Samstag, 9. Februar 2013

The invisible woman

Kafr Malik, 26, January 2013

Masada's house

We were guests in a total of seven families if you count the visit to the community center of Pastor Nael of the Anglicans in Zababda, too. Only in two of them we have seen the mother of the family – with Nael and Mira in Zababda and with Abdoo and Masada (Foto) in Kafr Malik. Everywhere else we have encountered the phenomenon of the invisible woman, she was hidden from our eyes.

This surprised me a little, even after knowing, from visits with many Turkish families in Germany and Turkey that the spheres of men and women are separated in many Muslim houses. This means that contacts between the different sexes are kept to a minimum. This is achieved through an alternative program of a regular visit. In general after the meal the men would meet in the living room and the women and also the female guests in the kitchen. Separation also means that the women wear headscarves and also, particularly among older women in Turkey that they obviously prefer not to be greeted with a handshake. If you know the boundaries and respect them you will never have problems with this kind of gender-segregation.
Habib's house with the guest part behind the open door
and the family part further behind
It is different in Palestine. Here, if I have understood that correctly, the areas of men and women are, even in smaller apartments divided in a way that the master of the house can move freely along with his guests in one part of the home, whereas the mother with the girls above a certain age would use the other part – and never meet. In my memory, there would everywhere be a door, a curtain, a piece of non visible corridor behind which was the audible but not visible world of the women. This world obviously was very productive – when the master asked the guests if they wanted tea, and when they said yes, usually one of the sons would discreetly move towards this hidden world, would deliver a message there, and a little later another brother would smilingly and self-confidently appear with a tray on which the desired item was presented in a beautiful shape.

Ahmed, one of the men whose wife Zeynep we would not see told me the moving story of his love for this woman and his marriage to her. About 20 years ago, in politically turbulent times, Ahmed's mother decided ("She is the stronger in my parents' marriage," says Ahmed) that now the time had come for the then 21-year old Ahmed that he should marry. Ahmed was not too convinced by this idea and held his mother out with shallow excuses. One day he came home after a lengthy stay out of town and found a sadly-looking father. "Your mother is dying," he said, "go into her room and see her." And indeed - the mother was lying severely emaciated and exhausted on her bed, only a remnant of the person she once had been.

What had happened? Ahmed learned about it from the mouth of his mother: she was on a hunger strike in order to force Ahmed to marry. With no other choice, he promised her without hesitation to get married now, immediately. He made it clear, however that this was not an easy way. Where was he to find a girl? That, said the mother, should be left to her.

And in fact it only took a few days until Ahmed was ordered to an appointment with a family in the village that had a marriageable daughter. Ahmed had not known her before. Ahmed’s mother had arranged everything. Part of the bride's family was there, parents, some older brothers. Ahmed’s parents also were there, reinforced by big brothers. There were other notables of the village, the school principal and other senior people. Also Ahmed was there. Only the bride was missing.

The school principal took the word. After the usual formulas - bismillah rahim, in the name of God the Merciful, etc. - he began with saying something like that he, as he said, could only recount the well-known advantages of Ahmed's venerable family, describing their positive role in the community of the village. Another speaker then praised Ahmed himself, the apple did not fall far from the tree, and tree and apple were good. Now another man’s turn came up, he took to honor the bride's family and then another, who spoke for the bride.

Having done all this, one looked at each other and nodded in agreement, everyone convinced that now nothing stood in the way of a written marriage settlement. Which was then formally brought forward by the school principal, a man who was empowered to such acts. The document was expanded in some aspects and then signed by the principal, the two fathers and by two further witnesses.

Ahmed had watched all of that, nervous and just hoping that soon everything would be over, as the announcement came that now the bride would come in and would serve coffee. "Christian," Ahmed said to me, "when she came in it was to me as if a mountain lay on my shoulders. I could in no way look up to her." He saw that she wore a blue dress, everything else blurred, but as the blue then started to move into his direction and as, out of the blue a cup of coffee was handed and pressed into his hands, his hands shook so vigorously that he dropped the cup and poured the entire content over his trousers.

Strangely, the incident was received with joy and a great applause: this was a good sign, they all said. The bride disappeared, the coffee was finished everybody said goodbye.

A few weeks later - Ahmed had still not seen his now legally married wife - a celebration was held on which the bride was invisible again. Various girls were there but since all appeared in blue Ahmed could not tell his wife from the others. The evening passed, everybody returned home – also Ahmed, without his wife.

House in a refugee camp
Only when the neighbors in a traditional procession brought the bride to Ahmed's house he saw her face to face for the very first time, but now forever.

Something strange happened: "Do not be afraid," she said, "I have watched you before, I knew you. I agreed to the marriage and have married you not only out of obligation."

After this story I had no problem to come to terms with the idea that today and tomorrow I myself would not be better off then Ahmed in the first weeks of his marriage: I also did not catch a single sight of his wife.

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