Skip to Content

What To Expect When Traveling with Your Arab Wife

By Shatha Almutawa

When they ask you
               How many days were you away?
Don’t say two weeks
They want to know the exact number
Tell them 11 days
When they ask you
               Do you have any food
               in your luggage?

Don’t say no
Tell them we have a sealed package
of dates in our suitcase
When they ask what you do
Don’t say I’m an architect
Give them your exact title

Are you listening?
How many days were we away?
                11 days
Do you remember when we got married?
               A long time ago
Tell them the exact date

When they search our bags
Don’t be upset when they pull out your underwear
They’ve done it to me before
–even the dirty ones
When they hold them up high
Don’t worry
They will drop them and then you can pick them up
–but only when they tell you to
When they open my lipsticks one by one
Don’t worry, they won’t break them
I can pack them after they unpack them
When they take us into that room
Don’t worry
They will let us leave eventually
When they take away our cellphones
Don’t worry
They will give them back
When they are rude
Don’t worry
they are like that to all of us

When we get closer to the front
Don’t leave me
Let’s go together
Take my passport
It’s better if they know
I am with you

I hand him the passport
open to my name and picture
green card out of its little envelope
place in his hand the landing card
carefully filled out
in the right color

It’s our turn
my husband’s greeting
thick with the south

The lady smiles at his tall, blond figure
               Welcome home
She says sweetly
waves us on



Listen as Shatha Almutawa reads "What To Expect When Traveling with Your Arab Wife."

Added: Tuesday, April 28, 2020  /  Used with permission.
Shatha Almutawa
Photo by Robert Powers.

Shatha Almutawa is an Emirati scholar and poet. She wrote her first fiction book, The Secret of the Dinosaurs, when she was 11. She was born in Kuwait, raised in Dubai, and came to the United States as a college student at the age of 16. She received her BA from Mount Holyoke College and her MA and PhD from the University of Chicago. She makes her living as an intellectual historian teaching at the university level. When she is not working with medieval manuscripts, she teaches courses such as Islamic Resistance to Colonialism and Imperialism. Learn more about Shatha at her website.

Other poems by this author