Bowling in an Abaya: An American Teachers Memoir from Yemen
Marisa G. Garcia
Outskirts Press (2015)
Reviewed by Carol Hoyer for Reader Views (1/17)
“Bowling in an Abaya” by Marisa G. Garcia is an excellent read in which the author describes her journey into the teaching field which led her to a job in Yemen.
Her journey in Yemen describes culture shock, lack of comforts and the expectations of women in a culture where they are treated as second class citizens. The author admits she was overly-focused on her career and lost her focus on the real meaning of her life’s purpose, and where it would lead her.
Even though we expect changes when we travel to a new country and know major adjustments will have to be made, nothing prepares us for the isolation and loneliness, or experiencing such things as having to be very careful around male co-workers or looking men in the eye. Even the way one dresses on a daily basis becomes scrutiny under some eyes.
The author visualizes Yemen through the eyes of her brother, who was killed in action while serving in Iraq. One of the questions that often ran through author’s mind was if she chose Yemen, or did it choose her? Language presented another issue; even though classes were given she was lucky that some country men spoke English as she navigated her way to learn.
From her prior students in the United States, she was able to develop a list of cultural norms, but having the list and living in reality were two different things. One of the issues was clothing and what to wear. Many suggestions were given, but the big concern was if she should adopt the Abaya and hijab the women wore.
Given that the classes the author taught were a combination of men and women, she realized a couple of things. Men sat on one side of the room and women on the other. In addition, all the women wore the traditional clothing, which made it very hard to distinguish who was who and put names to faces. Another colleague told her to learn to see things differently such as color of eyes, the thickness of eyebrows, or particular stances.
Garcia also realized that she had more pre-conceived notions that she cared to admit. This was quite a thinking point for this reviewer as I thought I was pretty open minded and accepting about different ethnic groups, but yet still had some preconceived notions about certain groups.
The author gained many lessons during her short time in Yemen: live in the present, take each day as it comes, and don’t over think things. Another concern for the author that was addressed briefly is her faith, which was already on shaky ground. It was interesting to hear her thoughts on faith, letting go, and listening to what was really being said–open your heart, listen, and you will find what is meant for you.
Overall “Bowling in an Abaya” by Marisa G. Garcia was very well written, very descriptive, and readers will feel like they are living with the author and experiencing what she does. The information given about Yemen, its culture, and people was excellent–just enough to give readers a good idea, but not too overwhelming with facts.