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Advice from the Predecessor's Wife

Amman, Jordan

Learn Arabic—your husband won't have time.
At Carrefour Express, aisle one is the tax-free line.
For poultry, go to Sweifieh (the Palestinian
chicken man's shop); pig, on the other hand,
is impossible to find (frozen pork sometimes
turns up at the co-op). Basha _________'s
wife is pregnant with twins; expect to host
a spa date or two for his mistress. Never make
eye contact with local men. Read Married
to a Bedouin
, the Expert Expat's Guide. (Skip
Queen Noor's book—she's from the Midwest.)
During Ramadan Crumbs' breakfast is the best;
everything else is closed. Never ride
in the front of a taxi with an Arab. If you're
near the Embassy, avoid hailing a cab (security says
we're sitting ducks). Help in Amman
runs cheap: hire a driver, a maid, a cook.
Mansef is made with lamb or goat, and stewed
in a hearty jameed. When dining with royalty,
keep conversation neutral. At private parties
be prepared to be the only woman in the room,
save the staff. Look the part, but don't
show cleavage. Lipstick is fine. Laugh hard
(but not too hard) at Colonel _________'s
dick jokes. Know how to properly cut and light
a cigar. When talk turns to politics, smile
and nod, then say something obscure
in Arabic—your husband will give you the cue
(the Jords will think it cute). Never ask
a woman how long her hair is
under the hijab. Don't call anyone
but your husband habibi. Explore the souks;
steer clear of the mosques. All Arabs hate dogs—
walk yours after dark; comb your yard
for poison and traps. Close your drapes
(Western women are common victims
of peeping toms). When moving among crowds,
expect children and strangers to stop
to stroke your hair. Always carry your passport.
The number-one reason a man's relieved
from his post? His wife's unhappy. Avoid this
from the get-go—get a hobby! Play tennis,
take a class, or find a job. (The field's leveled
for spouses: here, education and experience
equal nada.) The work week runs Sunday to
Thursday; your husband will clock in Saturdays,
Fridays, too. Pack at least four ball gowns;
stock up on shirts with sleeves. Gunfire means
graduation, or congratulations—a wedding's
just taken place. Don't be disturbed by
the armed guards outside your apartment
(their assault rifles don't have bullets,
rumor has it). "Little America" runs perpendicular
to Ring Six (a.k.a. Cholesterol Circle)—Popeyes,
Burger King, Hardee's
—you'll find everything
you need. McDonald's Playland spans three
upstairs levels. Ship a year's worth of ketchup,
mayonnaise. Blonds are often mistaken
for hookers; consider dying your hair.
By September or October you'll learn to
tune out the call to prayer.

Shara Lessley

The Missouri Review

Fall 2011

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