Looking for love, Arabian style [Archives:2003/07/Culture]

February 17 2003

The view from here
by Jamil Abdul Karim
As many of you know, on Friday it was Valentines Day, a day that offers great fun. It was on Valentines Day two years ago when I proposed to my wife.
We were engaged in Canada, land of her birth. And there was plenty of fanfare around the event.
Her ring was presented in a restaurant with the help of the official town crier. You know, in medieval times, in Europe, criers would announce the day’s news. Some countries around the world now maintain the old tradition by having modern-day criers dress the part and participate in crier competitions.
In this case, the town crier came right into our restaurant with his booming voice, clanging bell and scroll. Moments later, along with thousands of others in London, Canada, we heard about our upcoming ‘royal wedding’ on the radio.
Shortly after that, attending a stage-play, we came across dozens of people in the theatre’s lobby reading copies of that day’s newspaper. The big engagement story, with smiling childhood photos of the ‘prince’ and ‘princess’ (that’s us), filled the front page.
Such are the advantages of working in the press.
My poor wife-to-be didn’t know what would happen next. It really was a fun soufflé.
“You must love your wife,” is what a colleague here at the Times’ office told me recently.
“I do,” I responded to him, a 20-something Yemeni on the cusp of marriage himself at the time. Then he asked the big one: “How do you know if you’re marrying the right person?”
It’s worthwhile question, and Ramzy seems to have figured it out, since, now married, he seems happy as a lark. He has followed the traditional route for this part of the world, and married his cousin.
Young people in Yemen have various views about this. Some frown on it. But there are some advantage also.
One is that this culture doesn’t promote flighty notions of Hollywood romance, where emotions take over your castle and make slaves of your reasoning faculties.
Neither are there lonely singles here. Save your dowry and that’s it. Looming war in Iraq or not, weddings – held here on the streets like block parties are held in Canada – will go on.
With that said, Valentines Day in Yemen is a concept that’s growing – albeit slowly – and that’s a good thing. Because while custom is important to maintain a healthy society, so is independent thinking.
You may have heard of the Prophet Mohammed’s (PBUH) saying that “If a man and woman are alone in a place, the third person present is Satan.” Ramzy has explained to me that’s because if alone, men and women are tempted with illicit sex.
Okay. Then there’s the face veil. I’m all for modesty. The West could use a bit more. But think of the challenges the veil gives the guys here.
Anything could be under there. Might be high-society in something risqué. Could be a high-schooler in jeans and cotton t-shirt. Then again, might be granny in an old, frilly dress.
Now consider meeting. Even if some teens escape the watchful eye of their parents, where can they meet? A movie? No theatres. The mosque? Women have their own. The gym? Precious few. Besides, imagine a girl working out, chatting to the guy beside her, when her bike or treadmill suddenly grabs her loose balto. That’s got to hurt.
Which leaves the common restaurant. Most have so-called ‘family rooms’ for the gals. But I think fast-food joints have some great potential. Their wide-open spaces give fair chance to scope the territory as needed. Then for personal contact, I’d get a job behind the counter.
Sana’a already has a KFC and a Pizza Hut. Now all we need is a McDonald’s, which, yes, is still rumoured to be on the way. Sure it’s fatty and boring. But it’s the fast-food granddaddy of them all. Get the teens in those golden arches, and next thing you know they’ll be sharing their McFlurries.
Of course, you’d be careful about inviting your cousin. You wouldn’t want a drive-thru. And you’d especially want swings outside.
Need to put the folks someplace.
Freelance journalist Jamil Abdul Karim is a regular contributor to The Yemen Times.
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