Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Lunch with a stolen colleague

June 22, 2006

This afternoon I met Ainara, a staff member I worked with in Osh, for lunch. Ainara is a smart, bright, energetic and hard-working person. Since I left, she had risen into a management role. One of her subordinates, Kenche, a man in his late twenties, trained as a surgeon, named his new-born daughter after her.

“I hope that she will be like you,” he told her.

In early January, less than two months after I’d left Osh, she was stolen and got married. I was especially surprised to hear it happened to her. Not only was she smart and modern, but she’d told me she had no interest in getting married. I asked her how it came about.

Her now husband, Kanatbek, had been her friend for the past five years. She said he’d asked her repeatedly to marry him, but she didn’t love him and she refused. At the time, she had been dating two other people.

One of the men she was seeing had offered to give her earrings, which is the sign of engagement. She refused, but agreed that in the spring, she might be ready.

On the evening she was stolen, she’d gotten together with Kanatbek and other mutual friends at a cafĂ©. They asked her to go to the disco afterwards, then realized that they forgot money. So they proposed taking a taxi and stopping by Kanatbek’s home on the way to get money.

When they arrived at his house, the driver said he had another client and couldn’t wait. So he drove off, and they all accompanied Kanatbek to his door. When Ainara got to the threshold, she was then taken by force into the house, where his family was gathered, and they tried to put the scarf on her.

It turned out that not only Kanatbek, his family and friends, but also the taxi driver had known about this in advance.

“How did you react?” I asked.

“I cried,” she said. “You can’t imagine what it’s like to be taken in by force and to suddenly be in that situation. We were friends and I didn’t expect that from him at all.”

She told me that at first she refused. They put her in a room, by herself, for three or four hours, so she could think. I imagine she could hear all of the relatives through the wall.

“My brother and his wife and they told me I should make the decision myself.”

“Would they have supported you if you wanted to leave?” I asked.

“Yes.” She really does come from a comparatively modern, urban family.

Then her mother arrived, very upset, and wanted to take Ainara home.

“My mother likes Kanatbek and she’s told me in the past that he’s a good man and asked why I didn’t want to marry him. But she didn’t want me to be married in this way.”

“Why did you decide to agree?” I asked.

“If it had been a stranger, I definitely would have left, right away. Women didn’t used to have that choice. But now it’s possible to refuse, and even to go to court. But what kept me there was the thought of what his grandmothers would think about me getting up and walking out. They would say I was bad. And because we had been friends for so long, I knew his mother and his grandmothers. When my mother came and tried to take me back, I saw his mother cry.”

It was hard for me to understand why she considered the pain Kanatbek’s mother and grandmothers would feel due to his kidnapping victim refusing to dedicate her life to him more serious than her own pain of marrying a man she didn’t love.

“Did you think about your boyfriend at the time?” I asked.

“Yes, I thought about everyone. I knew I didn’t love Kanatbek, but I also knew that he was a good person, that he cared about me, and that he’d take good care of me. And seeing his mother crying had a strong impact on me.”

I think more than anything else, the role that older generations of women play in bride stealing appalls me. Why would a middle-aged woman, educated in a large city under the Soviet system (in a time in which bride stealing was banned) believe that her son has the right to kidnap a person and make her his bride? Why would she want a daughter-in-law brought into the family by force rather than by choice? Does she not realize that in her support of her son, she is supporting a tradition that puts her daughter at risk?

I actually spoke to a middle-aged Kyrgyz woman in Osh who had helped her son steal a wife by convincing the girl’s mother to have her stay. And then later, when her own daughter was stolen and the mother was devastated, it was her guilt at doing the same thing that made her give into the kidnapper’s mother. In effect, by helping their sons, they are sacrificing their daughters.

Apparently, Kanatbek must have been confident of his ability to convince Ainara, because they had already planned the wedding.

I asked Ainara what her life was like now. She said that Kanatbek moved back from Kazakhstan, where he’d been working, to live with her. His mother is in Kazakhstan, so they have the apartment to themselves. She had to adjust to doing household chores, which she never did before, but said that her husband helps sometimes.

“Before, my brother’s wife did everything. I would just help sometimes with the laundry on Sundays. But otherwise, after work, I was free. Now I have to cook and clean, but I’ve already gotten used to it.”

She said that her boyfriend, who she expected to marry, was very upset. But emotionally, she seemed to be doing OK. She looked the same as she’d always looked, dressed in trendy, tight-fitting clothing with matching accessories.

“Kanatbek isn’t at all jealous, which is good,” she said. “I can dress how I want to and go out with my friends.”

She’ll soon be entering her third month of pregnancy. I asked if she wanted to know the sex.

“No,” she said. “And Kanatbek doesn’t either. He just says he wants it to be as easy as possible for me.”

That’s surprisingly considerate, compared to many local men, who expect their wives to reproduce and demand sons.

Ainara is as energetic and hardworking as always, planning to work as long as she can before the birth.

I find it fascinating to think that as a result of this crime, six months from now, a person will be born who never would have existed otherwise, as well as succeeding generations of people who never would have come into being. At the same time, the child that would have been born, had Ainara married her boyfriend, and all of his or her descendants, are now erased from possible existence. From one invitation to a disco on a cold, January evening.

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