Wednesday, February 18, 2009

DING DING DING! battle one. gather round

i'm living in a muslim culture that isn't really religious as much as it is patriarchal. sometimes, i'm not sure it is so much patriarchal as it is sexually timid and afraid.
here is my situation.... in azerbaijan, you can't just throw people in a car. there are certain seating arrangements that must be followed for purely cultural reasons (it is not law). men sit next to men, women sit next to women, and basically no women drive. although, technically, it IS legal. SO...that means women always sit in the back seat. however, there are exceptions. For example: if there are 3 men and one women, then well...someone must sit next to the lady.
At lunch I get driven home by my branch manager. he drives me, this guy named a----, and sometimes another (married) woman named s----. Recently, I nabbed the front seat because I was there first. Consequently, A---- yelled at me and said that in azerbaijan women sit behind men in the car and that i ought to do the same. He also told me that in america men and women might be equal, but that is not the case in azerbaijan. I told him he was bad and that this cultural situation is bad (damn my sorry language skills). Today, I got shotgun again. I got in. Admittedly, I knew what was coming. However, I should also mention, that since that first incident, I have also sat in the backseat again. Moving on: A---- wouldn't let it go. He yelled and yelled. I asked the driver if it was ok for me to sit in the front seat, the driver was uncomfortable with the whole situation and laughing, but said "ok, sit". But no. A---- opened up the door where i was sitting and kept yelling at me. He mentioned the fact that S---- was coming. so, this was now a mixing of the genders situation. i decided, "screw this", jumped up, and declared i wouldn't ride in the car at all and that i was going to take a public bus. i went to the corner and did precisely that.
When i came back to work, my counterpart and my branch manager politely tried to explain the cultural situation to me. I tried to politely explain that i actually UNDERSTOOD, but that I did NOT AGREE. literally, my counterpart even drew me a diagram of a car to help explain. No no no...i UNDERSTAND, but i DON'T AGREE. The branch manager eventually left the room to go back to work. My counterpart started to raise his voice a little at me...perhaps he was getting mad. I told him him, again, that I understood and that i did not agree. He explained to me that i'm in a Muslim culture. I asked him if the Koran actually says women must not sit next to men in cars. He said no. I asked if there was any real reason, besides being culturally inappropriate, for not sitting next to men in a car. The answer again, was no. I then told him I no longer wanted rides home from my branch manager (A---- is always in the car too). He didn't understand why. I had to explain that I too had principles and that my principle was not to accept this.

I'll be honest here. I'm not positive that I'm right. But, I consciously made my choice about how to act. So in the end, I agree with my actions. Ways in which i could be wrong/insensitive (not exhaustive) include: Well, I don't want to force men and women to be in situations that would indicate to their neighbors they are loose or inappropriate with people from the opposite sex. Hence, the mixing of the gender thing. Not that I agree that mixing genders in a car points to inappropriateness, but i can't force my co-workers into that situation. It could upset their husbands, children, etc. It isn't my place. However, I agree with myself for making a point over something seemingly little. Things don't change until a new light is shed on it. Maybe i was making a mountain out of an ant hill. maybe this was too arbitrary of a fight to pick. or maybe not. i have to face the challenges that actually come to me.


Abe Froman said...

That's awesome. I especially love the Koran reference during the argument. They'll probably never see it from your side, but you've planted that irritating seed of opposition in their heads (surely not for the first time). So that has to feel good.

What's Azeri for "stick it to the man"? ;)

alexis said...

i've been trying to figure out for 5 months who you are....who is the mysterious abe froman?

Abe Froman said...

Ha - it's Andy. I hadn't realized that I use that name on this site. Not trying to be mysterious, maybe I was just watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off when I made this account ;)

jia said...
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Chris Sensei said...

A: As you write it it wasn't you who started the fight. Rather the fight was brought to you.

B: Up here in Quba we don't seem to have that rule. At least in the car I ride in whoever is getting out first sits shotgun. That person is usually the secretary(invariably female) or someone's mom/sister(also invariably female).