She Likes Bright Colours, Jordan, 24 September 2008
Is it possible for someone to “mumble” into a room? The way she walked looked kind of like a mumble. Small steps, eyes looking nowhere in particular. Her hijab and abaya were old and tattered-looking, faded but still unmistakably yellow from top to bottom. Her face looked old, like she’s nearing the end of a long, hard life. But slow as her movements were, I got the impression that beneath the abaya hid a strong and well-preserved body.
She sat down and we explained that we wanted to get to know her and ask her some questions, in order to understand a bit better the situation of women like her. She replied by unfolding a rumpled piece of paper that she was holding tightly. It contained her son’s name and photo and some medical information about him. She wanted help for her son. That’s all she wanted. And if we couldn’t help her son, she pulled out another piece of paper with similar information about her husband. Perhaps we could help him.
I don’t know if she really understood when we said we couldn’t help her with her family’s very real needs. But she opted to stay and answer our questions nonetheless. And so we asked her about her family, about her background.
Her husband doesn’t work, her sons don’t contribute to the household expenses, and women in her family are not supposed to work. So she begs. One daughter recently started working – she’s the only person contributing to their household expenses. Another daughter is staying with the family for a while because she is fleeing a bad marriage.
She didn’t even know what violence is. And when we asked her about men beating their wives, she didn’t know that that’s bad, she said it is just normal. She is 55 years old, and her husband used to beat her plenty, and her daughters have experienced it, too, but that is the way life is. Her sons don’t do anything for her, in fact they might get pleasure out of making life difficult for her. Her parents never sent her to school, and they found her a husband when she was still a girl. But she wasn’t sad: she said that she came to us for help and just takes life as it comes.
I hesitated to write about her on my blog because it’s so personal to talk about this woman whose name I don’t even know. But the truth is, it was a privilege to meet her because there are so many women out there with stories like hers but who never have this kind of conversation with a foreigner. In the end, this one woman just blends in to the mass of scarf-framed faces that surrounds her.