about lately. Don’t worry, the occasion will arise again)


Ms. Tee said...

Mabrouk! And glad that inheriting an aunt is a positive thing in your case.

Living in a country with one of the best elderly care systems in the world (not Lebanon), I have come to appreciate the positive aspects of old people's homes. It is damn lonely, but the boundaries between self and other are kept well trimmed. Where a person's worth is intimately tied to their individualism, it is considered a good, even necessary thing. And, as you say, Lebanese is not such a place - though individuals who prefer old people's homes do exist.

Leila Abu-Saba said...

Thank you for this post; it's like a domestic novel of manners.

I'm interested in the swimsuit as cultural marker. I have seen the "Muslim" swimsuits and at the same time here in the West we are all clothing our children in these swim shirts and long coverups to keep them from getting burned. Why is the cover up acceptable to Westerners if it's intended to prevent sunburn, but not if it's intended to promote modesty?

It's just one of those paradoxes. My boys wear swim trunks down to their shins, and long sleeved swim shirts. I don't force them to wear hats like the Foreign Legion also, but they are fairskinned (one moreso) and probably ought to if they're going to lounge at the pool all day.

My late Lebanese grandmother was always telling me to protect my head and body from the sun - she thought the exposure was terrible, dangerous somehow. She was more right than she knew. (OTOH we need some exposure - I try to get a sun bathe every day, and I refuse to use those lotions - I believe they'll be foudn to be poisonous one day) When I've had enough sun, I cover up.

Ji said...

if i may,
i find the swimsuit to be really nice actually,+ it protects her from excessive sun rays
but definatly cool
H looks nice anysuits no need to say!