Monday, April 11, 2016

Matters of Life and Death

piles of foil wrapped chocolates to bring to a new mom
Those of you who know about my holidays in a Munich hospital may think, based on the title, that this post will be about that. Actually, I wanted to write a little about my secondhand experiences of how families, friends, and even, now and then, the Nation, deal with those most major experiences- life and death- here in my host country.

First birth. A couple of colleagues and friends have had babies in the 2 years I've been here. Both locals and ex-pats. I hosted showers for a few of those ex-pats last fall. When I asked around to see if there was any similar local tradition of hosting a party for the mom to be or parents in advance of the birth, I learned the answer was no. And I got the sense, though no one explicitly said it, that it might be seen as premature or even flaunting your luck to celebrate before the birth. Now after the birth, like right after the birth, in the hospital, it's another story. While in the US I think the norm is to let the new parents be alone or with just a small collection of close family in the hospital after the exhausting but exhilarating ordeal, the norm here is to flock to the hospital bedside of mom and baby and to come bearing chocolates. Giant, pretty piles of foil wrapped chocolate! You can find these pyramids of be-ribboned sweets at chocolate shops or some grocery stores as well. And now is when the new mom is lucky if she is close to her sisters or female cousins or someone who can take on the job of making sure all of the many visitors are offered food and small mementos celebrating baby- like wedding favors. The craft stores have supplies to make these on your own or, I saw this bouquet of lace covered blue baby bottles each with a few Jordan almonds in the same section as the gift platters of chocolates, near the florist in the grocery store.

Then death. Last fall, the UAE suffered a tragic loss when over 40 soldiers serving in Yemen were killed at one time in a munitions explosion caused by Houthi rebel air strikes. Remember this is a small country if we're talking about Emirati citizens- under 1.5 million, about the same number of people who live in San Diego- and all of the soldiers were Emirati citizens. The country felt the loss keenly. A period of public mourning was declared with flags flown at half mast , public events and celebrations cancelled, and radio stations compelled to switch regular broadcasting to either recitations from the Quran or quiet, contemplative, classical music. I'd first run into the radio programming change when the Saudi king passed away last January. I thought someone had been in my car messing with the radio buttons at first. We were without DJs, commercials and pop music for. 3 days that time and I couldn't really see how it connected to mourning.  But then last fall, the mourning period continued for over 2 weeks and I found myself thinking of the soldiers every time I got in the car and heard the lack of regular radio. It actually was quite effective in causing me to stop a moment and consider their service or their families or the impact of their loss on the country. I think the quiet nature of the music that played may have even made me drive a little less impatiently. The newspapers were full of reports, the country's leaders, the Crown Prince and the VP visited every single family who had lost a soldier. Not just the newspapers, but colleagues in the library lost cousins and talked about the rulers coming to their homes. And the families rallied, just like for births. They come, the cousins and brothers and sisters, kids and elders. They come and settle in for a few days to help keep the family company.