Relationships in Flux: Somali Stories
This is the first part of a two-part series of true stories of some Somalis in America and their relationships. The series is part of a book the writer is finishing titled, “Courtship and Marriage: The Somali Experience in America.” The names of these individuals and their locations have been changed for privacy reasons.
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I was 20 when I met Ali, a young man whom I thought would be my future husband. He was a year older than I, smart, charismatic, friendly, and charming. My parents and his parents were fully aware of our courtship and blessed it. We agreed to get married after I finished my university degree. Ali wasn’t cut out for school; he had dropped out of high school and was working as a cabbie, but I was in love with him and he did not mind my pursuit of higher education. I have never met a man who was as smooth a talker as Ali; he gave the phrase “used car salesman” a whole new meaning. If I were angry with him, he always managed to make me forget about my anger. He had a way of reassuring me and calming me down.
Unfortunately, after three years of courtship, Ali became what young Somalis refer to as someone whom “a dog has eaten.”(“Eey baa cunay”). It means, he is out of my life and, hence, the relationship has come to a screeching halt. I have strong views about marriage being noble and honorable. I do not believe in pre-marital relations, but Ali did. He got tired of me, and as a result ended up meeting another young lady.
One day, my father met me in the parking lot as I was coming home from the university. He seemed anxious and worried, and my immediate thought was that someone in my family had passed away. My father held my right hand and said: “There are more than 20 people in our house now because your mother invited them.” I asked him the reason for their presence. “Your mother and Ali’s mother invited them because you are going to have a marriage ceremony,” he explained. In our culture, a marriage ceremony is a small gathering in which marriage contracts are conducted. This ceremony is usually followed by a wedding, which can be performed at a later date, or sometimes the same day.
I felt like I had been hit on the head with a sledgehammer. No one had told me about the event. I entered the house to find all eyes on me. After I greeted the guests, I went straight to my room and called Ali. “Do you know anything about this so-called ‘marriage event’?” I asked. His answer was unconcerned and more problematic than I expected: “I have nothing to do with this matter,” he said. “It’s an arrangement by our mothers.” I was upset by his nonchalant attitude and his failure to warn me in advance. “If that’s the case,” I said in annoyance, “let our mothers get married to each other.” I slammed down the phone.
My father came to my rescue. Initially, he made only covert allusions, telling me that Ali was a troubled young man who lacked good values. “You are a fine young woman and well-behaved,” my father added. Then, he dropped a thunderbolt: “Do you know that Ali has impregnated a teen?” I was shocked and felt faint. I knew Ali had a wandering eye and was a bit flirtatious with other women, but I knew nothing about this important detail of his amorous life. The fact that he not only had cheated on me but also had gotten another woman pregnant was too much to bear.
I called him again and, surprisingly, he did not deny the affair or the pregnancy. His justification was indeed scandalous. “I did it,” he shamelessly said, “because you did not want to sleep with me.”
That was several years ago.
Ali has been married for the last five years and has three children. I married a man from another nationality and I am very content. Ali approached me a few times when I ran into him and had the nerve to ask me to have an affair with him. “I have an apartment downtown and we could meet there,” he told me. I reprimanded him, but this man never gives up. My husband knows about Ali and has threatened to confront him and teach him a lesson.
I think I am a blessed and fortunate woman that I did not marry Ali. I found out that he is involved in illicit activities and is no stranger to the law. Somehow, I feel God was protecting me from a toxic relationship. I am also grateful to my father for saving the day.
One bad result of my break-up with Ali was that my parents, after 25 years of marriage, divorced on that memorable day when the plan for the marriage ceremony collapsed. My mother and I are still close, but she never forgave me for not marrying Ali. She naively believes that Ali, the bad boy, would have changed if he had married me. “Look at him now,” I tell her, “he’s married but he’s cheating on his wife and seems hell-bent on self-destruction.”
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My wife acts as if she is single. She is pretty, six feet tall, and athletic. Needless to say, she is a fitness fanatic and jogs five times a week. I know many Somalis are already spewing curses at me for saying that, as our women simply do not go out jogging. Right? I, on the other hand, have a deep-seated aversion to most forms of exercise. However, I am slight as a sparrow and healthy. We have been married for four years and we have no children.
There is one thing that bothers me about my wife. Men constantly hit on her, but she never tells them that she is married. She hates wearing a ring. When men approach her to get her number, she does not mention her marital status, but she never fails to inform me about all the attention she gets. I give her a lot of credit for not hiding these things from me; however, I am upset that she does not have the guts to announce to her pursuers that she is married. She merely brushes these men off and never gives out her telephone number.
I think my wife likes all the attention she gets from men. It gives her a sense of power to reject them. Power, after all, is an elixir.
I am beginning to resent my wife’s double standard. I have always been faithful, and everyone who knows me is aware of my strong commitment to my marriage. I wish my wife would show the same commitment.
Other than this minor nuisance of not divulging her status, I have a happy and fulfilling marriage. However, I can’t wait until my wife becomes a mother. I wonder what she will tell her pursuers then.
Hassan M. Abukar is a freelance writer, Sahan Journal contributor, and the author of Mogadishu Memoir. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.