One night Ulugbek asked me how many people I’d slept with. I laughed at him and replied, “I’m not telling you that. You’d judge me.”
“I wouldn’t judge you for that. I judge you because you don’t have kids, but not for that.” he informed.
“You what?” I laughed, “What?”
“Yes, I think that you are selfish with your freedom and travels and that you are really just afraid that you can’t afford to pay someone to take care of your kids.”
I am long used to the ubiquitous questions “Are you married? Do you have children?” In Central Asia, women are wives and mothers. Even if they work outside the home, motherhood is how they achieve status and respect. This marriage question is no different from our ubiquitous: “And tell us what you do.” We hear the occupation, and we label accordingly.
Yet we understand the marriage question because this is the case in most of the world. It wasn’t so long ago that our world was like this. Our own parents and grandparents probably still harbor this sentiment in some form or another.
Yet we urbanites tend to look down on this. Some think it’s selfish to have children, generally when we judge the parents as unfit or unready. Like everyone else, we assume our way is better and assume that at the very least we will be understood when we properly explain. I always explained to the shopkeeper, the taxi driver, the housemother, the rug seller, that I wasn’t married, I was too young, and I wanted my freedom. I saw that some women understood, and understood deeply. What I didn’t thoroughly understand was that other women, and most of the men, judged me harshly and most likely labeled me as the wanton hussy they’d seen so frequently and unabashedly in American films and TV. The equivalent in their culture is a prostitute.
Too young? I was a decade past nubile in their eyes. Freedom? My call for freedom isn’t something Central Asians have a working grasp of, especially not the women. Tradition is almost the only thing they have that provides a sense of order in their lives, and that tradition is all about family. My American-bred need for independence is still contradictory to the human instinct for survival in this part of the world and I would slowly begin to understand that, and Ulug’s judgment of me, this trip around.
“Ah, okay, Ulug.” I answered, his youth the only thing keeping me from offense.
more to come.