A Cultural Pondering of Marriage.
September 7, 2009
Well, before I left on my magical journey back to the homeland that words cannot even describe, I was twiddling away the last days of summer away by making my students do random and abstact assignments, if only to relieve my boredom from the tedious grammar train that we seemed trapped in. In some aspect, I hope it was equally interesting to them, and in any case, from several of the assignments I got some pretty funny, and enlightening results. One of my assignments, the idea taken from a fellow volunteer, and fueled by the fact that I would be soon attending a wedding myself, consisted of having the students translate the short story version of The Princess and The Pea. Once we had a translation that I thought was reasonably accurate, I had them re-write the story, using new characters and inventing different endings. I gave them three days to do the assignment, and when I got the papers back, the results were pretty hilarious. One of my girls changed the story so that the princess, once she was discovered to be a true blue-blood, didn’t want to marry the presented prince, and told her future mother in law that she was in love with a servant and that she should ‘bug off’. Then she ran off. During class, I practically peed my pants laughing while my kids read their new and improved versions of the fairytale. I will present one version here, unchanged, to give an idea of what some of my kids came up with.
The Princess and the Prince
Once upon a time there was two princes. Once prince was from London, his name is Alfredo. The second prince is from Mexico, his name is Carlos. The two princes lived in a very big castle with very many people. They loved one princess, who is named Jennifer. But their mother did not like the princess, and she said to them “You do not marry her!” They fight very hard for many days. But the Prince Alfredo said “No!” and talked with the princess Jennifer. So Alfredo and Jennifer deserted and they now live in another country.
Now for some fun some cultural introspect: what I found interesting about most of the stories, at least the stories written by my girls, was how all the little cultural differences worked their way into the stories. Most of the stories included some version of a bride-price, which is a standard practice here. (When a couple gets married, the grooms family pays the brides family an agreed upon price for the girl). I also noticed in many of them was how important the mother-in-law was in the plot. It seemed that the relationship between the bride and her new mother in law was almost more important than the relationship between the newly married couple. Which, in this area of the world, where genders are often kept separated, is probably a pretty true idea. Normally, once a couple gets married, the bride moves into her new in-laws house, and becomes the Gelin (new daughter-in-law). Once there, if it’s a traditional family, she spends most of the time with her mother in law and sisters in law, cooking, cleaning, and helping with the chores. Pretty much, her new mother-in-law becomes her new ‘best friend’-she spends most of her time with her. So if they don’t see eye to eye? Well, it would make for some pretty uncomfortable days. The new gelin is supposed to show respect to her new in-laws by always covering her mouth with her yalik, or head scarf, in their presence. Over time, once the mother and law and her become cool, she can let down her guard, and doesn’t have to cover her face. But this rule doesn’t apply for the father-in-law. To show respect, she must ALWAYS cover her face. Sometimes, a more liberal man will ask his daughter in law to un-cover in mouth, but most of the time that little cloth guard stays up for as long as they know each other, or are in the same room together. Mostly these practices are just an accepted custom, and are not questioned more than Americans question who should change the oil in the car, or help with the dishes. (Although, yes, we sometimes debate about that).
So this assignment was yet another fun insight into the little, and big, differences between Muslim and Western practices, both for my students, and for me. (And yet another reason why I am still not dating a Turkmen dude, if anybody was wondering.) At the moment I am considering showing Mrs. Doubtfire in my next movie club. Might be fun to see how that gender bender goes over :) Until next time.