Tuesday, May 29, 2012

I was proposed to for the first time

Am mildly surprised that it took me this long. Normally, foreign women get proposed to fairly regularly here.

I was buying strawberries for my host family in "downtown" Mafraq, and the strawberry vendor realized that I was an ajnabia (foreigner). He asked if I was from Ukraine. I told him I was from America. Are you married? Nope. Do you want to marry me? No, thanks. You don't like Arabs? Um...

The vendor tells his friends that he's talking with an American, and they seem nonpulsed. I pay for my strawberries. Ma'salama (goodbye).

"Are you married?" is a pretty common getting-to-know-you question here. It falls somewhere in-between "where are you from?" and "how old are you?"

When in taxis, I sometimes lie. But, usually, honesty gets the best of me. In Mafraq, I answer that I'm not married, and explain that I hope to finish my Master's first. The women are quite supportive.

A manager of a local NGO here, for instance, dropped this detail when introducing me to her colleagues: "Mashallah, she's waiting until after she gets her masters to get married. Mashallah." (Mashallah, in this case, meaning something along the lines of "that's so cool.")

It's not uncommon for women here to graduate from school, secure a job, and then get married. At least, a few of my host sisters have pursued this route. It's also not especially uncommon for women to get married before graduation. I spent the day at a girls' secondary school, for example, and met a 16-year-old who was engaged. "Congratulations" didn't roll off of my tongue very easily.

Anecdotally, marriage ages have been rising over the past few generations. I met a 60-something-year-old guy who married his wife when she was 13 and he was 20. ("But she was a strong 13-year-old," he tells me.) My 40-something-year-old host mother got married when she was in her mid-teens. Her oldest daughter got married a few months ago; she's in her mid-twenties.

When we talked about marriage, my host mother asserted that she got married too young, and she wants her daughters to wait. And her daughters want to. My 19-year-old host sister, for instance, plans to graduate from university and work for several years before getting engaged. Mashallah. 

If I were writing a more academic blog, I might mention how Jordan's poor economy is driving the age of marriage up for men and women. Men are expected to have a job, pay for a house, and buy future wives hundreds (or thousands) of dollars worth of gold as a sort of marital insurance. Without jobs, these financial obligations are impossible to fulfill. So guys wait, too.

If I were writing a more activist blog, I might criticize the socially-enforced value of a woman's virginity here. While individuals take different stances on premarital encounters (ranging from talking to sex), culture dictates that a woman's first time ought to be after her wedding. I've heard the story, often, of a couple in love, planning to marry, who decide to have sex. Then, the guy dumps the girl because he wouldn't want to marry anyone who would have sex before marriage. Ya haram. He has no repercussions. She undergoes hymen reconstruction surgery or, maybe, buys a Chinese hymen. (Actually no, Chinese hymens are not that popular here yet, but I take whatever opportunity I can to publicize them. They could save lives, literally.)

Maybe I'll write more about these things later, but for now I've gotta sleep! Don't know who'll propose to me tomorrow. More updates within a week, I promise.

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