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“What do you mean, I could marry her?!”
Carl couldn’t believe that his American wife was really suggesting that he marry her Afghan friend. Could she possibly be serious? Did she really want him to marry another woman? He loved his wife, and he had been willing to travel to Afghanistan for her but this…
“That is the only way to save her.” Lauren replied adamantly. “I have thought it through. If we were to just give her brother the money, there is nothing to keep him from marrying her off later. If she refuses to get married, she can’t stay in Afghanistan. If she doesn’t get married it will be a shame on her brother and he will have to punish her and she can’t leave the country because she would need a passport and a visa and a place to go. The only solution is for someone else to marry her and the only man I trust is you!”
“But Lauren I can’t marry her. I already have a wife. You!”
“Carl we are in Afghanistan. That’s not a problem. As long as your current wife agrees, and I do, you are allowed to marry up to four women at a time.”
“Yeah, but I’m not Afghan. I’m American. The American government doesn’t recognize polygamous marriages.”
“No, but they don’t have to. What’s important is that the Afghan government recognizes it, so she wouldn’t be in danger of being married off to some guy twice her age whom she’s never even seen.”
“Honey, I hate to break it to you but I am a man twice her age, whom she’s never even seen.”
“She’s seen you.”
“Really? I don’t remember meeting her.”
“Sure several times. Of course you couldn’t see her. She was wearing her burqa. But she told me that she has seen you. And anyways I have told her all about you.”
“So you mean you’ve talked with her about this already?” Carl was still surprised that his wife would suggest such a thing.
“Of course I’ve talked with her already. I don’t go around suggesting that my husband marry someone who isn’t even interested!” Lauren laughed.
Carl was shocked how casual she was about this whole thing. How could she laugh about such an idea? Lauren was always trying to save someone, but she was also really traditional, especially in respect to marriage. It was really out of character for her to be so relaxed about the idea of him being with another woman. She usually gets jealous if he just mentions another woman.
“So you are saying, that you me, your husband, to marry this twenty year old girl. And that she wants to marry me too?” It sounded even more unreal as he said it out loud.
“Well actually, she’s 19.” Lauren answered under her breath. “But it’s not like it’s going to be a real marriage. It’s just a formality so that she doesn’t have to marry someone terrible. But yeah, basically that’s what I’m saying.”
A few hours later Carl, Lauren, and Rahmat were sitting in the living room of Mina’s family home. They sat on the traditional long cushions that were positioned around walls of the room in every Afghan home. A thermos with black tea and some almonds in the shell were sitting in front of them. Their home was nice and clean but not especially wealthy.
Mina’s father had worked for an international organization and had been able to provide for his family. Now that he was gone though there wasn’t much income. Mina’s older brother worked as a teacher. As Carl well knew, the pay from the schools was so bad that you could hardly live from it, let alone save enough to afford to get married. Mina’s brother’s only hope for getting married was to manage to sell Mina off to a family willing to pay top dollar.
An educated girl like Mina usually could bring a high bride price, sometimes as much $20,000. In this case they already knew that there was an offer from another family for $8000. They would have to try to beat that price and negotiate a marriage contract. If there was going to be a wedding.
After about twenty minutes Mina’s brother Najib finally came in and sat down.
“Welcome to our home.” He said in Dari and smiled at his guests.
This was one of the few phrases that Carl understood. But Rahmat translated for him anyway.
Carl was surprised at how young he was. He couldn’t have been much more than twenty-one himself. He couldn’t believe that this kid was arranging to marry his sister off for money and that it was perfectly legal.
“When will Mina be joining us?” Carl asked.
Najib and Rahmat laughed with each other and spoke together in Dari. Sometimes looking over at the two Americans. Rahmat did not bother to translate for them.
“Of course Mina will not be joining us tonight.” Rahmat finally said to the two English speakers. “It would be immoral for a woman to be present in the company of men.”
“But Lauren is here.” Carl objected.
“That is different.”
“So you mean that Mina will have no say in the agreement at all?”
“Not at all. She will agree with whatever her brother decides.” Rahmat explained.
This logic wasn’t at all satisfying for either of the Americans, but they had gotten used to this kind of arrangement in Afghanistan.
“So bursa escort of course you must first become a Muslim.” Najib smiled at Carl.
“Don’t worry you will not have to grow a beard or anything. You will simply have to go to the mullah and declare your faith in Allah, the Prophet, the Holy Qur’an and the angels.”
Carl was not a particularly religious man. He could perhaps be called a Christian. At least he had been to church a few times as a child. But he didn’t really believe anything in particular. But even though he didn’t have any religious convictions, it was a bit much to say that he would have to change his religion.
Carl turned to Lauren, “Did you know about this?”
“Sure it’s normal. It’s just a formality.” Lauren replied reassuringly. “Christian women are allowed to marry Muslim men, but a Muslim woman is only allowed to marry a Muslim. But like he says it’s not complicated to become Muslim.”
“It’s not a question about being complicated or not.” Carl was indignant. “I don’t even know if I believe in God, let alone Allah.”
“I’m sure you will find the faith.” Mina’s brother smiled. “That is if you want to marry Mina.”
Lauren looked over at Carl, her eyes communicating that he better get religion and get it quick. Carl was not convinced but he remained silent and the negotiations continued.
Most of the time Rahmat handled the details without translating back for the two foreigners. At one point though, they started to argue with each other. Carl interrupted and asked Rahmat what the problem was.
“Because you don’t have children, he wants you to agree that if Mina does not have a child within the first year of marriage, you will be held responsible for the lack of a child. I told him this is unacceptable.”
“It’s no problem I agree.” Carl answered.
“But Mr. Carl…”
Carl cut off Rahmat mid-sentence. “It’s no problem. I agree. If there is no child it is my fault.”
Who cares whose fault it is anyway? When he and Lauren were newly married they had hoped to have children but it hadn’t been possible. Lauren had always blamed herself because she had cysts. If only he could have told her then that it wasn’t her fault. She might not have blamed herself so much. No, if someone was going to be assigned blame he could take it. His shoulders were wide enough.
The contract was very thorough. It dealt with where they would live – in his guesthouse, there was an extra room adjacent to his own where she could stay; how often she could visit her family home -as often as she likes; whether the bride is a virgin – the brother swears it is so, but it’s unclear how he would know; if she would be allowed to work -she would. Finally, they came to the main topic: the bride price.
“I think a girl like Mina. She is very special don’t you agree?” Mina’s brother smiled at them both. “I would not be willing to let her go with you for less than $30,000.”
Their jaws dropped. They had been expecting an increase over the previous offer but this was more than three times what the other family had agreed to.
“No, we couldn’t possibly.” Carl objected. “I’m a teacher. Like you. I don’t have that kind of money.”
“No, not like me. You are American. Americans are rich.” Najib smiled at him again.
Carl would have liked to leave the negotiations right then. But one look at Lauren and he knew that he couldn’t leave. She had made up her mind and when she’s decided something, there is no changing it.
The money wasn’t really an issue. They were not rich, but Lauren’s position paid well, almost a thousand dollars a day. Even at thirty thousand it was only a little more than one months work.
Finally they agreed to $12,000. But only after agreeing that the bride’s family would not have to provide any of the usual furnishings for the new couple, and the groom would pay for a wedding that would cost no more than $4000.
In keeping with Afghan tradition the wedding would be in three days. Until then, there was to be no contact between Carl and Mina.
It seemed crazy to plan such a big party so quickly but all the details had already been arranged. The dresses had already been made, the caterer found. The last and seemingly most inconsequential detail was the groom. And now that he had been found the wedding could continue.
The festivities began already the next evening. Mina and Lauren went to the Khina party, where Mina intricate henna patterns were drawn on Mina’s arms. Lauren enjoyed herself. They danced and laughed the whole evening. It seemed like a dream. Mina was free. She would never have to worry about being married off to some wife beating old man again.
Carl’s evening was less enjoyable. He had an appointment with the local mullah. An old man showed up with the sourest expression on his face at dinner time. Carl invited him in but he only grunted an acknowledgment.
Carl, Rahmat, the chawkidar and the mullah ate a traditional meal of Afghan rice without talking. Finally, after finishing a serving big enough for two people the mullah bursa escort bayan started to speak.
He explained the tenets of Islam angrily like he had better things to do. He didn’t pause for Rahmat to translate and even Rahmat struggled to keep up with the soliloquy. Finally after forty minutes, he told the chawkidar to fetch some water. And then rolling up his sleeves he demonstrated how to do the Islamic purification ritual. After that he told Carl to repeat the Shahahdah, the Islamic creed, in Arabic. The mullah seemed frustrated with Carl’s pronunciation, but it must have been acceptable. Afterward, much to Carl’s surprise, the mullah embraced him and gave him a big bear hug.
“Shoma digar kafir nesti, musulman shudi!” (You are no longer an infidel, you are now a Muslim!)
For a brief moment Carl felt the warmth of being part of something bigger than himself. He still wasn’t sure he believed any of it, and there were many things he was critical of but it was someone nice to be part of a worldwide community.
The feeling didn’t last though. A moment later, the mullah took out a ceremonial knife and told him to drop his pants. Carl was confused and uncomfortable. After some confused discussion involving gestures, he understood that they wanted to circumcise him.
Luckily Carl was already circumcised as child, but the mullah still required him to drop his shorts to prove it. Rahmat and the chawkidar were still there. The chawkidar discreetly stepped out but Rahmat stayed unabashedly.
Carl was not especially shy. But he hadn’t been prepared for this at all.
Not seeing any other option, he reluctantly undid his pants and lowered his boxer shorts. His flaccid penis hung heavily between his legs. All could see that he was indeed circumcised.
It seemed to Carl that the mullah was disappointed that he had told the truth.
The mullah said something to Rahmat in Dari and walked away in a huff.
“He says, you have to shave yourself. You’re no longer an animal you are a Muslim.”
“What do you mean shave?” Carl asked, pulling his pants up again. “I thought muslims weren’t supposed to shave.”
“Down there. You have to shave yourself.”
Carl was a pretty traditional guy and “manscaping” was a term from a different generation. He had never taken a razor to that part of his body and was uncomfortable thinking about it.
At least they let him do that in private. He shaved himself as best he could. He couldn’t help but think what Lauren would think when she saw him next.
For the next several hours until he went to bed Carl practiced the Islamic prayers. As a Muslim he would be expected to say them five times a day and it was a part of the wedding ceremony. This whole thing was getting pretty complicated after all.
The day of the wedding everyone was stressed just like at any wedding in any country. They had to get dressed. The cook came late. The music wouldn’t work. More guests came than were invited. Most of the time though Carl, Mina and Lauren seemed to be in the background.
Everyone was busy with the activity of the party but there was nothing for them to do. Carl and Mina were in two separate rooms and Lauren spent her time going from one room to the other.
Mina was nervous and Lauren tried to calm her. She told her about her own wedding and told her Carl was a kind man and would allow her to follow her dreams.
Carl was also nervous. It seemed like he was in a play, for which he was the only one who did not have the script. Lauren hugged him and reminded him how thankful she was that he was willing to do this to help Mina.
Carl was to wear traditional Afghan clothes with pants big enough for two of him to stand inside, a long shirt that was intricately decorated by hand with needlepoint and a turban. Lauren, was wearing a red dress and looked incredibly beautiful. The bride would have two dresses, first a green one and then later in the evening a white one.
Finally they came to the big event, the moment he would be allowed to meet his new bride for the first time. He was brought first into a large tent that had been set up in the Mina’s family’s yard. Inside were hundreds of Afghan women. All this time he had not seen a single woman and then now all at once he was allowed to see behind the veil. They wore colorful dresses, laughed with each other and danced. It was so different than the men’s gatherings. Those were more quiet occasions focused on consuming large quantities of food.
Carl sat alone at a table in the front of the tent. Carl was shocked to see that several of the young women were wearing strapless gowns. At first he thought that their cleavage, shoulders and arms were exposed, but when he looked closer he noticed that they were wearing flesh colored long sleeve shirts under their dresses. Muslim modesty but with modern fashion, he thought to himself.
Although it was just a paper wedding, Carl was nervous and a little excited. What would she look like? Would she like him? Would he like her? He was sure he would. If Lauren liked her so escort bursa much he could be sure that she was an interesting young woman.
As the bride entered the tent, she was covered in a veil. He watched as she approached him and was seated next to him. Then someone set a mirror up on the table in front of them and only then was the veil removed. Looking into the mirror they were given the first chance to look at each other.
Mina had already seen Carl, but this was the first time that Carl had seen her. She had fine features, dark eyes, fair skin and plump lips. She smiled at him. He smiled back. She was beautiful. If all Afghan women were so beautiful, it was a crime to ever cover them up.
They looked at each other without speaking and let their eyes meet for a split second but then they looked away. It seemed strange that they were allowed to look at each other. Six months Carl had lived in Afghanistan, but until today he had never seen an Afghan woman’s face. He was no longer used to seeing a woman, and being so close to this one, the one that was to be his wife, even if it was just a formality was an incredible turn on.
Her green dress was surprisingly tight fitting. In Afghanistan all clothing style, but especially women’s clothing was designed to be baggy and to not reveal the shape of the body underneath. But her dress hugged her body in all the right places. She had the tight youthful body that you would expect from an attractive 19 year old. Her breasts stuck out like rockets, like a fifties pin up girl, but he suspected, that a stiff bra had more to do with that than her natural endowment. Her waist was slender, so narrow he figured could nearly span it with his hands. Her hips flared gently out and were lost under the folds of her dress.
For a few minutes they were able to acclimate themselves to each other’s presence. They weren’t supposed to talk. Even if they had been allowed, the music was too loud to hear anything. After what seemed like five minutes though the various rituals and traditions began.
Carl was guided around and told what to do. There were gifts, dances, food and more gifts. Finally, several hours later, after a huge meal of lamb with delicious oily rice the ceremony was over. The party would continue for several hours into the night but the couple were brought to a room where they could be alone. They would have their privacy now until the morning.
They nervously sat side by side on a cushion on the floor, neither sure who should speak first.
“It was a beautiful party.” Carl ventured.
“Yes” she agreed without elaborating more.
“I like your necklace.” Carl said smiling at her and indicating the large silver traditional Afghan wedding jewelry. “Is that a family heirloom?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I mean is that from your mother or from your grandmother?”
“No, you gave it to me.”
“Oh” Carl was embarrassed. He remembered now that there had been some discussion about jewelry. But he wasn’t sure that he had ever seen it before it had been wrapped. There had been so many gifts…
“Look at me Mina.”
She looked slightly up in his direction.
“Are you happy? Is everything alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine thank you.” Mina replied trying to manage a smile.
A strand of dark hair had fallen down in front of her face. Carl reached over to brush it out of her eyes. But as his fingers toughed her hair she flinched and pulled away.
“Sorry” Carl said pulling his hand back.
“No, its ok.” She replied. “I’m sorry. I’m just not used to a man touching me. Please forgive me.”
“It’s fine. We don’t know each other. Of course you are uncomfortable.”
“If you want, we can just go to sleep. It’s been a long day. You can sleep over there. I can make my bed here.”
She looked at him confused, “First don’t you want to…” she blushed as she searched for the words, “…finish the wedding?”
It took a moment for Carl to catch her meaning. “Oh no. No, don’t worry about that. That wasn’t part of the plan.”
“What do you mean, ‘the plan’?” Mina asked confused.
“I mean this all of this. It was all just a formality, right. I wouldn’t ask you to do that. It’s not a real wedding after all.”
“Not a real wedding! What do you mean?! What have you done to me? Do you mean to shame me and my family in front of the whole city?” Mina was irate. “If it was not a real wedding what was all of this? These gifts, this dress? I thought you were a kind man? You are just a liar!” Mina started to cry.
Carl didn’t know what to say. He hadn’t meant to offend her. He hated it when women cried. He was always at a loss.
He sat down next to her and wrapped his arm around her. She flinched slightly again as his arm touched her but she quickly relaxed and he held her as she cried.
“Why don’t you want me?” She asked eventually through her tears.
Carl thought about the question. It wasn’t that he didn’t want her. He wanted her. Of course he wanted her. She was a young beautiful woman. For the last six months he had been living in a world of men to the exclusion of any women. Of course he wanted her. But he had assumed that she didn’t want him. Not in that way. After all she was so much younger than him and they didn’t even know each other.
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