Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Portrait #52: She likes bright colours

Is it possible for someone to "mumble" into a room? The way she walked looked kind of like a mumble. Small steps, eyes looking nowhere in particular. Her hijab and abaya were old and tattered-looking, a dull but unmistakable yellow from top to bottom. Her face looked old, like she's nearing the end of a long, hard life. But slow as her movements were, I got the impression that beneath the abaya hid a strong and well-preserved body.

She sat down and we explained that we wanted to get to know her and ask her some questions, in order to understand a bit better the situation of women like her. She replied by unfolding a rumpled piece of paper that she was holding tightly. It contained her son's name and photo and some medical information about him. She wanted help for her son. That's all she wanted. And if we couldn't help her son, she pulled out another piece of paper with similar information about her husband. Perhaps we could help him.

I don't know if she really understood when we said we couldn't help her with her family's very real needs. But she opted to stay and answer our questions nonetheless. And so we asked her about her family, about her background.

What really struck me about this woman was that she is clearly a strong woman who looks out for her family. Her husband doesn't work, her sons don't contribute to the household expenses, and women in her family are not supposed to work. So she begs. And one daughter does work now, which makes her the only person contributing to their household expenses. Another daughter is staying with the family for a while because she is fleeing a bad marriage. The woman I met helps keep them together, goes to charities to beg for help, and looks out for her grandchildren. She came across as strong and determined. And as completely battered.

She didn't even know what violence is. And when we asked her about men beating their wives, she didn't know that that's bad, she said it is just normal. She is 55 years old, and her husband used to beat her plenty, and her daughters have experienced it, too, but that is the way life is. Her sons don't do anything for her, in fact I got the impression they like to make life difficult for her. Her parents never sent her to school, and they found her a husband when she was still a girl. But she didn't come to us a sad woman, she came to us for help, and said that she takes life as it comes.

I hesitated to write about her on my blog because it's so personal to talk about this woman whose name I don't even know. But the truth is, it was a privilege to meet her because there are so many women out there with stories like hers but who never have this kind of conversation with a foreigner. In the end, this one woman just blends in to the mass of scarf-framed faces that surrounds her.

1 comment:

Robert Martin said...

All I can say is "wow". I've only read a couple of your "Portrait" posts and its fascinating hearing about that interaction with the other cultures in our world and how... foreign... they sound to my western ears. My Uncle introduced me to your blog as I'm exploring some similar questions on my own from a Mennonite perspective as to how we should engage other peoples, both abroad as well as locally, with the Gospel.

I look forward to reading more!

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