Thursday, September 10, 2009

The First Book

Ironically, perfectly, dauntingly titled this is not civilization (no caps perhaps because capitalization hasn’t yet reached Central Asia?), I sat down to read Robert Rosenberg’s novel in about two days. I was captivated. He wrote autobiographically (I think) about his experiences before, during, and after a term of Peace Corps service in Kyrgyzstan. Sound familiar? There’s a reason I picked it up off the virtual shelf that is This book provided me with my first insight on what exactly Central Asia is and where it is developmentally…and served as my first exposure to a Peace Corps memoir outside of the official ones provided by the organization when everybody has a purpose and everything ends happy.

My biggest take-away from this book is that in Kyrgyzstan it’s still completely legal and acceptable to “kidnap” one’s bride. Meaning that if a man kidnaps a single woman, she must marry him. Meaning that if I’m assigned to work in Kyrgyzstan and I’m walking down the street one day and some guy pulls me into his car, he better be attractive – or at least wealthy – because he’s going to be my husband. The book actually didn’t go into the details about if this is the case with white females. I guess the male author didn’t see this as a concern (no interest in finding a bride for himself) but I can only assume that after 2 years in Kyrgyzstan it wouldn’t matter if I was white anyways.

The real reason this tradition popped out at me is not because I’m fearful of being kidnapped – I still have that thing of mace that my grandmother gave me for like my 16th birthday – but because it fits in so perfectly well with my mom’s biggest fear of me going into the Peace Corps: that I’m just going to find love somewhere, settle down, get married, and never come back to the US. I laughed when she first expressed this fear to me because I said it would have been a possibility had I been assigned somewhere pretty like SE Asia…but that I thought it was very unlikely that I would find love in Central Asia (is it just me, or when you picture Central Asia/Russia, is it impossible to conceive of a 20-30 year old male? The area just seems devoid of them to me…probably my sub-conscious mixing together everything I know about the region: being that it’s had various purges and wars throughout its history, wiping out that entire demographic of the population). Anyways…didn’t think I would find love in Central Asia. But then I learned that in Central Asia, LOVE MIGHT FIND ME. That sounds a little super sweet and like a slight possibility, so Mommy now again has reason to be worried.

The second thing I learned from this book is: once in the Peace Corps, always in the Peace Corps. After his term of service, the main character leaves Kyrgyzstan for a US Foreign Service job in Istanbul (this is all starting to sound like my own future autobiography) where he is eventually tracked down by two of the people from his previous village begging for exorbitant sums of money…assuming that since he is white and nice…he must be able to provide. He of course doesn’t, because he can’t, but that doesn’t mean that his new house guests leave. It actually means they stick around for months, just hoping that one day he’ll give in.

I’m not sure I’m too excited about the possibility of villagers I serve coming to find me years later asking for favors. Although the way he describes it, Istanbul sounds beautiful. So I guess that’s a worthy trade-off?

No comments: