The following is a letter I received from a girl I named Abeer. She wrote to me in Arabic and asked for my help. After her permission, we agreed that I should translate her words into English and post her letter on my blog for every single reader to have an open discussion. Whatever you might think, please feel free to join in through your comments. I might at any point butt in but I'd rather keep my peace for as long as I can.
Abeer, thank you for trusting me with your story. I wish you the best.
I hesitated before I chose how to address you “Azizi: Dear” or “Ammo: Uncle” but then decided that you are so young at heart, I'd better drop the “Ammo” least I make you upset.
You see you are about my father's age and I'm young enough to be your daughter. I'm a 21 years old girl from Damascus. I can write in English but prefer to express myself in Arabic, especially now. I have been reading your blog for almost a year. My boyfriend, and let's call him Jad, introduced me to your writing. I think I have read everything you wrote but I particularly like your posts about love, women and life in general.
The reason I'm writing this private email to you is because I'm seeking your advice. You might find it ridiculous that a total stranger asks for your help. But you wrote that you are a fool with a lantern and I so hope that the light you are shedding can show me the way.
I come from a good family. I am a very pretty girl and I'm not saying that out of vanity. My beauty, however, doesn't bear directly on my “tragedy”. I grew up with Jad, our neighbors' son. We played and studied together. There was no beginning to our love story. We were in love ever since I can remember. We kissed on the stairs and the balcony. We made promises to each other and kept them. Our lives evolved around each other. He never made me sad. He never said a harsh word to me. In turn, I never gave another boy a second look.
My father is a very wealthy man. He is highly educated and had lived a good part of his life abroad. My mother too (was) a very open minded woman and studied at the university of Damascus. We moved to the suburbs a few years ago and live in a very nice villa. Through the years my parents always knew about Jad and me. They never openly talked about him but his father was a good friend of mine. That is until my father became too important (in his own opinion) and too busy with making more money and their friendship withered with time. My mother was a normal intelligent, attractive, educated and entertaining Damascene woman until she turned into a self-righteous one who attends religious lessons and hosts them in the villa once a week. Her “friends”, I think, brainwashed her and made her such a boring and meaningless woman. Suddenly, the most important part of her life became her Hijab. Shopping and acquiring weird “Islamic” fashion became her obsession. The whole universe, suddenly, became centered around her hair. She has regular hair like everybody else but it has become such a precious asset it needed to be hidden from everyone because that is what Allah wants.
She removed her wedding pictures from the salon and living room. Her photo holding me and my brother on the beach in Lattakia was the centerpiece of the entire wall. It disappeared. Beautiful memories wiped out because her hair showed. My brother, one year younger than me also became what I like to describe as a Muslim Crusader. Life is defined around his going back and forth to the mosque for prayers. My father apparently didn't change that much, or so I thought at first.
Slowly, I became the focal point of my mother's and brother's attention. Who am I talking to over the phone? Where was I? No, I can't spend time with my friends in Damascus. Yes, I should wear the Hijab. Certainly I must pray five times a day. How did my mother change from being a compassionate woman to a ruthless robotic idiot is something I will never understand. I succumbed to their whims for about one year and wore the Hijab. I just kept thinking how stupid I was. How stupid my mom is. Didn't she grow up in a regular family? How I dress, whether I have nail polish, the perfume I wear became the nightly dinner conversation. My father was updated on my situation and he constantly frowned and expressed his disbelief at my unacceptable behavior.
Only Jad kept me sane with these crazy people. He told me to take it easy and that my parents only want the best for me. But deep inside, I knew him better than that. He is a very smart and sensitive guy. He has crossed the line of being a puppet to the ingrained traditional and religious mores of our society. His father is a wonderful man, intelligent and well read. I remember when I was a little girl how much both my parents enjoyed his enlightening company.
I am in my third year in the university (Economics) and 2 months ago over lunch, very casually my mother announced with pride and satisfaction that a certain young man, the son of a certain old man has asked for my hand in marriage. His mother, a friend of one my mother's inner circle of religious women was the matchmaker. I couldn't believe the ensuing discussion between my father, my mother and my brother about me, about my future, about the need to wear the Hijab again because it is not open to discussion with the suitor's family. My father. My own father, the one who taught me how to ride a bicycle and how to swim on his back, the one who bought me all these little dainty miniskirts from his travels, the intellectual who sat by my bed and explained the importance of education and work when I get older and the same man who held my hand and looked straight in my eyes one day and said that I should not live to need to be married has been transformed into a mere shadow. A hypocrite parrot bargaining and debating my future with my mindless mother and my fanatic brother.
I told them that when I decide to get married I will never consider anyone but Jad. Since then, my life has turned into a living hell. I'm no longer allowed out of the house. My family has taken away my liberties and my humanity and turned me into a 21 years old slave. They are going ahead with their planning and scheming and the engagement/Kitab/marriage ceremony is looming inevitably closer. Did I mention that the idiot who wants to marry me already made several remarks about what he likes and doesn't like about me, what I should keep and change in my character and personality. He came over for several visits with his family. Although I would probably spit in his face if he asks to be alone with me he has shown no interest at all in talking to me in private so far.
It's becoming harder and harder to sneak a talk with Jad who would be leaving to Canada by the end of the summer. He has asked me to go with him and there is more than one way I can do that. I already have an open visa and he is a Canadian citizen. I'm certain that I don't want to waste my life with someone I cannot even look at. I'm also convinced that I will never love anyone but Jad. At 21, I'm forced to make the decision of leaving Syria never to return.
What do you think Abufares?