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Growing Old in The Arab World Is Not What You Expect

posted on: May 31, 2017

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BY: Yara Jouzy/ Contributing Writer 

Growing old can have its perks especially, in the Arab world. Arab Americans have carried with them this tradition of paying the utmost love, respect, and attention to their elderly relatives. With old age comes a lot of responsibility, including the guidance and monitoring of all roles family members assume and practice. 

The elderly are the foundation of our society today in America. They are the ones that have defined who we are and what we are about. Arab Americans owe everything they have today to their elderly who made the leap and under harsh conditions and immigrated to the United States. They barely had any money, friends, a home, or any other resources. They moved here in hopes to pursue the American dream, where they could get an education, a job, raise a family, and live a happy life.

Many Arab Americans run a family business and it is the children’s obligation to continue when their parents can no longer maintain it. Although the family business might not mirror the avocation or profession of their children, it is tradition for them to make it successful, sustaining what the parents started, working day and night, without any holidays, to make it successful. 

With older age comes more experience and more wisdom. As they grow older, elderly tend to tell many stories of their families back in the days at home, before the political upheaval which characterized their homeland. They recall the beauty of their homeland from the mountains, rivers, and valleys, to the delicious home grown fruits and vegetables. They recount the contributions from ancient civilization and the prophets who passed through their lands.

Many of these stories are told by the grandma, known as teta/taita, or the grandpa, known as sido/jiddi/jiddo. With their stories come morals and strong messages of decency and dignity. Tales are not only told, but advice is frequently given. The elderly are consulted for everything whether it is about food, school, or career and most of the time have an opinion, and know the answer. When there is an argument within the family, their wisdom is always sought.

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The elderly are constantly sent messages of love and respect, not only verbally, but also symbolically. During a visit, they are given preferred treatment and seated in the most comfortable seat of the home. They are asked to be the first in line for a buffet. When first walking into a room, the elderly members in the family are greeted first; they are the first to be led into a room and given a chance to be first in line to leave. 

This article wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the important role the elderly play in Arab/Arab American weddings and marriage proposals. It is the tradition before any engagement takes place that the eldest in the groom’s family must pay a special visit to the elderly of the bride’s family to ask formally for the hand of the bride; this step is called the “tulba” which is the asking for her hand in marriage. Marriage is the most important act in the life of the Arab woman, and therefore, the couple and their parents have to formally seek the blessings of the elderly on both sides.

For generations, Arab American elders have looked forward to the love and respect they receive as they grow older. Aging in the Arab American family is an asset rather than a liability and the elderly are honored as they age and are treated with the utmost respect.