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Listen to this!

The blood of one man, when it took you, was hard to overcome, but what could you do about blood that comes from who knows where, and stops flowing who knows where? It was not the blood of a single man, but torrents of the blood of generations of human beings that streamed all over the High Plateau, the blood of young men and old men, for years and for centuries.
Ismail Kadare - "Broken April"

Tell me that's not incredible writing. And that's not the book jacket. That's just a paragraph in the middle of the page! Occasionally, the good doctor gets a bee in his bonnet and starts ordering books. Out of the blue, we'll get like 12 packages from Fed Ex. Books. All from the same author. And a couple months later? Six more - by someone else. This one's a winner. He considers himself to be enhancing my education by making me (No shit. I get reading hours scheduled for me.) read the things he thinks I need to know about the world. There's always political articles on my keyboard in the morning for me to digest. He even spent an hour one day reading poetry to me in Pushtoon. He'd look up at me with tears in his eyes and say, "Isn't that just beautiful?" and it was. Even though I had no clue what it meant, it was indeed breathtaking. I started reading Broken April a couple weeks ago when my co-worker was gone. It's one of those books that you have to concentrate on with a minimum of distraction. The writing is just so... Just so. You know?

I pulled it out again today after she left for the afternoon. It's all about the Albanian hills between the wars and the blood-money culture that ran their society for years and years. Holy. I've been getting my dose of different cultures/customs/laws lately. And it's all related to my job. Go figure. I work for a man who says, "Revenge first. Justice second." The good doctor is kind of the "grandfather" figure of his cultural community around here. People come to him for advice, to settle disputes, for direction in life, to name their kids. It's just how it is. He is revered by many from his home country as an elder. And there's been some domestic violence lately that he has stepped in to help dismantle. This woman may have gotten married off to a stranger of her parent's choosing back home, but the good doctor is exacting and swift here in the United States. You don't hurt a woman. Revenge first. Justice second. And that is exactly how it has played out.

I don't agree with alot of his customs when it comes to women. And if you've been reading for any amount of time, you know that he and I have had some serious words about it. Look at what is on her marriage certificate! Lines 1-4 are all where it happened and whose involved. Line 5 (LINE FIVE) asks if she's a virgin. Um? Who has to check on that? Lines 7-11 indentify the parents, because frankly? This is a legal contract of sale. Yes. Sale. Because Lines 12-17 outline her dowry - whether it is to come through money, property, on demand, or over time AS THE BRIDE SUFFICES. She was sold for 150,000 rupees which translates into 1,830.18 USD. Now here's where it all gets tricky for me. I mean, I do not have to like all this dowry and sale crap, but the rights? That comes next.

Line 18: Whether, the husband has delegated right to divorce, to his wife. Answer: No.
Line 19: If any restriction is imposed on husband's right to divorce? Answer: No.

He can leave her at any time but she doesn't have the right to leave him. It's in the contract. And that's what makes it so tough for women in her situation to get free of things like domestic violence. Her family entered a legal contract with her husband that she is not free to revoke. Oh, the lawyers and faxes back and forth to the homeland. Because technically, neither of them are citizens of the United States. The tapes I had to listen to while he was translating copy of her husband beating her and calling her horrible names? That was a whole day of torture. I kept telling him I couldn't handle it and he kept saying it was building character. Until I ran into the bathroom in tears because I couldn't take it anymore. Then he finally quit.

Well, he won. She's free, she's got her son with her and the divorce will be final quite quickly. And even though she's still hurting, she is safe. Of course, she thinks she has wronged society as a whole because she "failed" in her marriage, but that's where good direction and love from the women in this community come in.

Fast forward to this afternoon. South Dakota has a fantastic number of Hutterite communities. And today, we saw a young woman with a horrible burn from such a community. The good doctor recognizes people of like mind, and in the waiting room, there progressed conversation that at once fascinated and burned my soul. The young girl sat demurely (and I only say that because I am not a demure girl) while listening to her father extole her virtues as a would-be wife. She's freaking 13. And the good doctor says, "Who gets to decide who she marries?" Because he truly is interested. And the father puffs up his chest (Seriously. I did not imagine this.) and says, "I decide. The father decides."

I was horrified. Kind of. I'm not sure how I felt. It's what works for them. I'm largely against missionary work. I figure if a societies' ways works for them, then so be it. Who are "we" to undo it. But that poor little girl. I wanted to swoop her up and cuddle her and tell her that she need not be subjected to a marriage with someone she doesn't love. But nothing doing. That's how they live.

Is that wrong of me? Is it? I wonder. I observe what goes on in the world. Sometimes I fight it when I'm horribly offended by it, but this? It works for them. Arranged marriages? Hell. I don't know. I do know that the good doctor's marriage was arranged and today, he calls his wife his best friend. But only because he chose to work at it. Not everyone does that.

I'm completely conflicted by it all. And it started with me reading. Reading an incredibly written book that I will finish tomorrow.


SoMi's Nilsa said...

A dear friend of mine is VERY liberal in her views and strongly believes in individuality and freedom of choice. That said, she traveled with a friend to India and met this friend's family. She got to speak to a number of people involved in arranged marriages. And this VERY liberal friend says she understands arranged marriages. They put a lot of time and thought into pairing up a couple. That it's much more humane that we Americans chalk it up to being. And while I still don't necessarily agree with it (for me), I do see that it works in some cultures. And as you suggested, who are we to mess with it?!

Summer said...

I worked for a man very similar to the good doctor. I had the same conflicting feelings. For me: I finally resolved to value the things about him that I thought were wise and good, and learn what I could. I still argued like hell with him about the women's rights though. :) BTW I shudder to think about my dad deciding my spouse. Ick!