Diya Abdo and her grandmother, on the porch of their farm in al-Libban, ca. 2002.
Firstborn children are good. Saturated, no doubt, with the anxiety of first-time parenthood, firstborns are rule followers, pleasers.
When I tell my firstborn, five-year-old daughter, Aidana Sabha, that she has to drink the juice covertly because the bouncy house does not allow outside food or beverages, she crouches, doubled over under the table, hiding the silver pouch underneath her arched body. Unable to go against the place’s regulations, she asks to leave; she is thirsty but would rather give up playing to go home and drink than break the rules.
In Jordan, to be a firstborn female child came with added pressure—to be m‘addaleh, sitt el-banāt, btiswi thuglik dhahab, worth your own weight in gold.
Whenever my grandmother uses this phrase to describe some woman or other, I keep a tally of the qualities she admires. When she uses it to describe my mother, though always in the past tense, it means that my mother had listened, obeyed, self-abnegated—the butter would not melt in her mouth.
When she uses it to describe my uncle’s wife, her daughter-in-law, it means that daughter-in-law is content with her lot, her dirty laundry unaired—her secrets in a well.
When she uses it to describe her neighbor, it means that the neighbor is chaste, never flirting, never yielding to men’s plying compliments and denuding gazes—as pure as yogurt.
But most importantly, to be worth your weight in gold means that your seira, your narrative, your story, is not on every tongue. A woman like this is given the highest compliment—she is, ironically, a man (zalameh) or the closest approximation, the sister of men (ukht zlām). My grandmother was definitely worth her weight in gold—zalameh. An illiterate Palestinian villager, she was married at nine and divorced by sixteen. After al-Nakseh, she crossed the River Jordan with two kids in tow, knit loofahs to make ends meet, made sure her children got an education, and rejected all suitors and offers of marriage. She prided herself on never once being a piece of gum, to be chewed up by gossiping mouths and spat out. Sumʿitha dhahab—her reputation was golden. Read More