Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Learning about a new culture is fascinating, and integrating into it can be a challenge. The term "culture shock" generally refers to having a difficult time adjusting to the new culture, and missing the way things were back home. I'm happy to say that I don't feel like I'm being effected this way... however I am more "shocked" by the type of cultural practices that are still accepted here. There are some parts of the culture that I love, like the traditional Tajik bread (non) and the beautiful outfits you see new brides wearing (see above). There is also a great obligation to spend time with your family and to care for one another. However as I have spent many hours talking with anyone that speaks English (I promise I'm learning Russian and Tajik!) and I have learned a lot about what the Tajik life is like.

When I am introduced to new people, most conversations start with "how old are you?" followed by "are you married? how many kids do you have?" And when I reply that I am 26, single and am not interested in a husband OR kids at the moment THEY are shocked! They think what is wrong with me!? You see in the Tajik life, it is not acceptable to chose the path I have chosen, that is to be an independent women with a career.

Many women here do have careers, and they are very well educated with university degrees, but the difference is huge. When a woman reaches her late teens/early twenties her parents arrange a marriage to a man she has probably never met. She cries and is sad, but they plan a wedding and she sits at the front... this day is not a happy day. In Canada your wedding day is supposed to be one of the happiest days of your life, here, I think it is probably the saddest. And after the wedding, the young, scared, sad virgin must let this stranger do things to her that in Canada would be considered rape. I'm sorry this is graphic, but meeting several young women who are currently fighting this arranged marriage really breaks my heart as I try to put myself in their shoes. And after the wedding the bride moves into the husbands house with his parents, and it is her role to care for EVERYONE. She must cook, clean, wash all clothes by hand... AND works full time during the day just like her husband. Then she must have babies, and raise them with little or no help from anyone.

I mentioned that I have met some women who are fighting this tradition, however many older women who I talked to say that it is not that bad, after you marry you learn to love each other; the cycle then continues as they arrange a marriage for their children. I have explained what it is like in Canada, that women and men "date" someone that they have met by CHOICE. And of course I had to explain what "dating" is, I said that it consists of going out for dinner, watching movies, anything where you get to spend time together to learn about each other and see if it turns into love. Then, after your in love, the man proposes to the woman and asks her to marry him. Well the Tajik people think this idea is unacceptable here, it would never happen like that. And the idea that the man and woman might live by themselves in their own house and share chores, absolutely not! They are women's chores, not a mans! Hmmm... I have a problem with this when the women is putting in 40 hours a week at the office just like the men! Isn't women working supposed to be a step towards gender equality?

Of course I cannot stereotype every Tajik and say that everybody accepts these ways and agrees with them, I have a few Tajik co-workers at MEDA who believe in the true meaning of gender equality. One even has a husband who helps share the chores because be recognizes she works full time too. And there are a few women who have made it past their early twenties and have managed to remain single and are looking for true love. I really respect these people who stand up for themselves and aim for a life in which they deserve, where they are happy and look forward to life going the way they choose it to go.

So that's my story about "culture shock", it really emphasizes to me that gender equality doesn't end with a working woman... it's how she is treated at home too, not just at the workplace.

(p.s. I updated google pics with pictures of several recent celebrations with co-workers and friends)


ryanralph said...

Kelly...glad to see everything is going well with some of your other posts. It has to be hard to see how different certain cultures are and how what they consider the 'norm' is so drastically different from ours. It really puts things in perspective for us and realize how lucky we are that a lot of things are the way they are.

Look forward to reading more about your adventures out there.


nicole said...

Hey Kelly... interesting blog. In Dar, they seem to be less judgemental about other lifestyle choices but still definitely are shocked to hear I'm not married with children. First they ask if I have a husband, then a fiance, then a boyfriend. Then they exclaim in shock "what? but you're old!" I've had that exact conversation several times. Not surprising considering that, in Tanzania, 50% of women have children or are pregnant by 19 and a huge majority are married by 24.