We are doing things a little different with this post! Our feature Dagmawit Audain has written her love story to share with everyone as a guest blogger. After reading what she wrote, I couldn’t see myself breaking it down in Q&A form. Dagimawit is an Ethiopian who married an American soldier. Read on to see all the hurdles they had to go through and still overcome today....
I am writing this from my own personal experiences and the opinions shared here, have been exclusively constructed though my lenses. I believe we all want to be ourselves if given the opportunity.
When I first met my husband (then boyfriend), I was able to express myself without any fears of judgment. That felt liberating to me because I was raised in a community where expressing your true self was frowned upon. To even have a contrasting viewpoint from your elders was to be considered disrespectful. With Sean, he encouraged me not to blindly subscribe to mass rhetoric and to always be true to myself.
I was born and raised in Ethiopia which has a conservative culture and being outspoken is not encouraged. Your life is governed by longstanding rules and norms that were handed down via your family beliefs and experiences. The macro construct of “respectful” behavior is a societal doctrine that family members and friends constantly reemphasized. If you dare shared your opinion on a subject that differed from others; you are seen as being confrontational, disrespectful, or you are “forgetting your culture.” So, with that programmed mindset, people often may not accept you if, you started expressing yourself without any reservation. Being accepted by society is very important to most of us, if not for all. So, coming from that cultural background and meeting someone from a different mindset who encourages me to be free was new and exciting to me. At the time of our courtship, I was discovering who I was for the first time. It was as if I was living in someone else’s shoes and for the first time, I was living my life without the overhanging regulations.
After dating Sean for a while, I introduced him to my family and friends. One thing I was not prepared for was them accepting him, but not including him. In my experience, when my family and friends gather together, we speak our language and eat our cultural food which is fine until you bring someone else in the mix. We all forget to include that person, and we carry on with our customs while ignoring the person you invited into your world. I do not expect them to be responsible for including him in everything, but it becomes worrisome when it’s normalized. I often find myself struggling to completely engage in my ethnocentric norms while ensuring he feels included and he doesn’t feel neglected; at the same time you want to be with your friends and family. How do you balance that? That is a question that I am still trying to figure out. As much as I love my freedom in my marriage of living without fear of judgment, I struggle in the other part of my life which is including my husband when I am around my people. Life is not perfect, and I am constantly learning every day how to exist in this world through my work, family, marriage, and friends.
A little background about Sean and myself: when I was 22, I accepted a job offer in Bahrain to be a flight attendant for Gulf Air airlines. Getting this opportunity of traveling the world at a young age was very exciting to me. I moved to Bahrain and started exploring being independent and meeting new people from different backgrounds; which quickly opened my eyes to how little I knew of the world. On the other spectrum, adjusting to the new lifestyle was not easy for me.
After a few months; one of my friends invited me to a customary military going away party. In Bahrain, there is a U.S. Navy base, and there’s an informal tradition when military personnel completes his/her tour that their close friends host a going away party for the departing service member. This was such the case. Since I wasn’t flying that night, I decided to go to the party. It ultimately led me to meet my soul mate. God has his unique way of bringing the right people in your life at the right time when you least expect it!
Sean was confident, eloquent, smart and ambitious. I was attracted to those qualities about him instantly. He was very different from most people who were around us. I loved how he stood up for what he believed in. The more I spent time with him, the more he challenged, pushed, supported, and most of all; believed and still does in me.
Sean and I arrived in the Kingdom of Bahrain in 2006. Sean instantly adjusted to the culture and accelerated in his role as the lead Psychiatric Technician at the Naval Branch Health Clinic, Bahrain, and I also adapted to the new norms of my new host country. I made new connections with co-workers but struggled to balance work and the geographical separation from my family in the initial months.
Outside of work, Sean played and coached his base' Soccer team and had made connections to a few of his military counterparts who later became his family away from home. As a couple, we were not the typical young adults who engaged in the wild party world of Bahrain's nightlife.
Throughout the entirety of our first meeting, we exchanged some minor details about our backgrounds and plans for our respective futures. After the party, my friend who had accompanied me made plans with Sean and his friend to meet up again. However, due to my aggressive work schedule, we did not see each other again for almost two months.
After we reconnected, we were inseparable throughout the remaining months of 2007. Later that year I accepted a new job in the neighboring country of Abu Dhabi. I would frequently visit Sean on my off days(even if it was less than 24 hours) and we talked for hours on the phone.
Having spent two years in the Middle East, it was time for Sean to return to the U.S. He selected a city that he fell in love with in 2000 while a member of the All-Navy Men's Soccer Team. I would soon follow. But, the inevitability of deployment influenced everything.
Sean anticipated such and ensured that I would be relocated to the east coast with a close childhood friend (Mimi) to aid with my acclimatization to our new home. Knowing the uncertainty surrounding his second combat deployment and the requirements of my fiancé visa, we sought out information on the latter at the city's courthouse. After being informed that we could get married immediately, Sean convinced me to go ahead and spontaneously complete the formalities to ensure that I would be compensated in the event he did not return home. However, he promised that we would have a ceremony upon his return.
Several years elapsed since his return. He completed an Undergrad and two years of graduate school. I finished both an undergrad and a graduate's degree. We bought a house, relocated my entire immediate family to the United States, and continued to achieve personal and collective goals, all while working to be better versions of ourselves.
We are still figuring out how to navigate through our cultural differences more so now than ever. My family looms over with their unwarranted expectations of how things should be, and I moderate the two aspects of my life that I love while not losing myself. It is difficult, but the challenges of being in a union with strong multicultural overtones have made us become stronger and inevitably closer than ever.