Tag Archives: central asian women

why he won’t marry her

It is hard to let go of judgment—I can rarely, barely do it, and only in bits and pieces. Americans judge a woman by her marital status too, never mind that single women are happier and healthier than their married sisters. It’s otherwise for men. Odd, as we’re meant to believe it’s the about face.

A magazine cover in a subway kiosk caught my eye today. It slammed: “Why he won’t marry her” over the foreheads of two happy people I recognized only as famous types—glossy, pearly, faintly wax. Well of course she wants to marry the chap and of course he won’t marry her because she isn’t 100% virginal or motherly, not perfectly poured into one of the two molds acceptable for women in 2004, though she’s tried her damnedest. She slipped up somewhere and is not woman enough for him to quit screwing about and settle down. We will read about her imperfections and her punishment: HE WON’T MARRY HER. Such a shame.

It’s just conjecture. I didn’t read the article. I’m just pointing out that we aren’t so much farther along, as some of you thoughtfully suggested.

Yesterday someone I’d just met commented (consoled?) that it’s good I’m single now and can explore myself, because I won’t always have that space, won’t always be single. Can you imagine the reaction if I said to someone, “It’s good you are married now and can explore intimacy, because you won’t always have that.” Good word, it does sound like something I might say. Gracious. Anyway, you get my point, I hope.

Yet Central Asian women need men in a way Americans do not. They need men for status, a poignant status required for survival. An unprotected woman is prey of sorts. An American woman’s status is raised by marriage, but it’s a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses status, something we can intelligently recognize as inauthentic and disposable, and in doing so, marry out of love, respect and friendship instead of insecurity and fear.

because you don’t have kids

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.

victor’s femininst cause

I wrote most of this a few weeks ago but wasn’t able to send it.

Like it or not, I am a city girl. I love to travel and get out of town, but too long away from a metropolis and I freak out a little. Or too many times around Uzbekistan in a circle (eight now) and I freak out a little. I really must figure how many miles it’s been. I love to mile drop.

What I’m saying is that it’s oh-s0-good to be back in Tashkent. I’m at Hotel Tsorbi now using a computer in an air-conditioned office all to myself. The chair is even reasonably comfortable. It’s quiet! I’ve even been room-serviced a piping hot cup of Nescafé.

And all free of charge, thanks to Victor. He complained that I criticize him too much last night, as he pulled out a bracelet for me to inspect, a birthday gift he bought for some twenty-seven year old colleague. His generosity is boundless, really.

It is. I come here every night to use the office and I am more than welcome, even though I’m not staying at the hotel (I’m at Gulnara’s while off tour). Though I am tough on Victor, I do quite like him. He entertains me to no end.

I take him out to dinner once in awhile to thank him, though it’s a constant struggle to convince him I that will pay. He’s fond of Taj, the best Indian restaurant in town, which only wins him points with me.

At our last Taj meal, quite awhile ago, Victor came clean about the whole Natalya mail order bride debacle. This is also when he reassured me of his concern for women’s rights (you should have known I wasn’t going to let this go).

I must have been sitting there with a very skeptical look on my face because he said, exasperated, “Why don’t you believe I am sincere about this problem!”

Oh Victor, thank you for the beautiful entree!

“Victor, did you not tell Mario that you have four American girlfriends?” I asked.

“Yes.” Victor replied unabashedly, not quite getting the connection.

I was thrown. How to explain that in America, if you have a wife and children, it is not acceptable to have four girlfriends, American or otherwise? And that somehow this in itself is very obviously an insult to womankind? AND that if he wants to help women, he should start at home with his wife and daughter?

“Um, Victor,” I asked, “Is there any concept of male monogamy here in Uzbekistan?”

Victor took a drag on his Davidoff cigarette, furled his brow as if confused by the idiocy of the question, and said simply, “No.”

Okay, new tactic. And your wife. If she allowed to have other lovers?”

Another (perhaps creative?) pause. Then he leaned toward me and confided, Well, yes. But we have a special arrangement because she lived with the kids in Samarkand for a year before I brought them to Tashkent. She knows I have girlfriends. I don’t tell her everything only because I don’t want to hurt her, but she knows enough.”

And then, recalling my question, added, “And she is allowed other men.”

“Yes, you say that, but does she? And if she did, would you still approve?” I responded, knowing full well that he says ‘go ahead’ only because she doesn’t and won’t.

So I was wrong.

“Yes, she has. Once. But it wasn’t very good for her. It wasn’t a good experience,” he said, shaking his head sadly at the thought his little wife subjecting herself to a lesser man.

I laughed like a madwoman. Haven’t I heard this line from Victor before?

“Okay Victor, so if your wife had an affair and it was good for her, would you still approve?”

Victor laughed, only slightly embarrassed, and swiveled the subject back to Uzbeks, “But this is definitely not normal here in Uzbekistan. Wives here are not allowed other men.”

Okay, Victor. That I believe.

On the drive back to the hotel we passed Bar Emir, an ex-pat and mafia hangout with outrageous prices for the same mediocre food and drinks as any other western-style bar/restaurant.

“That’s my favorite place to get a coffee and sit,” Victor said, then quickly added, “Outside, outside I mean,” so that I wasn’t inclined to think that he went to watch the women stripping and pole dancing inside.

Of course he wouldn’t do that.

He will, however, call my male colleagues over to appreciate the pornographic ‘newsletters’ that he receives in his email every day. I try not to take being left out personally.

Shucks I’m hard on him.

View his rebuttal.

More very soon.