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.