Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cherry trees and vineyards - a girl's story

I have many first cousins. 35 to be exact.

When we were kids, we all visited each other, and our parents made sure that there was always contact and interaction between relatives. Family came first. Like Italian or Greek families. No matter how different they pretend to be, traditions among Mediterranean people regardless of their background are similar, though I should make the distinction of Northern half of the Mediterranean here. Food, culture, music, traditions are similar since they've co-mingled for thousands of years.

So, our family is no exception. Even if the parents had to travel. I had visited them from the U.S. It was good for us to learn the language, and meet some family. With our parents' efforts and through natural selection (by that I mean that you choose the ones you like best), I got closer to some cousins, and indifferent to some others, and a few required a lot of extra effort to love them. Though I made sure I loved them from a very distant place. Those are the ones I don't have much in common. But this one particular cousin is just so lovable, completely sweet and I find it impossible to not to get along with her. She's like Jane in "Pride and Prejudice" with an air playfulness. I always loved her since possibly the minute she was born. Her dad had red hair, and my aunt was dark blonde, so it was no surprise that she sported blonde hair, cute button nose, and was always small when she was a child which made her very adorable and lovable. Her mother had always been one of my favorite aunts. She's always been funny; even when she wasn't trying to be funny.

I remember one summer I was visiting them, and in the early stage of my teenage years (14 years old maybe) we were picking cherries at my grandfather's orchard. It was a collective effort. The whole family and hired workers, 12 

people or more. As the old adage goes, many hands make little work, and work hours are only more fun when there's local gossip. My aunt had plenty to supply. She must have been in her 30s then. She climbed on the mid level of this triangular prism contraption called "cambaz" (see on the right). You climb over this thing, and it's artfully called that because it literally means "acrobat". You have to climb over it, hang your basket or bucket, and pick cherries from the unreachable limbs and branches of the cherry trees.

"Well," my aunt Sultan started. "Ya'll all know electrician Mustapha, right?" All the workers and relatives gave a murmur of recognition and disgust all at the same time to my confused ears. He was a middle aged man, a skilled electrician (considering there was not much competition in town-he was one of the two electricians; and later I learned that the extent of his skills were not in the field of electricity), and he was a known pervert. But, I guess his reputation in the field of perverseness did not reach the ears of nearby towns ahead of his electrician's skills; he was called for a job in a house in the town where my aunt lived. One of the woman workers wanted to get down to the juicy part of the story, pressed my aunt. "Yes, yes, we know him, so what's the story?" My aunt continued with a big smile as if to say “have I got story!”

"He was called to Barber Akhmad's new daughter in-law's house." Some nodded in acknowledgement, some didn't know her. "Oh, she's a pretty young thing, and ample in the departments that Mustapha is interested in." That made other listeners catch up with the gist of where the story was going, nodding, smiling with anticipation, and some young women were giggling.

"Well," my aunt continued. "She lives right above her mother in-law, on the second floor. The first floor is a basement. That's a really nice house on the main street (those stories always have a way of describing the niceties making it easy to get sidetracked)," said she, and "yes, yes" urged another woman impatiently trying to get to the good part of the story.

"Ok, so, he goes and knocks on the door, and this young bride opens the door. She tells him that the living room chandelier has been shorting the electricity, and she thinks it was wired incorrectly. Would he come and fix that,"

“Oh, Lordie Lord! She let him in the house?” said one woman incredulous.

“To her credit, she’s not from around here. She moved to our town from the big city.” Said my aunt shaking her head, “she didn’t know he was loose, in that way” nodding, giving a significant look to the other women.

"Aha," said another woman in liking the direction of the story.

"So, of course Mustapha is happy to oblige. He asks the woman to bring a sturdy chair to climb on so he can unscrew the chandelier, which he does skillfully. He hands the young bride the chandelier to put on the table. He is going to see, and check if there is anything loose up there. Then tells the young bride to hold his chair, stating concern that it may not be sturdy and he may fall down." By that time, "oohs" and "ahhs" of understanding are murmured around.

“And lo and behold, he screams, 'oh Lord, I got shocked! Help me lady!' And just jumps right on down, grabbing the woman's very large boobs on the way pinning her down on the floor right there in the living room!" This must have been the peak of the story, because gasps went all around at once.

All the women and a few men picking cherries by that time are incredulous but want to know how the story ends. "So what happened?" said one of the curious listeners. My aunt smiled. "His purpose all along was to fuck her right there in her own house without her consent!"

By that time I cleared my throat, and said, "Umm, auntie, it's called raping someone." She answered as if she didn't even realize I was there: "What?"

"The thing you said, it's called rape! Not that other foul word you used?" I sounded like asking a question.

"What are you listening to the story for? What is rape anyway?" she reprimanded me.

I blurted out an answer her second question first: "Rape is having sex with someone forcefully without their consent."

She retorted back, "what did I say?"

I answered, "you said that he tried to 'f' word' her."

"Well, I did say it was without her consent, didn't I?" asked with genuine sincerity.

The other cherry pickers murmured an agreement, "yes, she did."

"What are you listening to the story for? This story is not for virgin girls! I was telling that to the women and men here, who are mature, not virgins" she scolded me. (She meant I still had my virtue intact, and that was an adult story, and I should have excluded myself.)

"You should have made that distinction before you began to tell it, I would have moved to another tree," I scolded her back.

"Well, sorry my educated niece," she said this time with a mock reprimand, "we can't all be polite and educated like you.” But as if the moving on she added, “Anyway, I love you, I forgive you for talking back to me," she said sweetly with a glimmer in her eyes.

"You forgive me?" I was incredulous.

"Yes, don't you want me to forgive you?" she said puzzled.

"No, because I didn't do anything wrong, you told an inappropriate story."

"It’s blanket forgiveness, I forgive you for listening to adult's stories as well."

My mouth must have been wide open; my little cousin (my aunt's daughter who was about 5 came and held my hand) with her short blonde hair shaking back and forth and said: "don't fight. She doesn't get it," with the air of a grown up completely surprising me. That was Meryem. I smiled and thanked her. Then turned to my aunt and said, "You’re right, I'm glad you forgive me. Thank you!"

She then turned to other ladies and said, "That’s why she's my favorite niece! She's always so polite, and has the correct expressions. Our education train has passed by," she said swooping her hand around to indicate herself and other women, "but I'm glad you're getting what we let us pass by," and smiled.

Ladies interrupted, "tell us the end of the story! Did he take the virtue of the woman?" now that I was there making a point to be polite.

"Nooo!" gushed my aunt. "That's the good part! Once she got over her confusion, she tossed him off of herself, and locked him in the living room, and called her husband!"
Even I got into the story by then, and asked, "She didn't call the police?" All the other women stared at me as if they were listening to a slow witted individual.

"What police?" my aunt said, we only have the gendarme here, and who would want to admit having their honor stained by a pervert?" Everyone nodded in agreement; I stared.

I didn't want to be the only dumb person; clearly there was something I was not getting. "So, what happened, didn't he run away from a window or a balcony or something?" I asked.

"Nooo," said my aunt smiling. "They were on the second floor. He's a middle aged pervert, not an acrobat! So, he got stuck in the house, and when the husband came home rushing, he beat the daylights out of him!"

"Serves him right!" murmured the women still picking cherries.

"Wait," I said, "you said that they wouldn't file a complaint because they didn't want her honor stained. I'm assuming they didn't want people to hear about it. But, you just told us the story, so, you heard about it. What difference would it make if the story was told to the police, or gendarme?"

My aunt sighed, and looked apologetically to the other women, "the difference is," she said, "that her honor was cleared by her husband. They weren't inept to take care of their own business, going to the gendarme and twirling their fingers as if to beg for help and, wait around for justice to be served. It's his wife, his honor! He did a great job administering justice. I saw the electrician Mustapha, all black and blue, and couldn’t even look at the other men in the eye when he went to the coffee shop. People all ignored him like he wasn’t there! He'll think twice before he attacks another woman!" she said conclusively.

"But he's free!" I blurted.

"Yes," my aunt said exasperated. "What would happen if they went to the cops? First they would question her, embarrassment for her and her family, and they'd also question him. And he might have said, well, she made a pass at me, and I reciprocated. Or he may have denied it altogether. Now, he can't go and complain to the cops because he's the pervert. He couldn't go and say he got beat up because he tried to fuck someone's wife. Sorry, rape..." She corrected herself. I smiled at myself. "Now, problem is solved."

"But you already heard the story, so that probably defeats the purpose if they trying to avoid making the story public," I interjected.

"Two things. They're my neighbors; we have no secrets from each other. And in a small town, nothing really is secret. Everyone knows everyone's business." An agreement murmur went around. "And, now they can talk about it, because her honor has been cleared. She fought off her attacker, didn't give into him and her husband took care of her by beating the crap out of his wife's attacker."

I was still confused. One woman summarized, "look, we live in a small town. Not more than 2000 people or even less. Everyone knows all your family, all your relations, they know where you live, what properties and lands you hold, which towns you have relatives in, who your great great grandparents are. We've lived in these lands for over a thousand years within the same lineage. Your name, your honor is everything. We take care of things differently than the city folk. We see each other's faces every day. Neighbors are like our own families. We're not sophisticated, or ultra-educated. But this is our life, our way. Family name, family honor. You can't sit around to get justice, and spend money you don't have in the way to receive justice for something that was done wrong to you, and keep it in your memory for a few years, and be hurt with it day in and day out. Or do it this way. Now, she did the right thing, and her husband took care of the rest. The problem is solved, and she can move on. Simple enough." Then she smiled, and they moved onto a different gossip.

Now many years later (20-21 can't remember which), my cousin who held my hand that day is a grown woman, she is in her 20s. Her parents made sure that she got her college education, and allowed her to be a young independent woman. She was engaged 5 months ago to a local guy who now lived in NY. They had a short courtship, and he had his parents ask for her hand in marriage to follow the family traditions. She has had many suitors. She's very beautiful, and feisty, and smart, and talented. I've always kept in touch with her, because I love her a lot. She asked me to talk to her fiancée over the phone and meet him and give her my opinion of him. However much one can tell over the phone of someone, but I spoke to him a few times, and he sounded like a nice young man.

They were still getting to know each other from a distance, and that was concerning for her. She, being in Turkey, and him in NY. He first asked her that wouldn't it be a great idea, if his brother and his wife tagged along with them on their honeymoon? She was clearly not happy, and disliked the idea. She told him, "Not really, it's our honeymoon, not a family vacation. This is something we can later do together, but our very first vacation is honeymoon. We should not be spending it with your brother and sister in law." He told her to think about it, because he was set on the idea. That was her first question mark if he would respect her opinions and whether they were a good match.

A few weeks ago he blurted out to her, "I love my parents so much, as you love yours. I've decided that they would live with us after we get married." She was surprised, and asked him, "right away?"

"Yes!" he said incredulously. "I love my parents. I'm sorry, but your answer will show me how much you really care about me. If I were to say to you that I not only want to spend a year with my parents, but my whole life, you should be able to say yes!"

So she told him, "If your parents are ill, and need help, I will care for them, and help them. If they're old, and in the declining years of their lives, they're more than welcome to live with us, and I will carry them like a crown; care for them, and honor them. If they want to visit us and live in our home for even six months at a time now, I’ll show them all the hospitality. But, right now they're young, in their late 40s and early 50s. They have a nice home, they have their own income. They're not in need of us. You and I should spend the first years of our marriage together, alone, so we get to know each other, and establish our own family. I want to be able to have some privacy in the primary years. That’s important for me. When the time comes that your parents need care, I'm more than willing to care for them with you, but let's spend the initial years of our marriage together. Just you and me."

Well, that flipped him off. What did she mean that she didn't want to live with his parents? She told him she has to think about this as it was an important decision; but he was adamant on having his parents live with him starting with the first day of their marriage. So she could show them, she was a good daughter in law (can you say subservient?). "I hope," he told her, "that your conclusion is on the positive. Otherwise, I don't know if this relationship would work," being completely an (oh what shall I call him), ass maybe...

But that wasn't enough. The day after this discussion, he took his views to Facebook. I understood right away what it was about. He was asking this: "What would you say if I told you that I love my parents so much that I not only want to spend a year with them, but my life time. I'm sorry, but your negative answer is not an indicative of how much (or how little) you love me, but also how much you care about your own parents." (such a low blow!)

Of course there were a number of responses of what a good son he was, and the woman he married, or was marrying didn't deserve him. My cousin Meryem didn't respond to any of these, and silently waited for him to apologize for this humiliation. The irony of it is that now even the most ordinary people are learning that public remarks (now that all can get a certain level of exposure online) can hurt our loved ones. He didn't care; he was gloating and unbidden. No apologies. Some of us remarked that it was hard to live with in-laws even in later years, and that strained relationships, but he didn't want to hear it: in his mind, he was right, and she was wrong. And boldly said, "I see that my question reached its intended destination" adding a smilee, a smirk I wanted to wipe right out of his face. Even though this went on for days, she didn't defend herself, or remark on anything he wrote publicly and just emailed and texted him to call her since he was making these comments, and he should discuss his grievances with her. If he wanted to speak, he should please talk to her. Boy, that got his uppity butt even higher! She was sadder, and he was even more of an ass if that was at all possible. By then I just about had it.

I sent him an e-mail about how marriages should be "between a man and a woman" and that a man leaves his mother and father and cleaves to his wife. If you put four more people into the equation (2 sets of parents), this would make things more than complicated. I gave him I Corinthians 13. He didn't bother, kept on publicly humiliating her until she, in his mind, gave into his desires. But she still didn't reprimand him publicly. And he wasn’t calling her until she agreed with him; otherwise he was going to keep humiliating her.

She thought a couple's problems should be resolved between the couple, not in public. On his last insult he posted about her, I told him that he should learn to resolve his problems with his significant other in private with her only. I think one should learn that by the time he’s 34 or 35 (his age). And though she was in her mid-20s, she was more mature, and responsible than he was.

It's no place of other people to judge a wonderful girl who didn't defend herself, who didn't respond to any nasty comments of his or others because she was more honorable than he was. I was not happy that he was hurting, harassing my cousin in public like this, and he wasn't the only man in the world for her. You better believe I opened my big American mouth. Women aren't there for men to abuse, or get in a desired mold by their men. She was more than generous to him by telling him that she would take care of them if they were ill, old and in need of help. But it was unfair of him to demand her youth to be spent on caring, no, being a maid to his parents.

Boy, he just opened his great big mouth, that he would go fuck "Virgin Mary" (assuming that insult meant for me, though I'm not a Catholic, it's no secret that I love Jesus), and all of Jesus' family, and etc. etc. Upon seeing this, my cousin, and my aunt called his parents, told them the engagement was off, they could come and collect the ring, necklace and a few knickknacks they gifted her, and they paid for their gas, and dare he not insult Jesus or his mother (bless her little heart!) And she said they brought cookies when they came over which she said the ring she purchased for him would amply cover the cost of their cookies. My cousin told her parents “don’t you dare to bring the ring I’ve purchased back to me, or any gift that we have given you. We’re not simple! If you should bring them back to us, I will burn them in that stove before everyone’s eyes!”

My aunt said that she wants her daughter to be happy, not a subservient. She was livid, "this girl has been running the whole ranch here! She runs the vineyard, 175 acres! Not to mention the cherry orchards, and cotton fields, and sugar beets. She gets the workers to prune, care and take care of the whole place. She drives the tractors, collects the workers, pays them, sell the grapes, cherries, cotton, and the sugar beets! She haggles the prices, takes her father to the hospital for his heart problem, and she is one of the kindest people around! This young woman does the work of 10 grown men! I would die before I make her take orders from an ass like him!" Her father was right with her.

"This is my baby!" he said, "I wouldn't let her cry when she was a child, and this jerk made my baby cry! And for what? Public humiliation? She deserves better."

And so she does. She said that she wouldn't respond to him in public in any way. She was better than that. She had her standards even if he didn't. She said, "What makes me sad that he stole five months from me. I can never replace that. But I am happy that it could have been 5 years. That would have been worse. Isn't life cruel in that way anyway? Gives you the exam first, then the lesson? I'm glad my lesson only lasted five months, and I guess I made the best of my tuition."

It may sound odd to someone to hear how close one can be to a cousin where in the society we live not even the siblings are close. But, that's not true for me. God, family, republic. She's back being single again, and happy. Taking a break, studying, reading, and pruning the vineyard; enjoying the love and support of her parents. I will always love her. You’re mature to not to respond, but, my typing fingers have an itch, and only getting the story out would get rid of it. You’re sweet, beautiful, thoughtful, and wonderful. I’m lucky to have you in my family! Love you Meryem!

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