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A Wife From America

October 21, 2009

023Note: I wrote this a while ago, and although I feel that it is a little cheap to re-post thing’s I’ve written earlier, it doesn’t bother me enough to keep me from doing it. I wrote this in Amman, Jordan, about a conversation I had on a porch outside the city.

“I am being very serious. I need you find me wife from America. I will find you wife Jordan, you find me wife America. We will live in Amman. Forget this place. And we will all live in one place together and my American wife and your Jordan wife stay together and cook and we will go out and dig for the gold.”

Ahmed had said this many times before. He was kidding, I was quite sure, or kidding if I was kidding. And I was kidding. But he had asked to see photos of girls from the United States (my friends) and despite his age of around fifty, he liked the idea of a girl of twenty or twenty-five. This, however, was the first time he had said this sort of thing in this specific context: in front of his wife.

The first time he mentioned an American woman in front of his wife, we were in a grove of olive trees off the side of their house. It was a sunny day and I was taking photos of their one-month-old boy in the bright, yellow flowers. Sariya wanted a photo of her baby – I was happy to oblige. I also took photos of Ahmed with the baby. He looked like a proud father ox carrying a rabbit. He dwarfed the gurgling child. In this sweet familial moment, he said to me “give this picture of my baby to an American girl so she will want to come marry me.” Sariya didn’t hit him or even give him a dirty look. She gave him an old-woman smile and walked back to the house.

Let me interrupt: I don’t know what the purpose of all this is. Photographers take photos of what is beautiful or what is strange or some element of the mundane which, when lit properly seems new and alive. Writers do the same thing, describe reality – but specifically those parts of reality they find wonderful or depraved or at least interesting. And as I write what I see in the Middle East I write what I find interesting. This is quite natural, but also dangerous. If in seeing, talking, listening, smelling I note what stands out on a gut level I will essentially write the novel, the non-Western, the weird. Those things that shock me into giving them my attention tend to be the anti-Americanisms, the pro-Americanisms, the sexisms, the naiveté, the conspiracy theories, the oppressive hospitality, and other perceptions that, without my Western lens, would perhaps be mundane. Or nonexistent.

I am about to tell you about a man who wants to marry another woman, from the United States, and who may or may not want to throw out his current wife if he is able to do this. He jokes about hanging his current wife from a telephone pole is she resists this. She threatens to murder him if he goes through with this sort of second marriage.

And why does one write this? It is outside of what is politically correct conversation in The West (which, incidentally, includes at least two suburbs of Amman). It also jives with certain stereotypes about the Middle East and Islam. It may fit with some realities about the Middle East and Islam. Or it may be a vignette peering into the conversation of a smarmy man who would be smarmy in any culture, cast in a novel light by the Mediterranean backdrop, the broken English, and the references to Our Native Land.

But the truth is, by choosing to focus on these vignettes I sacrifice any attempt at reality for a fixation on the strange. Because on the same day that these conversations took place, a taxi driver bought me a cup of coffee, and another let me underpay by around half a dinar because I didn’t have exact change. Strangers said hello to me, Ahmed and his wife told me in unison that their house was my house and that I could stay with them if I ever wanted to, and I saw many, many sheep. And by not reporting all of this, my style of relating conversations with little commentary works toward a point (however inferred) through what it leaves out. And what it leaves out is context – the rest of what makes up reality.

We walked back to the house and sat on the porch in the shade. Ahmed’s son brought out Turkish coffee and we talked about Ahmed’s time in the Jordanian army. Ahmed’s wife joined us and, shortly after, Ahmed said “I really need you to find me that American wife. When the group comes from Michigan in the summer you find girl for me.” He was holding his baby. He whispered in his ear, “So my next son won’t be black like this one. No more black babies.”

Sariya looked at me. “You must not find him another wife. If you find him one, I will kill him. I am serious. You will come back and look for him and he will be dead.”

“I will find another wife,” Ahmed said and looked over his shoulder at his wife slyly.

“He has been saying this for seventeen years,” she said, “and so every time he says it I make another baby for him. Now he has this little one and he is old and losing his hair. I will make him more babies and he will lose all of his hair, but he will not find another wife or I will kill him.”

“Andrew,” Ahmed pretended to ignore his wife’s threat of more children and death. “Andrew, maybe you will come here in two month, three month, and you will walk down the road to my house and,” he pointed, “you will see my wife hanging from that light. Like Saddam.” And he made the hand-to-throat motion of a slipknot being pulled tight. He chuckled heartily and tickled his little boy.

“It is very difficult,” Sariya said, “I am telling you the truth. The law here is that a man can leave his wife, send her back to her family, and then get another one.”

“In the US we have a lot of divorces, too,” I tried.

“No no, not divorces. You can just get rid of a woman and send her back to her father.”

Ahmed said: “Ha. Well. I have already gone through two wives. First one I,” he pretended to wipe one hand off with the other, “threw her out. I have three wives. But only one I live with. Ha ha. This one. Until you get me an American.”

“And what about your children?” Ahmed was sitting and his wife standing. She asked this, her body jutting toward him. The conversation was becoming serious.

“Bah. You can keep the children. And the house. And the pension from the army. We will move to Amman,” here he was talking to me, “with our wives and forget this place. And I will make new babies with my American wife.”

Sariya turned back to me. “It is supposed to be only for if a wife cannot produce children or something like that,” she said, “but you do not need one of these reasons. And there is nothing the woman can do. If Ahmed wants to get rid of me tomorrow there is nothing I can do.”

“So you must kill him,” I said.

She laughed. “Yes. Of course. That is what I will have to do. Next time you come to talk to Ahmed I will take you out in the trees and point to where he is buried.”

The porch’s shade became cold as the afternoon became late. The silence following this conversation bothered me, so I left and took a bus back to Amman. It cost thirty five cents. At a stop on the outskirts of the city a well-dressed young man with a short beard got on, sat next to me, and immediately started talking.

“Hello, are you Dutch?” I told him I was American. “I am a student at the university. I am studying English literature.” I told him that was very good. “It is very difficult. I must tell you. I am having psychological problems with this. My studies are causing me great psychological suffering.” I did not know what to say to this. “I believe this is the problem. We Arabs, we are very lazy. We do not like to work like you Americans do. So most of us, we do not get good marks. My studies cause me much suffering. Could you tell me what I must do about this? Please advise me.” I told him that there was nothing I could tell him that could possibly help, except that I hoped he did better. I wanted to rage at him about the uselessness and banality of his self-loathing, and perhaps give him an essay or two by Edward Said. But I was tired, so I said nothing and got off the bus. I walked through the downtown market, past the venders with live chickens and fish in tanks, entered my hostel, and went to bed.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2009 4:16 am

    For your brother in Amman, to hold the trigger of the marriage gun, power is fatal at worst. No more fatal than here, I think,……..unlike our family on the western front the power struggle here I feel is held by women. There is no equality no matter how we wish and hope / (pray)…….. I have conversed with many fathers, on this far eastern front, who have been F’ucd by the preverbal system, if the tail is true, as told by stories of unequal family standings. The power here is twisted by our loving and endeared Sir. Big brother, much like the lady who holds the yappy Chihuahua. The Point of this posting i guess is to tell you how much i appreciated the reposting of this story, (mind you i have never seen it before!) and to tell you that I too feel for people slighted by the pendulum like power swing……. Also….. I am wasted so that might not be what you were sayin’……….but thats what i got!!!! HA! ……also Mars volta rules all Triton music……There! I said it……hope all is going well for you…..Peace Brother! —~Chris~—

  2. Sandi Bakland permalink
    October 21, 2009 1:02 pm

    Hi Andy! I really enjoyed reading your story. Well done! I was sorry when it ended. I wanted to know more! Thanks for posting!

  3. November 4, 2009 5:53 pm

    wow great your style…I’ll try to keep an eye on your articles from now on

  4. Fekadu lema permalink
    January 14, 2010 10:11 am

    I am 31 years old. I am from Ethiopia. I would like to have America girls. I don’t mind the age. I am working conservation work in the nort part of Ethiopia.


    with love

  5. Fekadu lema permalink
    January 14, 2010 10:14 am

    I like intersting news from you guys.

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