An African's Anecdotes and Accoutrements
|I am in awe of cross-cultural relationships. I have great admiration for those who make a commitment to build a life together; it takes courage and determination to overcome racial, religious and linguistic differences... not forgetting the possible diversity of each person’s cultural and traditional background. And then there’s the relatives, who view any liaison with someone outside the cultural/racial/religious group as The Ultimate Transgression.
A couple of weekends ago we got the chance to witness first hand the ugly side of a cross cultural relationship. Arthur, one of our friends from our years in Zimbabwe, was over here on business, and on Sunday we arranged to meet him at his hotel. We decided to go to Eko Bar, the most popular pub for Izmir’s ex-pat community. Arthur now lives in England, and had flown over for a week of business.
After parking the car, we strolled down to Eko, which is one block away from the waterfront. We were able to see the sea from our table - it was still warm enough to sit outside. As we arrived Arthur greeted a young girl who’d flown over on the ‘plane with him. We’ll call her Sally - she actually shares her name with a famous British singer. She was with her fiancé, a young Turkish man I’ll call Umut.
Sally was probably the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. She was petite, with long straight ash blonde hair falling over her shoulders. Her blue eyes were so clear they sparkled, and her gaze was confident and direct. Her lovely figure was emphasised in a long, yellow t-shirt dress which reached mid-thigh. Black leggings encased her legs to her calves, and on her feet were a gorgeous pair of diamante sandals. I remember admiring them, because unlike most sandals I admire these did not have a thong between the toes, so I could have worn them. Sally had a lovely accent, and she laughed a lot.
We sat with Arthur all afternoon. As the designated driver I had a few glasses of red wine. Ivan and Arthur drank the local Efes draft beer, before moving onto to whiskey (Ivan) and vodka (Arthur). We ate a late lunch of calamari and prawns with a delicious cheese and potato salad. Sally and Umut sat near us, talking and laughing with each other, sharing the occasional kiss and holding hands. They were a great looking couple, and everyone in the bar was watching them. They were drinking white wine.
Early in the evening they came over and sat with us. Umut was sitting next to me at the head of our table. Sally sat opposite me next to Arthur, and Ivan was on my other side. Umut was impressed with my very limited command of the Turkish language, and when I told him that after three years in his country I should have some knowledge he frowned.
“Sally doesn’t know any Turkish, and we’ve been together 18 months.”
I told him I was sure she’d pick it up once they were married and she was living full time in Izmir. He frowned. His next words sent chills through me.
“I can’t wait until we are married, because when Sally becomes a Muslim I can make her stop smoking and drinking.”
Fortunately Ivan and Arthur were laughing at Sally, and didn’t hear him. Umut is serving in the army on the Iraqi border, one of the most dangerous places in the country - it’s where the Turks are fighting the Kurdish PKK group. I looked at him, and suddenly this exotic, dark haired man didn’t seem terribly romantic. His eyes were almost black. I’m always mindful of the fact that I am a foreigner here, so I chose the path of least resistance.
“I’m sure she’s just celebrating with you, because she is flying back on the 9 pm flight and you’re going back to the border tomorrow.”
“She’s not going back tomorrow,” he said angrily. “She says she doesn’t want me to leave after her, so she is wasting 1,000 lira and buying another ticket. She’s so stupid. She doesn’t care that some people here take two months to earn that kind of money.”
By this time Ivan, Arthur and Sally heard our conversation. Sally told him how much she loved him, and how she wanted to leave Izmir after him. He laughed, but without love or mirth, and told us this proves how stupid and wasteful she was. Embarrassed, I told him she wasn’t stupid, but in love. And love makes us do things that sometimes seem irrational.
We managed to change the subject. As the evening wore on more alcohol was consumed. Umut became more assertive and aggressive, and Sally laughed more. When she leaned over to take his hand he suddenly seized her slim wrist, tightening his grip so he pinched the skin between his thumb and fingers. Her laughter died down, and she drew a breath, catching her lower lip between her teeth as she stared at him.
Arthur and I stared in horror. Ivan reacted immediately: “Hey, don’t treat her like that. Let her go.”
Umut relaxed his grip, and apologised to us. “You should be saying sorry to her,” Ivan said, angrily. “You don’t need to hurt her.”
I turned to Ivan and quietly told him to back off: “It’s not our fight.”
Only then did I see a couple of small, coined-sized bruises on Sally’s upper arm. But I said nothing. Later Ivan and Arthur said they’d noticed them too.
Sally continued drinking. About an hour after the wrist-grabbing incident she got up to go to the toilet, and was so unsteady on her feet I helped her negotiate her way through the tables and patrons inside the Eko pub. I had to help her sit on the toilet, and waited until she’d finished before leading her back to the table. Everyone was looking at us. Thank goodness I was sober... or maybe not. I felt ashamed.
Sally continued drinking, and when she next got up she tried to come around the table to hug me, and promptly fell over me and Ivan. Umut’s lips tightened, and I told him she’d tripped over the umbrella stand, which was right next to my chair. Sally got up, weaving her way through the tables, staring ahead and smiling at nothing. I stood up to follow her. Then the most embarrassing part of the whole evening happened.
A group of middle-aged Turkish men were sitting at the table next to us, enjoying a few glasses of raki. They’d obviously been watching us, because one on them spoke to me in broken English.
“Excuse me, madam, but don’t you think you should take her home? She is very drunk.”
I wanted to tell him she wasn’t our responsibility, but then what were we doing with her at our table? I suddenly felt ashamed... we were in a foreign country, sitting with a girl who clearly has no idea of how most of the citizens of this country view foreign tourists. Sure, Sally was letting her hair down and having fun with her fiancé and a few friends. But that man underlined and emphasised the differences in our cultures and classes.
I told him her fiancé would take her home as soon as she returned, and hurried after her. Sally was slumped on the floor outside the ladies room, a waiter kneeling beside her trying to help her. I got her into the toilet, helped her wipe her face, and the waiter and I virtually carried her out to a furious Umut. He threw some money on the table to pay for their share of the drinks, and put his arm around Sally to support her. Telling us he loved her, he promised Arthur to invite him and his wife to their wedding. He told Ivan that Ivan should understand he loved Sally, and would always take care of her. They left, Sally staggering along the street to the taxi which would take her and her fiancé home.
We left shortly afterwards. I keep thinking about Sally, whose beauty is so obviously one of the reason Umut loves her. But what about the girl under that beauty? Did he not fall in love with her personality? Her quick mind? Her sense of fun? Her intelligence? Or is she just a trophy? What will happen to her if Umut turns her into his idea of a wife, so she looses the spark and individuality that first attracted him to her?
My youngest nephew married a Muslim girl last year. There are serious issues and problems with her brothers and her mother - my 21 year old nephew converted to Islam in order to marry his 25 year old wife. My nephew currently lives in Sidney while his wife studies for her third university degree in Brisbane. My own family is divided on the marriage, particularly his brothers, who watched the entire relationship unfold, and were on hand when she told my nephew she was due to be married off in an arranged marriage. When Ivan told his Muslim boss of the marriage he was appalled, and asked Ivan: “What virus did your nephew catch?”
I want to believe that love can indeed conquer all... but when I think of Sally and Umut and her blind love for him and his determination to make her his I have to wonder. It may be possible to overcome racial, ethnic, linguistic and some cultural differences. But I don’t know that it can ever flourish when two such different people with such different religions and traditions want to be together, especially when one is as staunchly relgious as Umut.
I hope I am wrong.