This past Friday night (the Friday after Thanksgiving), after a busy day of sightseeing in Istanbul, my friend and I decided to have dessert in a rather nice cafe (most of the eateries in the vicinity of our hotel only had outdoor seating areas while this one was indoors). We went inside and took a long time looking over all of the selections they had available. I eventually decided on a delicious-looking pistachio and chocolate cookie and an even more delicious-looking hazelnut and cinnamon cookie. Just after we sat down, a couple came in with the man dressed in a long robe and flat, brimless cap and the woman wearing a burqa that covered her face with the exception of her eyes (the local women in Istanbul who wear burqas do not cover their faces). The cafe was small and they had a stroller with them, so we gave up our seats, moving our jackets and food over a table so they could easily park their stroller next to the end table we had been occupying.
We all sat in silence for a few moments, until one or the other of us (I can’t remember which) asked if it was the others’ first time in Istanbul. It turns out that the man was a frequent visitor from their home in Libya. I asked if he always brought his family, hoping to engage his wife in conversation as well. It quickly became clear, however, that she did not speak English. His answer, though, told us everything we needed to know about the situation:
Well, you know, she always wanted to come with me and she kept asking me so, in the end, I finally had to give in to her wishes.
I mentioned to him that it seemed like his wife was really running the show and he smiled and nodded. He also translated everything we said and she made eye contact and smiled at us as well (and don’t tell me you can’t tell if someone is smiling or not just by looking at their eyes). We finished our desserts, discussing a possible return to normalcy for his home country. He had high hopes that within as little as two years the tourism industry might pick up again.
My whole point in conveying this story is that I, personally, do not choose to live in a country where I am compelled to wear a burqa or seek a male relative’s permission to work or travel abroad, but I also refuse to judge someone else for choosing to do so. This woman was obviously happy and in a comfortable relationship with her husband. Many women, yes, even here in the enlightened, liberated, United States of America, aspire to nothing more than “majoring in their Mrs. degree”. The only problem I will ever have with any country is when it does not allow its citizens to leave when they DO take issue with how they are treated (the key here is to support change from within and/or emigration rather than expecting every country on the planet to behave the same as the US).
Oh, and just for the record, the baby in the stroller was a little girl, who I’m pretty sure is going to have daddy wrapped around her little finger in a few short years.