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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Escaping an Arranged Marriage

One more story, one more narrative, on this spectacular little island that I have focused so much on...and then I shall move on to other things and shut up about my stay in Fiji. One such story cannot afford to go unrelated for it involves the rare and random incident that one only hears about in certain cultures that a person, from our Western world, hardly comes into contact with, or for that matter hardly ever is given the very option of going through. Well, I chance had that option before me. Nearly thrust upon me, which i declined with good reason. What I turned down...a chance to arrange my own marriage with the father of a woman I didn't know.

It all was to go down place in Nadi. A nice, bustling town on the western side of Fiji. A carnival was going on. A Fijian fair with the few ferris wheels lording over the palm trees and the ice cream trailers melting its goods in the balmy heat. People flocked from all over the island for this celebration. "The Bulah Festival" it was called. I liked to walk about the premises taking in all the sights. Wondering if I could convince the officials at constructing a dunking booth for myself, where I'd sit within and mock all the people going by to throw balls at me. Above me the sign would read, "The loud, obnoxious American." As the phrase fits the stereotype.
But somewhere along the carnival lights and clamor, I befriended a young Hindu man of about my age who was cooking BBQ for the festivities. He invited me to eat dinner at his house that evening. And knowing the full hospitality of the Fijians, whether indigenous or not, I consented.

That evening I shared dinner with his family. His mother, brother and sister. And made great connections, had bonded so well that I could only assume that the hospitality of the Melanesians-Fijians are almost rivaled by the other large population of the island, the Indian-Fijians. The next morning in my hostel room. I get a knock on my door, it was this fellow and a friend desiring to use my shower, because of the festival they had spent the night on the fairgrounds. I let them in and they were just as grateful desiring that i should certainly come by their BBQ booth where they would feed me for lunch.

About 1 oclock, I walk up to the the BBQ section of the carnival. The hot meat smoking on the grills. The scent so alluring to my nostrils and the smoke wafting into the tropic day, I approached their booth very naturally. They immediately sit me down in a chair back behind the booth and heap BBQ steak after steak onto my plate. All the while my hands getting messy and greasy, the only sacrificial ritual towards BBQ. I talk with this new fellow who is at the front table. I ask him how old he was...he tells me 38. At the time, I thought he said 28. So when he flipped the question around to me, I told him I was the same age as he. This was confusion for both of us. For he thought it strange for me not to be married at the age of 38. And I thought it strange for him to have a 16 year old son at the age of 28. So you can see how communication becomes thwarted. He then asked me the golden question if I wished to ever get married. I answered lackadaisically, "One day". He then asked me if I would be opposed to looking at any Fijian for a wife. Knowing the fun this might produce with the shrug of the shoulders, I answered, "Sure. Why not."
A murmur was heard throughout the booth. One middle-aged Indian man with a beard stuck his head over to the booth talking to my previous partner in conversation. He was told that I was single, an American, and that I was looking. This man's eyes widened in his head and he stroked his beard and he turned to me and spoke, "Hello, if want you should visit my daughters at the BBQ booth a few booths down. There you can have a look at one of my daughters and we can talk business. Okay? She is a good Muslim woman." At this slight description of her he beamed with pride.
"Okay", extremely desirous of going through with at least the business talk of this little adventure that presented itself to me. So I finished chomping down my BBQ steak and wiping the BBQ from my fingers marched down to where this Muslim had his daughter.

She was standing at the table placing salads on plates. She didn't even look up at me as I walked in. The bearded father shook my hand and made me sit down in a chair. "My name is Ali and I am Muslim. This is...(Forgive me, I can't remember her name)...my daughter. She is 24 and would make a perfect wife. And this is (Another name I can't remember) my daughter of 18 years of age." I met his wife as well.

I decided to hone in on the oldest daughter for the business discussion, however much I wasn't ever going to go through with the seal of the deal. "Well, do you like what you see?" He asked me.

I couldn't even see her face. Her back was turned to me. Her head cast down, completely ignoring the fact that she was on the auction block. Her mind seeming to be cast into the ancient feminine world of shredded cabbage and diced carrots. She wasn't a ravishing beauty but she definitely wasn't ugly. Her long dress fell upon her in tresses towards her ankles. Forgive me, I couldn't even make out if she had a nice backside or not. "Yeah, she's cute." I shoot back to her father.

Well, then all that is needed then is a small negotiation of a dowry, a plan for the wedding, and you to convert to Islam, etc. He sounded off this as though, it was a daily to-do list. I smiled.
He spoke up, "I know that most American guys are good guys. That they take care of their wives. I had a niece who married an American guy and they live in California now, and it was a good match. So I know that you will look after her. What do you think?"

"What's her personality like?"
"Well, she really would like to live somewhere overseas." That was all. That was all he could think to say about his daughter.

This daughter, meanwhile, was turning a stereo on and popping in this CD of Arabian techno music. Her movements and the way she entirely ignored the conversation that we were having about her, seemed to exude this extreme scorn straight at me. As though she held nothing but contempt for me. Wow, in America this phase doesn't cut in til after the stupid lovesick phase. At least that's been my experience. Here she was being absolutely consistent straight at the get-go.

I spoke up to the father, "I find it funny that I haven't even spoken to her yet."
"In our culture, the girl will not speak to us until we place a little roll of cash in her hand. It is our custom."
"Did you go through this same thing with your wife? Do you talk to her father just like this"
"Yes, of course." He rose clutching a benevolent hand upon his wife. They both beamed together. And he said, "Right now, you should go. Enjoy the festival. Tonight you come back here and we drink kava and we really talk business and we get this wedding nailed down. Okay?"
"Okay. See you."

I left his tent and wandered about the festival, I made a special note to myself not to even venture on that side of the carnival for the rest of my stay in Fiji.


Blogger jrtowell said...

That is insane. I refuse to accept that. You saw it on TV.

Then again, this is Brian Harrison we're talking about. OK, I believe it.

I wonder what would have happened had you told them that she would have to convert to Christianity?

7:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brian ... how could you pass up such an opportunity? Too bad.

1:24 PM  

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