Saturday, October 20, 2012


Wandering through deserted, war-torn buildings. The sand has begun to bury them.

“Insha’Allah”.  This is one of the first Arabic words we learned upon arrival here. A basic translation is “God willing.”

We hear it everyday and in all sorts of situations. It is my students’ first response when asked if they studied for a test or completed their homework, “Inshallah, Miss”.

I also hear it often when traveling by taxis, especially if trying to make it to an appointment in time. “Do you think we will be there by 4?”
“Inshallah, miss.”

At government offices, marketplaces and the airport the answer is, more often than not, “Inshallah” or “God willing”.

Until recently I hadn’t given the word or its connotation much thought. I considered it a sort of hopeful brush-off, as in, “Hopefully, I did my homework” or “We’ll get there when we do” sort of thing. But then, the other night, B experienced it in a much different setting.

We had gone to the Friday market to buy more furniture and found a set of shisha (floor) couches we loved. Impulsively, I purchased them, thinking they would easily fit in the back of our Jeep, but there was no way they actually could. As soon as we realized this, a man materialized next to us and offered to deliver them in the back of his truck. This seemed like the best option and we agreed.

Minutes later, we found a snag in this plan. The deliveryman spoke no English and had no knowledge of our suburb, Mahboula. The owner of the carpet stall tried to help by translating but since we have no street address (and hardly a street) we couldn’t give enough directions to get him there. So we improvised and B offered to ride along with him.

This was an interesting proposal in many ways. For one, we were not done shopping, but couldn’t ask the man to wait, so we would have to leave immediately. Secondly, we were at least 45 minutes from our apartment and it was late at night. I hadn’t driven in any of these conditions yet (I had actually only driven for the first time the evening before), and, if B went with the deliveryman, I would be driving alone, in the dark, in the city. The simple solution would have been to have B drive and for me to ride along, but, since I am a woman, and a western one at that, the Pakistani driver would not have felt comfortable with me alone in the car with him. So we made do, and I left in our jeep, while B climbed in the front seat of the deliveryman’s truck.

As B and the driver sped into the crazy Kuwaiti traffic, he reached for his safety belt. The driver shook his head and his finger at him and said something in Arabic. B thought maybe the seatbelt was broken, but upon looking, he found that it was perfectly fine. He reached for it again and again the driver shook his head and clucked his tongue. He then struggled to find words B would understand. He gestured to the highway, his speedometer, to B and the sky and he said, “Inshallah.” It became clear; he was telling B that the seatbelt was unnecessary. God willing he would be taken care of and if God wasn’t willing then let it be. B was unsure how to proceed, but he left his seatbelt off and hoped for the best.

After this incident we have spoken to many people and found this is a common belief. God’s will will happen no matter what, so why wear your seatbelt, use a car seat, drive the speed limit and so on. It explains the cars that pass us at neck-breaking speeds (literally) and the kids we see hanging out windows and riding on drivers’ laps. It explains the lack of worry about many things, because in much of the population’s belief, it really is out of their hands so why worry or try to change that that cannot be changed.

It is such a different belief system than the one I have had instilled in me. I have been taught to believe that I am the maker of my destiny, independent and in control of my life. And yet, it is so interesting to learn other people’s beliefs and see the way their beliefs influence their daily life, in so much the same way that my core beliefs influence my daily life. I am learning so much.

I will continue to wear my seatbelt, though. We are just going too fast not to. Insha’Allah.

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