A short story series on arranged marriages
Yasmeen, the 14 year old school girl had eloped and married her younger cousin who was 11 years her senior. She wanted to escape a father who, to her mind, took the first chance to throw her out of the house. She also wanted to escape a marriage to a cousin who was ugly and two decades older than her. She would recount the story years later to say that although he was a doctor, he could not have been an intelligent man to want to marry a 14 year old girl.
Two days after her wedding ceremony, Yasmeen and Zareef arrived at the village. His house had red white and blue ribbons and balloons decorating the courtyard. It was a small old house with 3 rooms and a separate kitchen and an outhouse. All of the rooms had doors to the courtyard. The father-in-law, cum uncle, and his wife slept in what was the guest room, the four sisters stayed in the room opposite to the parents’ room and she, the bride, was to stay in the small room squeezed in the middle. The room was so small; there was only enough space for a small bed and a small dresser. The chickens occupied the courtyard. Um Zareef, the mother-in-law would spread the leftover food in a small corner for their food and sometimes the chickens would raid the outhouse for desert. Yasmeen could see the difference between her parents’ house in the city and her uncle’s house in the back country. She did not care. Her cousins and friends became now sisters-in-law. She was dreaming of a life filled with fun and happiness and laughter.
It was, and still is, normal to live with the in-laws. The ramshackle old house was all Zareef could afford. He was the main bread winner in the house. The father-in-law, Abu Zareef would sometimes trade with the Bedouins who lived a little farther to the east but his earnings were not enough to sustain a whole family. There were no job opportunities for the girls. The old matriarch, Um Zareef had not ever held a job in her entire life. Yasmeen had no choice but to accept the situation. The decision was made and there was no turning back.
As soon as the parties were finished and the visitations came to an end, life began to change. Yasmeen as the daughter-in-law was now expected to manage the household. That meant prepare the meals, clean the dishes sweep the floors and serve the visitors. She had to kill a chicken and prepare it in case some unexpected visitor showed up for lunch or supper. She admitted, the change in her life did not happen all of a sudden. Gradually, the sisters-in-law began to leave the chores to her and the mother-in-law was not used to do any work around the house as she was always suffering from one illness or another. She wanted attention and was seeking pity. That was Yasmeen’s feeling.
A few months into the marriage Yasmeen’s stomach did not swell up as expected by the villagers. The mother-in-law would justify the absence of the pregnancy to the fact she was still too young. Yasmeen herself would confide to her friends, that she can’t get pregnant because the family was working her too hard.
Two years later, Yasmeen was still not pregnant. The mother-in-law would prepare different herbs and concoctions to help with the pregnancy. She went to all the old ladies she knew who could prescribe herbal medicine but nothing worked. Then someone told her to go to some old hag who could remove a curse as she apparently was one of the most beautiful girls in the village. Um Zareef and her daughters spread the rumor Yasmeen was jinxed. Yasmeen had to drink a bitter concoction and jump over burning coal while adding frankincense to the ambers. She would hear the witch muttering some incomprehensible gobbledygook. She had to drink the potion the witch had given her daily for 30 days before breakfast. It was not only bitter but stomach turning smelly liquid. Needless to say that exercise did not work.
The second attempt at this was an abracadabra treatment. An old lady in the next village had a proven track record at helping infertile women get pregnant. The trick was to find a grave in the cemetery of a woman who had many children in her life time. Yasmeen had to take her underwear and sit on the grave and say a prayer. That was a sure cure for her infertility she was told. The girl had to endure all of the antics before she hit the old age of 17. Stories spread around in a small village like wild fire. The poor girl could not walk on the street without hearing comments from women about her infertility. The young men would mutter their willingness to get her pregnant in a jiffy.
Three years after her marriage and failure of all the local medical and magical prescriptions, to cure her, she convinced her husband to go and consult a specialist in the city. Zareef agreed after much hesitation. The trip would take 2 days by bus. Although they had relatives in the city, they did not inform or visit anyone. They checked into a hotel and went to the specialist in the morning.
The specialist suggested checking him first as checking the woman was a little more complicated. Zareef was taken aback at the suggestion that he was impotent. The doctor explained to him that being impotent is different from having a low sperm count. Zareef had no choice this time. It turned out that Zareef had a birth defect. He had one active testicle. After the test, the doctor informed them that his sperms were all either dead or unhealthy. He was in a bind. He could not go home and tell them she was infertile. He suggested to the doctor to test Yasmeen as well. Perhaps she was infertile too. The doctor suggested a face saving solution. It was artificial insemination. He would provide the sperms from his own sources and inject them into Yasmeen at the right time. They would have to stay in town for a few days. Zareef agreed and nothing was discussed between him and Yasmeen. They both went to the doctor and the procedure was repeated over 3 consecutive days. They were told to go home and come back in 40 days. Yasmeen now knew what was the cause of her infertility but would not discuss it with anyone as she waited for the final medical results.
After 5 weeks, Zareef and Yasmeen went to their appointment with the specialist. She could feel she was pregnant but after so many attempts and procedures she was uncertain. Sure enough she was pregnant and life changed in an instant. They went back to the village and all attitudes were changed. She no longer had to drink any magical concoctions or jump over ambers or expose her privates to dead people. She was also relieved of some chores which were relegated to her shortly after she became a sister-in-law. Every precaution was made to ensure the baby come to full term.
It did not take long for the sisters to ask Yasmeen about what happened. She had to tell them that the problem was with their brother but the doctor found a way for her to get pregnant. They then asked their mother who explained with some “afterthought” that it was probably caused by his fall from a bicycle when he was young. Nothing about the artificial insemination or the source of the sperm was mentioned. Even years after the incident, nothing was discussed between her and Zareef. To this day, no one knows.
Yasmeed is now an older lady and a grandmother. She speculates that the parents knew all along their son was missing a testicle and would have had problems marrying a mature woman. They opted to marry him to an innocent little girl who could not tell the difference. That is possible but one can only speculate as the subject was never a subject of discussion. However all of the witchcraft and black magic appears to be, in retrospect, a way to deflect the blame from their son to the young wife.
Nine months later, Yasmeen’s time to deliver the baby had come. The old midwife arrived to help deliver the baby. It was a 24 hour ordeal with the huffing and puffing and contractions. The mother-in-law was sitting in the room watching and giving directions.
Um Zareef was a short lady who looked like a pear on two legs. She had thin sparse hair which was greasy most of the time. She would dye it once in a while which made it two colors most of the time. Yasmeen would comment to her friends: “My mother-in-law has such lovely henna brown hair, why would she dye the roots silver” then laugh loudly. As Um Zareef sat on the chair, her feet were dangling and swinging like a nervous child. Her piercing eyes were directed towards Yasmeen as the girl was cringing with pain. The sweat was running down her face, her hair was soaking wet and so was the pillow. Finally, a head full of hair appeared and Um Elias, the midwife, pulled the baby and held it upside down. Um Zareef looked elated to see the baby for a second then muttered “it is a girl” as she immediately came down from the chair and headed outside. The sisters-in-law cleaned up, the midwife left to get back to her house and Yasmeen was left alone to tend the baby.
Writer’s name withheld
For Part 1 of this short story series click here: