September 7, 2013
Unless, or until American citizens travel abroad, they will never understand that freedom is a luxury. Merriam Webster defines luxury as a: something desirable but costly or hard to get b : something adding to pleasure or comfort but not absolutely necessary. When applying the definition of luxury to the concept of freedom, I wholeheartedly agree with the first definition; freedom is both desirable and costly. And up until about six months ago, I would have agreed that the luxury of freedom does add a certain degree of pleasure and comfort to life. However, for me, freedom is definitely, absolutely necessary.
I willingly gave up the luxury of freedom when I chose to teach high school overseas. I knew that living in the Middle East would be challenging to my independence as an American and as a woman. However, I never knew just how much I would have to give up.
To say that my laugh is loud is an understatement. Cackle, that is the word most often used to describe my laugh, and that comes from my family. When I laugh, I laugh with the whole of my being. My mom tells me that I have only recently begun laughing deeply and with such abandon. I surmise it is because I have reached a point in my life that allows me to be comfortable in my own skin. I am lucky. I understand not everyone reaches such a luxurious position of self love in their lives.
Now, even if I have begun to throw caution to the wind and laugh the laugh I laugh so well, I still must admit that I really do not so much love my laugh. I accept it, I own it, I use it. But, I do not love it. In fact, most people do not love it. So, it should have been such a good feeling when I found out that the Arabic teachers with whom I was recently working were envious of my laugh. However, along with the envy, came the price of freedom.
I was nearing the end of the school year, teaching in a small, rural town in the Middle East. The students had all but finished their studies for the year and the teachers were simply cleaning up loose ends and finishing up the year. It was the end of a day that had been filled with teacher in-services. I was sitting with a group of colleagues waiting to go home. We were talking and joking and I was laughing out loud. My laugh was not only loud, but disconcerting as well, naturally. I sometimes forget that my laugh is overbearing.
I was feeling quite at peace with my life right then. Then, as we were leaving school, one of my favorite teachers, Miss D, pulled me aside and said to me, “Miss Victoria, in this culture we do not laugh loudly in front of men. We (and here, I suspect she was referring to Arabic women) We are not free to do that.”
I was taken aback. I began to get teary eyed. Miss D saw the tears start to roll down my cheeks and she began apologizing for hurting my feelings. I was unable to speak, but how could she know that the tears were not for me, they were for her. They were for her and all of the other beautiful Arabic women I had been working with the past 5 months. We are not free to laugh. I had not seen that coming.
Embarrassed by the fact that I had broken yet another one of the unspoken traditions of the culture, I apologized, “I am sorry, Miss D. I will remember that.”
“Miss Victoria, you should not stop laughing,” Miss D told me. “I used to not laugh. But since meeting you, I sometimes laugh and it makes me feel good.” Miss D went on to tell me that she has a lot of pain in her life and that when she has allowed herself to laugh, she has felt better. She went on to tell me that when I had first arrived, the other teachers didn’t quite know what to make of me, “Who is this Westerner with her laugh?” But now, they all loved me and they listened for my laugh, it made them smile.
“Oh sure,” I thought, “They are laughing at me.” But, no.
“Do not stop laughing,” Miss D. said, “we cannot laugh like that, but you can. So keep laughing, because when you laugh, you are laughing for all of us.”
That was the last time I saw Miss D. Unfortunately, my tenure in the Middle East was about to come to an abrupt end.
I am back on American soil, dear Readers, appreciating all of the freedoms my country has afforded me. But, I cannot stop thinking of the women I left behind. Yes, freedom is a luxury. Freedom is luxurious. Freedom is a luxuriant necessity. And freedom is the one luxury I cannot live without. Can you imagine not being free to laugh? I can. Peace, ~v.