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Choice between a Rock and a Hard Place

A short story series on arranged marriages

Part 1

It was a rainy day and the bombs were whizzing above the roofs in this otherwise sleepy village. The civil war reached the farthest corner of the country. Abu Sami decided to leave the town to a safer place. He did not care if his relatives and friends were going to be left behind. He had 6 children the youngest was 10 and the oldest girl was already married with children of her own.

As Abu Sami was a good handyman and could work in construction he had no problem finding a job. His oldest son worked in a mechanic’s shop and the second oldest was a welder. Um Sami worked in a knitting factory. Within two years, they could afford to rent a nice apartment on the third floor of a building with a large balcony they used for a sitting room.

The second youngest was now a budding 14 year old with big dreams of becoming a physician. She was a good student and consistently came home with perfect marks on her reports from school.   Her mother was very proud as the older sister was illiterate and the second one did not like school.

When one afternoon Yasmeen came home from school, she felt the atmosphere was tense. The mother was in the bedroom with tears running down her cheeks, her eyes blood shot and her nose as red as that of Rudolph the rein deer. Sitting with her father was a cousin who had gone to Europe and studied medicine. He was in his mid-thirties.  She had not seen him since they lived in the little village.

Her father asked her to come into the sitting room to sit with them. That was unusual as she was never allowed to sit on a conversation with adults. Then Abu Sami said to Yasmeen, “Mabrook, congratulations, you are going to be the wife of a doctor. You do not need to be a doctor, what do you think”. The little girl was in shock as she had never expected her father would agree to an arranged marriage. “I am 14 years old for God’s sake, how am I going to be a wife and a mom at this age?” She was thinking. She did not answer. She was still stunned. Her father then said to her “how do you feel?” He said that when all those around him knew the question was to deflect the blame for his stupid decision. He could say to those who did not witness the crime that it was her decision. She whispered in a low voice: “I leave the decision unto you father”.  Her father asked her to go and get him a glass of water from the kitchen. As she was walking in a daze at what she had just heard from her father, her older brother followed her into the kitchen. As she stepped inside, she was stunned by a slap across the face that came from nowhere. Her brother said to her angrily: “Why would you say yes? Do you find this furry bear attractive?”

Her cousin, who was 36 years old, was a hairy man with thick spectacles and far from being in a dream of a 14 year old girl. It seems the brothers, the mother and the father were into a heated discussion prior to her coming home that fateful day. They all objected while the father “gave his word” of acceptance to this arranged marriage. He suggested waiting and finding out if she would agree as if the final word was hers. The older brother could not slap the father so he slapped Yasmeen.

A few days later Yasmeen comes home from school and found the atmosphere in the house also tense. This time there was another visitor whom she knew well from the village. She played with his sisters who were also cousins. This cousin was in his mid-20’s.

It seems when one of the brothers found out the other had sent his son to ask for Yasmeen’s hand, he immediately dispatched his own son to do the same not knowing that Yasmeen was already betrothed to the first cousin. Yasmeen’s world would never be the same. This time Abu Sami kicked the second nephew out of the house which was not an acceptable behavior and contrary to the local customs.

Two days later when things cooled down, Zareef, the second cousin went and met Yasmeen as she was leaving the school. He had bought her a chocolate bar and walked with her a short distance and talked to her. She was extremely upset and complained to Zareef about her marriage arrangement.

Zareef convinced her without much effort to elope with him where she could go back to the village and be with her friends and cousins. The next day, she put a dress in her school bag and left to never come back. Zareef met her half way to the school where she accompanied him to the bus station. In the toilet room at the bus station she replaced her school uniform with the wrinkled dress she had in her school bag. They did not get back to the village that day.  It was a 2 day trip so they ended up in the nearest town where they were met with his oldest sister and her husband. She realized years later that the arrangements were made ahead of time. Within two hours, they were married by a hastily arranged religious ceremony. The sister made sure the marriage was consummated that evening. They made sure it would be the point of no return.

Once all of the steps were taken, they called Abu Sami to let him know that Yasmeen was now a bride and to call off the search for her.  She was safe and sound. It took almost 10 years before Yasmeen would see her parents or siblings.


Writer’s name withheld 

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One comment

  1. I received this comment from one of the readers.

    In “A Rock & a Hard Place – Pt. 1”, I am shocked to see how common it was for Arab woman to have NO say. Not even a say in marriage. It makes me think how grateful I should be since I am able to make my own choices.

    Thanks for making me feel grateful.

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