One summer my in-laws took an istahara during Eid. At the time, I was incredibly pregnant, fat, uncomfortable in every position, and chronically sweaty from the 110+ degrees days. I’m sure they just invited me as an extension to my husband’s invitation, but still they were very nice to do so because I imagine I wasn’t very pleasant during those days.

An example of a decorated istaraha.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with Saudi culture, an istahara is a place where you can rent- like a small house with a yard, pool, playground, place to have a barbecue, etc. There is some basic furniture like sofas, beds, tables, and chairs, but not a lot past that. We were just going to grill out some hamburgers and hot dogs, nothing fancy, so I thought… until my sisters-in-law open a bag full of fancy decorations and start setting up. We were only going to be at this istaraha for a few hours, tops, and these ladies brought floral arrangements, napkin holders, candles, the works. They did some over-the-top decorating for a 6 hour family gathering that only included the nuclear family, myself, and another lady that married into the family. My miserable pregnant self was so baffled as to why they would put in so much work packing and decorating this space we would only occupy for a few short hours.

Month’s later I found myself talking to my counselor in the states. I was complaining about how annoying I found it that they focused on the details so intensely. He, on the other hand, was impressed. “Wow,” he chuckled, “the amount of self care is next level.” In that instant, my whole perspective changed. I had been irritated because I thought these things were just a waste of time, but in reality it is their form of self care. Now every time I see fancy decorations and immaculate attention to detail, I enjoy it instead of loathe it. img_0241


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