x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The goodness of mothers

Arab life There is something saintly about Egyptian mothers (and that includes all the good and the bad things about saints).

There is something saintly about Egyptian mothers (and that includes all the good and the bad things about saints). Unconditional love sits side by side with nagging day-to-day attention, and then you remember that, however far away you have moved, however much older you grow, those two things will always be there. They are the one emotional connection you can count on for life and the inevitable reward of going home.

Six months in anti-social heat and you begin to appreciate them, too. Did I say anti-social? No amount of give and take with members of your multi-multinational community in Abu Dhabi can come close to the kind of human overdose you will experience on even the briefest holiday at home. And aside from the friends, the former co-workers, the relations and the strangers who suddenly converge on you, that overdose is most clearly ­embodied in your mother.

Already, you notice, she is getting on in years. But she has come all the way to the airport, she insists on driving, and once you arrive at the house you realise that, for the longest time in anticipation of your arrival, she has been cooking and stocking up on treats. Nor is it all pleasant, by any stretch: you have barely settled in when the nagging starts; as creatures of perfection and keepers of the divine order, saints are the world's most efficient naggers. First she takes issue with your weight - "How, oh how could you become so incredibly enormous, habibi?" - then she drags you to the hospital for a check-up - "Tell them to check those unseemly growths on your brows!"

Object as you will that you have only just arrived, that you would like to relax and spend time with her: "Some things must come first, habibi." Whether you like it or not, they do. Otherwise, you understand, there will be tears, and you do not want to risk upsetting Mama after being away for so long, do you. Before too long, instead, you have regressed to a state of childlike stupidity. You are docile and inert, and your sense of independence - so ardently fought for during adolescence - reduces to an all but inaudible sigh every time you are forced to act against your will.

Ironically - and this is where feminist critiques of patriarchy break down - you feel you have turned into your father. You remember him sighing in the same way, looking docile and inert in the face of the strictures whereby a wife long since turned into a mother manages his life - "Men, men!" - and ­suddenly it occurs to you that Egyptian mothers are so saintly they mother even their husbands, imposing the same lethal mixture of love and, well, care. Like it or not, they - not the patriarchs - are in control.

Patriarchy, indeed. @Email:yrakha@thenational.ae