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4/19/10 QotD: "Hey, don't look at my fiancee that way..."

So now that my replacement, Hassan, is here, I've begun showing him around.

I should have anticipated the nearly inevitable reaction, but somehow I didn't. I've been so much in prepare-the-newbie mode that I didn't stop to think through how my - now our - community would react to the arrival of another foreigner. A male foreigner.

According to Ama, virtually every person she's run into in town has asked her, "Is this Kauthar's husband? Come to take her back to America?"

They've learned that Volunteers always stay two years. And they've remembered that yes, I've been around that long. So they very logically concluded that my husband has arrived to help me pack up and return to America. (Of course, I've always told everyone in Berberville that I'm single...but apparently they never really believed me. Or else figured that this fell into place as quickly as the arranged marriages here do.)

When Hassan wandered around town unaccompanied, this morning, everyone asked him, "Are you married?"

I reassured him that that's the first question everybody gets.

Here in Ait Hadidou, everyone is connected to everyone else, one way or another. If you trace somebody's family tree back far enough, they're probably related to you. Even if their family hasn't branched into yours for generations, there are other connections. Our grandfathers grazed sheep together. Our children go to school together. My cousin share-cropped the fields of your wife's cousin's husband's uncle.

And then the PCVs get dropped into the story. Like aliens dropped off by a spinning mothership, we're funny-looking, oddly-dressed folks whose mores will always be just a little bit insane. (Or maybe a lot insane, like living alone or jogging in the morning.)

We're not connected to anybody.

Of course, we're placed with a host family, which gives us a veneer of connectedness. But it's not fooling anybody. They know that, no matter how many generations back I reach, I won't find somebody who bought a sheep from their great-great-somebody. I've told people that my grandfather fought in Morocco during WWII, but that war didn't much penetrate the depths of the High Atlas Mountains, so people mostly nod vaguely and then bring up the war in Iraq. So I don't mention it much anymore.

Lacking any historical ties, they seek to place us in some sort of framework they can understand. So they immediately start asking what ties we do have. Marriage? Kids? How many? Genders? Siblings? How many? Parents still alive? Etc.

Here in Berberville, people are identified first by family, second by individuality. (Quite literally - like in China, the last name is given first.) Your family identity serves to place you in a context first, and you can tell your given name.

Given this family-driven culture, it's inevitable that folks would assume a connection between their foreigner - me - and this new foreigner that I'm walking around town with. Either husband or brother, gotta be. People are probably placing bets as to which it is. And most appear to be going for husband.

But then, I did say that I was single. Repeatedly. Loudly. In several languages. So maybe we aren't married yet. Maybe we're just engaged. Yeah, and that's why I kept insisting that, "I don't have a man." Because it's not official yet. But now that I've finished my Berberville term, it's time to go home and settle down with my man.

Yeah, that totally makes sense.

Well, to a Berbervill-ian, it does.

So when I told Hassan what Ama had reported to me (which she'd also told him, but which she wasn't sure if he'd understood, with his still-developing language skills), we got a good laugh out of it, and it became a running joke.

I've also told Hassan why he's the first male PCV in Berberville. Why I fought all the way up and down the chain of command to ensure that no woman would be placed in this town again. And being an all-around good guy, he's already looking for ways to improve the situation of women here. He's even mentioned opening up dialogues with the guys in town, but that'll need to wait till they know and respect him. But he's already making my life easier, just by walking around town with me. Whenever a man says something to me, he intercepts the comment and greets the guy. More than once, he's adjusted our positioning as we walk, to put himself between me and the guy. (I'm not sure if this is conscious or not, but it makes me smile.)

Mid-afternoon, we walked up a path, in sight of my - our - host family's house. Two men were coming towards us. I kept my eyes on the ground 10 feet in front of me. (I've learned the hard way that making eye contact is really never, ever a good idea. ::sigh::) Because I was watching the dirt, I heard Hassan exchange greetings with them, but didn't see any of the interaction. After we'd passed them, I heard him grumping, "Hey, don't look at my fiancee that way."

Yeah, I'm definitely leaving Berberville in good hands. :D

1 comment:

  1. This one made me laugh out loud. I love that he's already protective of you! He's definitely going to be good for Berberville.


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