Friday, August 28, 2009

Women in foreign places

Here is what happened to her in Kabul—and it’s essential to remember this occurred decades before the Taliban made life for women completely intolerable. Chesler’s American passport was confiscated at the airport: she never saw it again. Her young “bohemian” husband became, as she notes, “another person”: cold and distant, a sometime defender of polygamy (his father, to Chesler’s surprise, had three wives) and champion of the veil. Chesler quickly discovered that “Afghans mistrusted foreign wives”—and her walks around the city, invariably barefaced and without the long coat or gloves urged on her by her in-laws, made her the target of lewd advances and crude insults. When she fled to the American embassy, “the Marines would bring me back home every time,” she recalls. “I was the wife of a foreign national. I had lost my citizenship.”

Her in-laws were deeply unhappy with their son’s decision to bring home an American bride. She lived in perpetual fear that she might become, as her husband intended her to be, pregnant. That would have been the end of the narrative, for, as Chesler points out: “You’re then going to be trapped in the country you’re in forever because you’re carrying Muslim property. The child.”

When her mother-in-law quietly stopped boiling her drinking water, Chesler developed hepatitis. She weighed 90 pounds on her arrival back in New York City. Her father-in-law, delighted to be rid of her, paid for her ticket home. Because of her experience, the occasional young American woman who is thinking of marrying a Muslim with an urge to return to his own country visits Chesler for advice. And she tells them what she knows: “This man you love will change overnight before your eyes. You will live but you will wish you were dead.”
Twice Branded: Western Women in Muslim Land

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