Friday, June 01, 2007

Single

I think I'll have to call this bootleg Sunday Scribbles. I thought it said 'Single' instead of 'Simple'. But my mind was already on the road with 'Single'...So here we are.

Okay, I accept that traditional Afghans get freaked out when you're 29 and unmarried. Look at it from their perspectives: At 29, you should be married with 3-4 (or 5,6,7,8) children. You're settled and comfortably enmeshed with the laughter, gossip, love, scandal and drama of an extended family. There isn't much you have to do except look for other single women to marry to your brothers, brothers-in-law or male cousins.

I accept it from Afghan-Americans. They want you settled (but with less children) so you can go through the same rigmarole as above. They want you to be part of their life.

To them I say, “Oh, it’s Qismat (God’s Will), Inshallah (God Willing), you know I like to travel.” and they fall back, satisfied that they brought it up, so at least I’m thinking about that quickly ticking clock. They’re more willing to accept it, thinking that I have one foot firmly planted in American culture.

But what's up with the non-Afghans? Why are y’all freaked out?

What am I supposed to say to them?

I had an interesting chat with an American man living in Dubai. We were flying on Ariana Airlines and discussing the country's progress. He showed me pictures of his family and we were discussing Dubai versus Las Vegas. Then, before he could stop himself, he says, "So why haven't you been married off yet."

What am I supposed to say?

This has happened before. It always makes me pause.

What do I say? Well, you see...My parents didn’t have an arranged marriage and they’ve always wanted me to focus on my studies. They didn’t get married until they were older. How do you explain such an integral part of your culture to those not of it? Those who have been exposed to more traditional Afghan culture assume that we’re all the same. How do I explain that the women of my family are generally strong? We carve our own path in life. How do I convey that within a culture, attitudes and mentalities vary widely from family to family? That, despite the slight angst of not seeing me married, they’re proud of me and content.

It’ll happen when it’s supposed to happen (and did you see so and so, she married him before she got to know him and NOW look at the shambles of their lives, she divorced him and didn’t return his mother’s jewelry. Now their families can’t socialize anymore and they had so much fun before.)

Or do they want to know that?

Or do they want to know each twist and turn of my life? That left turn I made back there, those months were I felt like I was standing still in the blistering summer sun, when really I was cooking up something new. Do they want to know about that march, which turned into a run and then into a stroll, leaving me standing where I am today?

Do they want to know about the months and years when Afghanistan beckoned me with black and white pictures, stories of wild roses growing on the family land, graves of elders? Or do they want to know about now, when maybe it’s Afghanistan beckoning me or maybe just my future?

Do they really want to know all that?

Because that’ll take a lot longer and you might as well brew up some tea and settle in on the couch, cuz y’all know I like to talk.

Is it just gentle curiosity?

Because, dammit, it’s rude.

A random American woman in Kabul announced in a room full of new acquaintances, “So, are you here to marry your cousin?”

I restrained myself from saying, “No, are YOU here to marry my cousin?”

Afghans, if it's a true curiousity and not malicious, at least try to corner you in moments when there aren’t that many present. They’ll wait a few months, after we’re friends, and start asking. I know now when to expect it and have a sweet reply (Unless they want to set me up with someone and that’s another post).

If Afghans trying to embarrass you with “Why are you still single” talk, it also doesn’t bother me as much. There are ways to deal with those folks (Say something noncommittal and bring up the good-for-nothing relative that they are ashamed of. Everyone has one and I generally don’t like to do this, as the person they’re ashamed of is probably pretty cool – but it works).

But with non-Afghans, it’s a blundering pounce, or maybe more like farting in a room of people.

Do you acknowledge it? Or try to hold your breath and go to the next room?

13 comments:

tulsa said...

so much to say...

but I'll start with - sooo, when a non-afghan asks you, you think it's because they think all afghan women should be married by now? and not because they wonder why a stunning total package like you of any origin isn't married, yet?

(obviously your mention of the woman who asked if you were there to marry your cousin shows she was asking from an afghan only perspective... but what about others?)

omg said...

Great post. I laughed, I empathized, I pondered.

Tulsa's point made me think of this, though I'm not sure this is what she meant, but I think the non-Afghans have as much right as the others to be freaked out (which is not at all - but that's another story). The cultures are different, but deep down there are always going to be people who want to get you married off.

Before I got married I got that question a lot. I don't know if it made it better or worse that I clearly had a partner but wasn't married to him yet. And now, of course, I get the baby question. I got it from at least 4 different people in the one week that I was at home. And that's how I can truly empathize with you. It's so rude, but then what do you say? Gah. It's a tough one. Especially when everyone asks you in front of your grandmother, who had eight children of her own and is dying for great-grandchildren. So when that long-time, heavily medicated family friend asks me, in front of my grandmother, when I'm going to write a letter to the stork, how do I blunder through that answer -- and in my non-native tongue, no less?

I'll hush now that I've made this about me. The short answer: I don't know what to say. Maybe try "For everything there is a season, and a time for very purpose under heaven." The Christians will love that one. And there's always: "I'm not ready to settle [down] yet." Or "I'm holding off; I'm too scared I'll end up with an idiot like you."

Froog said...

It's interesting how very common this sort of attitude is outside of the English-speaking world. A lot of the Americans I meet here in China tend to assume that it's a unique aberration of this culture. No, statistically, we are the odd ones.

What bothers me most about it is not the apparent deficiency in concepts of privacy or tact, but the fact that it's so gender-biased. We guys very seldom have to suffer this line of questioning.

Anyway, HomeInKabul, I may not have commented here before, but I have been enjoying an occasional stop-by for the past few months. I am a friend of 'Tulsa' (aka 'Chaoyang', aka 'The Walker', aka.....) in Beijing.

I have just been 'tagged' by another blogger I know in Beijing to write about "8 unusual things that people don't know about you". You are supposed to pass this challenge on to others of your cyber-acquaintance. I don't really like this kind of thing myself, but.... the invitation is there, if you have the time or inclination to take it up.

My post on this is at: http://froogville.blogspot.com/2007/06/8-more-things-you-didnt-know-about-me.html

homeinkabul said...

Tulsa: You are so much more positive than I am. Like the time the woman asked me if I was pregnant (I most certainly was not), your response was, It must be because you had a glow. This is one of the many reasons that I like you.

I think what bothers me the most is the thought that they can bring it up in public. It's rather rude.

OMG: As one who used to harass you to have babies, I'd like to apologize again. But I haven't done that for a couple of years, have I?

I've tried the, "I'm not ready to settled down yet" but that often elicits the 'BUT YOU DON'T HAVE MUCH TIME' lecture. And I am often thinking, but not saying, the idiot response.

Froog: Welcome, and I've lurked on your blog also. I will accept your meme challenge (or was it brick through the window, that you called it?).

The older I get, the more I see that non-Afghan culture (meaning Western/American/Euro) are just as obssesed about this as Afghans are. The non-Afghans seem to be more vocal now than the Afghans (who started speaking up when I was much younger - bless my Dad for scaring them off).

And yes, it is particularly galling to see non-Afghans harass the women only. At least Afghans are equal opportunity and harass everyone to marry.

homeinkabul said...

OMG: I meant to add, can you just say, "It's just too much work?" or "Your kids are enough for the rest of us."

batty said...

everyone on earth is obsessed with sex, marriage, and children.

Letters to Home In Kabul said...

really, batty?

does this type of problem ever come across your in your town? ;)

if it did, i wonder what interesting stories you might have to share about how you dealt with it.

Letters to Home In Kabul said...

HiK-jaan, Froog:

'tis true. I've been increasingly asked by non-asians about the marriage thing.

I think the asians just start with the questions at an earlier age than the non-asians.

How I handle it really depends on the particular sitch.

and, HiK, you do have a glowing complexion.

One of the many reasons I like you is because when we drove home from the K***** meeting where we had just met and I asked if you wanted to go for a walk in Rock Creek, you said, Yes.

Frida said...

Hmmm, I was giving a guest lecture to a room full of Afghan CID police officers and prosecutors last weekend and when I opened the floor for questions the first was about how much I get paid and whetherthere were more jobs going with my organisation, the second was whether I was married. True, at 35 years old I am a very old singleton in this country, but I was giving a lecture on human rights in Afghan criminal procedural law! I was not happy.

Tulsa said...

frida,

that's just plain obnoxious.

sorry HiK. I can stay positive for only so long.

How infuriating to devote your time and energy into prepping then presenting your lecture, only to find out all the students are daydreaming about whether or not you're married! Were they even paying attention? Were you just talking to the walls?

what a way to disrespect your time.

(okay, i think the disrespecting your time-thing is actually infuriating me more than the asking if you're married thing... though neither is good.)

homeinkabul said...

Batty: They're obsessed with money and prestige too!

Tulsa: I remember that walk in Rock Creek. Although I was less than 10 minutes away, I avoided it. But what a nice walk that was!

Frida: OY. I can't say anything other than that. and perhaps, OY. The sheer audacity and inappropriateness (is that a word?) overwhelms me at times.

omg said...

True, HiK, you have not harrassed me about Thai-Cuban-American babies in a very long time. But your harrassment was very different, b/c you knew me very well and you knew I didn't want them and were just trying to change my mind so that you could snatch my multi-ethnic babies away. These other people, they don't know me that well, and they just assume that I want to have babies. I think that bugs me just as much as their rudeness.

So, no worries. 'Cause even if you keep harrassing me, I know you can handle my potential responses, to the list of which your great suggestions have just been added. :-)

homeinkabul said...

O: This is true, I really did want a Thai-Cuban-American baby. Perhaps they have a catalog somewhere? But I think that I would not be snatch one - babies are hard work! :)