As far as I was concerned the year 1988 mostly sucked. After throwing out and divorcing a cheating wife earlier that year, got my lawyer paid off, quit my job and sold or gave away everything else that I owned. After wrapping up some minor personal business I left with one suitcase and passport for an overseas engineering job, got on the plane and mentally said “AMF” to the States. It was lucky for me that during the late 1980’s overseas expat jobs were pretty easy to come by if you could tolerate a rougher lifestyle and location, the newspapers were full of adverts for US workers and teachers back then. When someone serves you a steaming shit sandwich, don’t eat it…throw it back in their face.
Once I had arrived at my job site I found out that nearly every one of my workers spoke almost no English, and of course I didn’t speak their language either so managed my crew at first by using “sign language” (waving the arms and hands, speaking one English word at at time slowly and loudly so they could really not understand me a lot faster and by drawing stupid diagrams on a chalkboard or paper). Not satisfactory at all, besides making me look like a total idiot. Right after that first disastrous meeting I bought a bilingual dictionary so I could at least memorize a few single words and phrases to get by, really hate the idea of having to depend on someone else to translate what I say or mean. It blew me away to watch and listen to the few other Americans who had been in country a lot longer and still didn’t speak a lick of the native language. Someone once said that for everyday normal communications a person uses only a couple of hundred different words, mostly rearranged in one form or another. I figured if I memorized just 5 new words a day that in a month I’d have a decent working vocabulary, proper grammar was never my strong suit so I went mostly for complete phrases for the common stuff.
I rented a second floor furnished apartment in a quiet neighborhood that was less than a 10 minute commute from work. The place was decent enough, not luxurious but comfortable and had a balcony where I could watch the neighbors hang out their laundry to dry while I drank my coffee in the morning. In the winter the place was heated with a bottled propane space heater and in the summer AC was open windows and a fan. No one was dumb enough to directly drink water right from the tap though, it always had to be boiled first. All over my apartment I stored big plastic bottles of boiled drinking water since electricity and water was usually cut off several times a week without warning or reason. Downstairs was a small market where I could get veggies, fresh bread, goat or sheep meat once in awhile and the local bitter black coffee (was not that bad if it was well diluted and sugared up considerably). Life was good, laid back daily routine and peacefully single…
Quite some time later I was asked by some friends downtown to teach informal evening classes for people to practice speaking English. Reading foreign words out of a book is easy, pronunciation can be a lot harder so most of my “teaching” was just normal conversation. One young man in particular seemed keen about building up his vocabulary but several weeks later suddenly quit coming, I figured that was last I would see of him and quickly forget all about it.
Later I received an in-country letter from someone unknown to me, in the letter (and in her native language) a pretty young lady introduced herself to me as that male student’s younger sister. Enclosed in the letter, which her brother insisted she write, was a very modest photo of herself. She had just turned 22 years old, beautiful dark brown shoulder length hair, a nice figure and brilliant green eyes. Yep, I was toast. She and I started a regular correspondence and traded a few more pictures, I can guarantee that my study of her language grammar increased considerably at that point since she spoke not a single word of English. Translating letters word by word from a dictionary gets old fast.
After eight months on the job I took three weeks of vacation time to meet her in their village and after a very uncomfortable overnight bus ride arrived pretty wore out. Her brother met me at the bus station alone and we ate breakfast at a ratty one star hotel (the only one in the village) that I stayed in. He would introduce his sister to me in the tea garden the following evening. The first time I met her it was a pretty odd because from the moment they arrived he started and kept on talking almost non stop, she kept quiet and said next to nothing. I would start to ask her a question then he would promptly jump in to interrupt and chatter on, and on, and on like a demented chipmunk….I seriously wanted to tell him to STFU but managed to hold my tongue for the moment, however not much later he would discover how very annoyed I would become at being interrupted. She was sitting directly across from me and for most of the evening kept her head slightly bowed so as not to look at me directly, but twice I caught a glimpse of her green eyes sneaking a peek at me. Later in private he told me that she was to be seen but not necessarily heard at the first introduction.
I received an invitation for dinner at their home a few days after the tea garden meeting. When I arrived (she still lived at home as an unmarried girl) I met her father who was a short and stocky bricklayer. Although my foreign vocabulary was so-so, it was good enough for us to become friends and we hit it off almost immediately. Before dinner we sat outside on the porch and talked awhile, discussed marriage in general, my job, quite a bit about religion, my views on family and oddly enough our mutual prior military services. That particular conversation with him taxed my vocabulary to the limit but somehow I managed not to completely embarrass myself. When it was time to eat everyone sat on the floor on cushions around a very low wooden table, my young lady served the family and I was told by her father a couple of times that she had prepared the entire dinner by herself, including the fresh baked bread, just in case I had missed the point that she could cook. Her father was served first, then me, followed by the brothers, last served were the sisters, mother and herself. I honestly do not remember much about that dinner other that it was good food and she kept looking directly at me with those pretty green eyes.
Attitudes and customs are so different in her culture than those in the West and for that I am glad. Unlike the requirements of most western women there is no ridiculous list that a man must meet in order to qualify himself as a potential husband. An eligible man only needs a steady job, a willingness to support a wife and not be living out of a bottle or a gambler, if he is religious that’s a big plus in his favor. That’s about as far as a list goes, a man’s looks is rarely even considered as long as he is a good provider. There is no casual dating and no premarital sex. Every “date” we were allowed to go on before the marriage was always chaperoned by either one of her brothers or brother-in-laws. No hand holding, private alone time or kissing allowed.
Virginity is a requirement in her culture to be a honored bride. If there is no proof of her virginity on the wedding night she is considered immoral and the marriage more than likely will be quickly annulled. Her family would be publicly shamed and the punishment or fate of the ex-bride is left to her male relatives to deal with, quickly and harshly, which never turns out well for her.
A couple of weeks later and much closer to the end my vacation, her father and I were having a smoke on the porch again when our conversation really came down to the wire; her father asked me directly what my intentions were towards his daughter and what I was after? Less than three weeks had passed since I met her for the first time and now I had to decide to go all in or walk away. Right. no pressure.
I really respected her father so I had to give him my answer right then and there. I took a minute to get my wits together then told him that I fully intended to marry his daughter. Suddenly I had committed, not just to her, but to the whole family. Our marriage, like most arranged marriages in her culture, has little if anything to do with the “falling in love, let’s get married” crap that is normal for modern, dysfunctional western society. It is a business deal, straight and simple, with promises made and kept, contracts and behaviors strictly observed, valuables given and received for services (future and present) rendered. And exchanging vows had and still has the full force of law. Neither me or my wife-to-be would would have said we were in love till well past the original marriage date.