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4/09/10 Women's Hour

After hearing from my host dad just how much Ama had missed me, I fully intended to go over to their house for lunch. When lunch rolled around, though, I was in the middle of something, so placated my conscience by promising myself that I'd go over for teatime, around 4:30 or 5.

Instead, they came to me.

At 4:30, I heard a knock on the door.

I trotted down the stairs and found Ama. I started to invite her up, but she instead urged me to come out. My cousin Lucky is getting married tomorrow (which I knew*), so preparations have already begun. We went over to Lucky's house, where I was fed milk and tea (since they know I don't drink coffee) and sponge-bread and lmsmn (sort of naan-like crepe-y bread) and chatted with the women of my family. In addition to the full spread of my 3ttis (ie, all Baba's sisters-in-law), Baba's own 3ttis were there.

So they asked me the usual spread of questions - are you married? do you have children? when will you find a man? - and I gave the usual answers. (Not yet, not yet, as God wills.) Then someone brought up my impending departure. Yes, I'm leaving soon. Yes, the time is close. Yes, very close: about a month.

And then came the rapidfire attack:

"So will you get married when you go back to America?" an 3tti wanted to know.

"As God wills," I evaded.

"When you get married, you need to invite Ama and Baba and all your 3ttis and friends to America to come to the wedding," 3tti Rqiya announced.

"If God wills," I dodged.

And then Ama stepped in. "I've told Kauthar that when she finds a man, she just has to bring him here. We'll throw her a wedding like Lucky will have tomorrow." She gestured to the decorations (mostly taHruyts) already in place for tomorrow's festivities.

This seemed to reassure the 3ttis. "Oh, so she will find a man in America," they told each other. Repeatedly.

They were addressing their remarks to each other, not to me, so I didn't respond.

"And you'll bring your man here?" they asked, seeking confirmation.

"As God wills."

"Oh, that's good." "We'll meet your man." "That's very good." Their voices overlapped each other, while I gave my heartiest, slightly pained smile.

By the way, this was all happening at the slightly slower-than-normal speed that the older women have learned they need to adopt if the foreign girl is going to understand them. Berberville's women are famous for their rapidfire delivery. Even my tutor and friend, an intelligent and educated women who grew up just over in Souqtown, has trouble understanding them when they're at full speed.

So they've learned to slow down if they want me to listen and respond. And I've learned that if they are speaking at full velocity, it means they don't want me to understand.

So when Ama rattled off a machine-gunned sentence, I knew it was for their benefit, not for mine. And once I'd heard the whole thing (and taken a second to process it), I understood why. She'd said, "And FYI, the man she brings back might be black. Just be warned."

The 3ttis burst out in a chorus of shock and indignation.

Ama reiterated her point, and I nodded confirmation. She and I haven't talked about this in months, maybe years, but at some point, race came up, and I said that yes, I might marry someone of color. She was surprised (though much less so - or at least less visibly - than any of these women), and I'd told her that my sister and I have both dated men of color, so yeah, anything's possible.

I rarely discuss race with Moroccans, because I know I'm probably not going to like what I hear.
And while I can try to rationalize to myself that different cultures and different countries will of course have different attitudes, it's still hard for me to like anyone who's cheerfully racist. I have a Black Studies minor, for pete's sake. (Plus, yes, the cliche is true, lots of my closest friends are non-white. As are an ex or two.)

So I rapidly girded myself up for this battle, and smiled cheerfully at my 3ttis while they railed at me. I won't reproduce their comments, because it would only hurt some of my readers. Here's my response, interjected among their remarks: "Maybe someone white, maybe someone black. Only God knows. And no, 3tti, I *don't* have 'the good color'. Just ask Rebha, here, who called me a matisha [tomato] my whole first summer. I'm too white. It's better to have some color. Besides, it's all in God's hands."

Our conversation was abruptly interrupted by the news that my sister had just been hit by a car. After a flurry of panic, it quickly became clear that the car was going the routine 5 km/hr that our barely-paved roads require, and that while she was shaken up, she was completely unhurt. (Alhumdulillah.)

But the conversation never got back around to me and my future honeybun, for which I was grateful.

After another few minutes of assorted chatter, Ama and I said our goodbyes and then went to our separate homes. After making plans to go to the wedding, of course. :)

Oh, and why did I call this post Women's Hour? Because in the hour or hour-and-a-half I spent there, I didn't see a single man or boy. (Well, not counting my nine-month-old baby brother.) I knew that weddings themselves were fairly gender-segregated, but I hadn't realized that the preparations are, too.

* When I arrived home last night, I saw my 3tti Rebha sitting with my cousin Lucky (names changed) on their stoop. I greeted them, told them about my travels, etc. They promptly informed me that Lucky's wedding, which has been impending news for months now, is scheduled for Sunday. See, here in Berberville, when folks get engaged, they don't really "set a date". Instead, they just publicize their intent to marry, and then wait a while. I've never figured out exactly what they're waiting for, though I'm sure that saving up money for the wedding plays a role. (It's haram - forbidden - to borrow money, which means that nobody takes out loans for homebuying or weddings or anything else. You just wait till you have enough money. That's why nearly every house you see is in some state of ongoing construction - whenever a windfall comes in, they'll add a room/floor/throw pillows.) I've been asking for months when Lucky's wedding will be, and always get the answer, "Later, inshallah." Accordingly, every time I travel, I accept that she may well be married and gone before I get back. But luckily (hey!) enough, I'll be here for the wedding! Expect pictures tomorrow. :)

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