In honor of the recent celebration of Valentine’s Day in the states, a good friend of mine asked if I could write a post about love in Tajikistan. Although I am far from being an authority on romantic love in any culture (if you have any familiarity with my dating history you might understand why my parents fear they won’t live to see a grandchild), I will try to oblige.
So I’ll start with the word-of-mouth, ballpark-guess, potentially BS statistic that 70% of marriages here are arranged. It would be a stretch, however, to assume that the remaining 30% are based on love. For example, a woman I know here fell in love with a man but he decided to marry another woman, so she married someone else to get back at him. She ended up divorcing this second man and marrying another man after knowing him for one week, now she’s seven months pregnant with her first kid. Did I mention she’s my age? Another friend of mine was married last year to a man that her parents chose. I asked her if she missed him as he’s working in Moscow and she smiled, rolled her eyes, and said “It’s not as if I, for example, lovehim.” My host father, always an expert on American culture (one of his favorite activities is naming off American actors and then being shocked when I have no clue who they are) asked me on Valentine’s Day if I had a boyfriend in the states. As if to console me by illustrating the financial practicality of my single-ness, he told me that if I wanted to get married here I would be worth eight sheep. I’m no expert on livestock market prices but I think this compares favorably to my estimated net worth in Ghana of one cow. This is either a reflection of economic difference between the two countries or my relative attractiveness on each continent.
I think I’ll walk away from Tajikistan without those eight sheep though. From what I’ve observed, marriage here is seriously not fun. The daughter-in-law in my host family cooks every meal, every day, for all eight family members. The mother and father are very kind people, it’s not that they treat her poorly, it’s just the norm that she does all the housework. I haven’t seen it personally but I’ve heard that domestic violence is absurdly high and in many families women aren’t allowed to leave the house. I’m still trying to untangle the status of women here though. I get curve balls every day. For example, the host family’s 30-year-old unmarried cousin who is perpetually texting with a random Turkish man that she met on the internet. This doesn’t fit comfortably with the story of female oppression. Aside from marriage, families are incredibly close---children fight not over who has to but who gets to live with and take care of their parents when they get old.
Then there’s the issue of homosexuality. Last month I brought in an article to a university student reading club that I was leading with predictions on changes that will happen in the next hundred years---ranging from the frightening ideas like humans becoming wired to computers to make their brains work faster, to environmental degradation like extensive ocean farming and resource extraction in Antarctica. The students unanimously agreed that the prediction that scared them the most was that 80% of the world would legalize gay marriage. I have two brilliant and otherwise open-minded Tajik friends who have separately told me that gay people should be banished from society.
All of this kind of makes you wonder who has it right. Which is better---the western norm of desperately seeking romantic love, often even when it is at a cost to our emotional health, careers, friendships, and other areas of our lives, or the strategy of placing very little value on romantic love and marrying instead for practicality and economics. On the Tajik side, it’s hard to argue that a system where domestic violence is commonplace and the daughter-in-law is essentially the family maid is fair to anyone. And if you look to religious books (with my recent move to the country, and being a few hundred miles from anyone that I can effectively communicate with, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands for spiritual exploration) westerners have it all wrong too. We spend so much time and energy searching for romantic love----which often ends up being more of an expression of two peoples’ egos than “love” ----when really we should focus on becoming love, seeing it in all things, and reflecting it in everything that we do. To quote my dad’s favorite Louis Armstrong song, “I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do, they’re really saying I love you…and I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
Sending you all of my Tajikilove <3 <3