“I warn you, Gunel,” scolded Asmar, “Never ever dare to date that young man again. If your dad  hears about it, he will really be very mad. ” Asmar had to reiterate her demand but at the same time she was worried about her daughter. She has always been protective of her independent daughter. Since Grade 6, Gunel had learned how to be independent, make her own decisions, and become friends with non-Muslim girls who encouraged her to watch odd love movies. Asmar had a reason to be cautious. In her community, these kind of things were considered satanic and corrupting the morality of young kids.
    Asmar could not handle the problem on her own. Habil, her husband, was of little help in raising the kids. Like many immigrants who could not find a job in their line, he was a taxi driver and worked until midnight. He usually woke up early in the morning. He was a doctor back home in Azerbaijan, and came to Canada before his family. In Toronto it seemed most of the taxi drivers were immigrants, whose only dream was to work hard so that at least their children could be successful.  Habil worked hard. He wanted a better life for his family. This was the only reason he humbled himself to work as a cabbie. Like many other immigrants, his relatives back home did not even know how he made money. He was ashamed to tell the truth.  Sometimes that feeling of shame invoked humiliation and mortification in him. He would feel worthless, unlovable, unredeemable, or cut-off from humanity when he was ashamed.  It evoked strong feelings of pain and rage.
   After Habil was granted permanent resident status, he was able to sponsor his family to Canada. Gunel was only four when she came to Canada. She was a very sweet and adorable child at that time. But she was not a child any more. She was a grown up young adult, and had a very stubborn and assertive personality.
   Asmar couldn’t help but smile. At the same time, there was a deep sadness in her eyes. Asmar has always wanted another daughter but it was not to be. She also had a son who was engaged but in no hurry to marry. He lived in his parents’ basement.
   Gunel was now 20. Asmar had tried to find a suitable partner for her in Azerbaijan, but Gunel had warned her mother that she would not marry a man she didn’t know. Gunel wanted to date the future husband so she could get to know him.
   When Asmar found out that Adir declared had his love to Gunel a few days before, she was angry. That was a tragedy for her how Gunel accepted his offer to date with her. She was Muslim, and he was Jewish. There was no common ground for a serious relationship, like marriage, in future.
   “How could you do that? Are you both crazy?” Asmar demanded.  
   “Mom, we aren’t crazy. People around us are crazy. You should understand. I want to get to know him,” Gunel replied.
   This worried Asmar.  She knew it was hard to strike a balance when young people dated. In her youth, young girls got occupied with their physical appearance so much so that they forgot to pay attention to the character of the potential husband. She worried that one time dating wouldn’t provide a chance to know the other person better. It took a long time to figure out how a person felt about you and to find out what kind of person he was.
   “I have been married to your father for almost 35 years but still I do not know him well. Do you think that you will be able to know him in a single meeting? You need to see him for more than one date… ” asserted Asmar.
   “Yes, I know… It’s tricky… But I am not like you… ” Gunel replied. “I have clear expectations. I know why I am dating, what I’m looking for.”
   Asmar did not say anything but had an anxious look on her face. She pretended to ignore what Gunel said. Although Asmar didn’t know her husband well when she married him, they were able to make a lifetime commitment. But she knew what Gunel meant.

   Throughout her entire life with Habil, her husband, she had expected him to provide her and the family’s basic needs only – food, protection, a home, safety and stability were the main basic needs and expectations. There was little intimacy and love between them. There were times when she was eager to be cherished and supported, but Habil was emotionally a distance, and it was impossible to discuss such things with him.

   Gradually they learned to establish a bond and dedicate themselves to their children. Or perhaps each one was simply getting used to the other’s presence. Whatever the reason, their personal and family struggles and various crises taught them to value each other. In Azerbaijan their families did not lead a luxurious life. There were times they didn’t have such basic necessities as food, clothing, and transportation. How many times had they asked their neigbhours to give them some pennies to pay for a bus ticket. There were times when they were hardly able to provide one another with emotional support. But through all their struggles they built up a resilience to overcome crisis and adversity. Their children’s future forced her to agree that Habil should immigrate to Canada and thus be away from him for almost five years.

   Asmar knew her weakest but also the strongest point with Habil. That was the arranged marriage. Sometimes those who knew their story were curious and asked her how two individuals could marry without knowing each other. On the one hand, it sounded fascinating but on the other hand, most people felt it sounded somewhat dangerous.

   Asmar herself was surprised why people would ask her about arranged marriages which were very common in her country and worked for many people. Why did people judge? Don’t some westerners here marry or date strangers? To her knowledge, arranged marriage existed in every corner of the world, not only in her country, Azerbaijan, and she herself knew that this practice was much stronger in South Asia.

   Asmar reflected that arranged marriage is still widely practiced in South Asia and even among the Azerbaijani diaspora living in the West. The sons of her acquaintances had often asked her whether she knew of any decent girls for marriage. Many of them did not want to marry a local girl simply because they were suspicious of the ‘honor’ of the girls here. She knew of a few boys who had married Russians but later on had “irreconcilable differences.” But Asmar heard that the main reason was infidelity, cultural lifestyles, and different expectations about the household chores and care of each other. Azerbaijani boys usually did not trust girls from other nationalities, only Azerbaijani girls. Of course, there were exceptions.

   Asmar had come to know very recently that young people were experiencing difficulty in finding someone to marry, even in Azerbaijan. The mothers usually chose girls they knew really well. There were many reasons for suspicion. A lot of gossips took over the community these days, too; people were complaining that dating before marriage was a common trend in Azerbaijan these days. Thousands of young girls, some as young as 14, were pregnant, and the numbers were increasing day by day. Asmar was afraid that that could happen to Gunel.

    “Are you dating for fun or for…” Asmar turned her head towards Gunel, who was busy eating the pancakes Asmar had prepared for her. Her pancakes were always tasty and thin; she had learned the trick to making traditional blinchiki from her friends.

   “I remind you we are Muslims. In our community these kinds of things are suspicious. I do not want your father and brother to have to walk on the street with their head down,” Asmar added. “You’ve heard what happened to Aynur, yeah? Her mother cries every day... She raised her daughter with much difficulty. She was very nice girl, but she found a boy friend in university, and they used to go to the movies, bars, and beaches together. And guess what happened one day? One night she went to the bar with him again, and another friend of his. They didn’t drink too much, but she drank so much whisky that couldn’t have known what happened to her. She woke up next morning and found she was half-naked in a hotel room. Her boyfriend and his friend were there, naked too. She couldn’t keep her honour. These bastards took advantage of her, and her vulnerability. She was hospitalized for almost three months suffering from depression, she couldn’t walk, eat. She blamed herself and her boy friend. So you see why we are concerned, Gunel. You are the light of our eyes. Please be careful!”

   “Mom, how many times I’ve heard this story. You know me… I just want to live for myself… I’m not worried about what others say. It is my life not yours or daddy’s…” insisted Gunel.

   She was tired off this same rhetoric day after day. She felt as if the walls of the kitchen were closing in on her and choking her. She tried to take some deep breaths. Their bright Scarborough home became darker and claustrophobic. She wanted to run away from home. She wanted the freedom she could find outside on the street, in school, and among friends. But her family was not ready to accept this…

   “Where do you go? You don’t have university today…” Asmar called her… But Gunel was already in the hall ready to leave. She put on her new high-heeled shoes, tight jeans and a low-cut blouse. Her long brown hair fell on her shoulders. She tightened them and put on her blue headscarf.

   Asmar looked at her. Gunel was walking elegantly, as if she was dancing.  Asmar didn’t like the way she walked because it really attracted the men. Gunel’s ‘catwalk’ didn’t match the scarf on her head. Wasn’t she supposed to be dress decently, and respect her headscarf? By contrast, Gunel expressed her personality and her confidence in herself by the way she dressed and the way she walked; she wanted to be above the ordinary. Gunel knew what Asmar would think about her way of dress.

   Asmar could only scream behind her: “Don’t be late. Be home by 8.”

   She knew that Gunel wouldn’t be late. She always came home before 8 p.m. This family rule was also applied to Ramiz, the disobedient son of the family, but he always was free to go to birthday parties on weekends until midnight.

   Gunel didn’t mind that her family had certain rules. But she wondered how unwritten, unspoken rules governed their life. She sometimes wished her parents were more precise on those rules and talked openly about them. It would be more helpful when she knew those rules and avoided certain harmful facets of the society. There were also non-negotiable rules. For Gunel the number one rule was “Do not date boys!” Then came the second rule: “Call home when you are late.”

   These rules expressed her family’s values of respect, safety and privacy, so everyone in the family expected Gunel to respect the rules. She guessed the “do not date” rule expressed her family’s concern for her safety. They expected her not to take risks because she was important to them. Unfortunately, they did not tell her their expectations and how they valued and loved her. And Gunel reflected that perhaps they just wanted to prevent her from having fun.

   Asmar knew that if she revealed to her husband the fact that Gunel was seeing Adir every day, both of them would be in trouble. That’s why secrets were a major part of rules.

If you want to purchase the book, you can contact me directly by sending me an e-mail at azerwomensc@yahoo.ca or order directly at: 
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