Lima Al-Azzeh

And Hopefully for You …

In Cultural Anomalies on April 24, 2011 at 10:48 pm

"Hopefully" ... this will be you one day.

Over the course of my life, I’ve come to understand (and often misunderstand) the true meaning behind various Arab colloquialisms. The major one is “Inshallah”, which basically translates to “Hopefully”, or more specifically, “With the grace of God”. It is not to be confused with the stigmatized Spanish colloquialism “Manana” which implies laziness or procrastination.

“Inshallah” is a reverent term, basically saying that if God wishes it to happen, then it will, and it will be good. I suppose it’s closer to Karma than anything else. Lately in my life, there’s one Arab colloquialism that I’ve frequently had to reckon with: “Obalick”, more specifically, “And hopefully for you …” a term that, although always mentioned with the best of intentions, somehow always leaves me feeling absolutely hopeless.

As a 26 year old perpetually single girl with a married sister and an engaged mother, I’ve come into contact with “Obalick” more times than I would prefer. When I was a bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding last year, friends and family would greet me with a hearty congratulations for my sister’s good fortune accompanied by a hearty “Obalick” to slip into my pocket for a rainy day.

In fact, for the entirety of my sister’s 5 year pre-marriage relationship, whenever anyone asked for an update on her relationship status, the conversation would inevitably end up with a “Oh congratulations!” followed closely by a “And Obalick, Lima”. Most of the time I would be in an entirely separate room, not even part of the conversation, but would hear the phrase shouted across the apartment at me. There was no escaping it, even if I wasn’t directly part of the conversation.

What I think people don’t realize about “Obalick” is that, over time, it becomes an increasingly cumbersome phrase to hear. Despite its attempt at offering hope, what it inevitably does is highlight a decided lack. “And hopefully for you …” begins to take on the onerous meaning of “that thing which you don’t currently have but we hope you will get”. And really, who feels comfortable being consistently reminded of that which they are living without? And perhaps that thing that everyone believes you should be living with, but that you’re perfectly fine living without for the time being?

I’m frequently told that single women across many cultures suffer from some form of “Obalick” at one time or another. Especially at weddings. The ever-awkward “So, when are you getting married?” question is always indelicately dropped on these auspicious (for someone else) occasions. Whether you’re at your cousin’s Lutheran wedding, or at your second cousin twice removed’s Indian wedding, if you’re single, you’re going to be targeted.

Your aunts will want to know the intimate details of “what went wrong” in your last relationship, while your grandmother obnoxiously harps, “Why are you single and she’s getting married already?”. Your mother will try to come to your defense with a well-meaning “She’s just not ready yet” or “She’s been focusing on her career!”. It’s a conversation that infuriates just about everybody, mostly because there is never a concrete answer, at least not one you’re willing to get into over a slice of vanilla cake with buttercream icing.

But Arab females, in their discretely passive aggressive culture of guilt, have managed to avoid that conversation entirely and instead create a smarmy, rub-it-in-your-face term that encompasses that entire uncomfortable dialogue in a single reference. It’s really a mystery to me why more women haven’t been invited to plan some kind of Middle Eastern Cold War. They’d be genius at it.

Lately though, I’ve realized that what I most resent about “Obalick” is its subtle imposition on the hopes and dreams you have for yourself, which may not be in line at all with what others have in mind for you.

What if you don’t hopefully want that for you? What if you have indeed decided to focus on your career? What if you decided that your relationship doesn’t necessarily have to end in marriage? Or what if it just happens to be taking you a little longer than the rest of the family, or family friends, or the world over to meet someone who you want to finally commit your life to? Are you then expected to be subject to the pains of “Obalick” for countless years to come? It all seems a little redundant to have to deal with, if a tinge rude.

As someone who has been on the receiving end of over a hundred “Obalick”s in her life, I’ve finally figured out a swift solution to nipping the entire awkward conversation in the bud: Just nod your head and say, “Inshallah”.

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  1. One of my favourite things about traveling is discovering words for which a direct translation doesn’t exist in English. When I lived in Morocco, ‘inshallah’ was one of the few Arabic words I learned and used.

    • Eloquently put Darren! I agree, I think discovering words that are difficult to translate shows how deeply rooted they are in the context of a specific culture. The reference to ‘inshallah’ being likened to “manana” is actually a longer anecdote that my aunt told me. She lives in Qatar and was at a board meeting that included both native Arabs and expats (she’s both, in an odd way, much like I would consider myself) – and an expat employee basically said ‘inshallah’ is the same as ‘manana’, which it is very much not. She was deeply offended, even sent him an email explaining the difference and cc’d the company πŸ™‚ When were you in Morocco? I’ve always wanted to go – such a fascinating blend of cultures, I can only imagine.

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