Hands Culturally Tied

Amman, Jordan

As I’ve mentioned before in my blog, Jordan is a very hard place to be handicapped. Aboud has it better than most, as his family has themoney and social standing to maintain their status despite his handicap, and to send him all over the world and give him all the possible opportunities to improve his condition. Even in the developed world, however, all the asistance and opportunity in the world can’t always make up for the harsh realities of being handicapped.

Aboud has for 5 years been the boyfriend of the supervisor of our summer Arabic program, Eshrak, and the love of her life. When he was 14 years old, he woke up one morning to find himself paraplegic. Apparently, he’s one of only about 6 people in the world to have this particular kind of spinal infection, and there is as yet no cure. Fortunately, his father owns a major manufacturing company in Jordan, and can offer him all the asistance money can buy, and has told him that he needn’t work if he doesn’t want to. But Aboud is a strong, independent sort, and doesn’t want to be more reliant on others than absolutely necessary, not even on his family.

What’s more, Eshrak’s family once heard about her relationship with Aboud, and her father even met Aboud, and he forbade them from any further contact, but said afterward, “He’s a very nice young man. It’s too bad about the wheelchair.” Eshrak has continued to see Aboud, but in secret, because they don’t dare let her father know until he can prove that he has the means to marry and support her.

In Jordan, for a young man to get married, he must first provide a fully furnished home, right down to the silverware and bed linens and in some cases even a complete wardrobe for the bride. He has to be able to pay for a big engagement party and wedding, and for several thousand dollars worth of gold to be given to the bride in part at her engagement, and in part at her wedding. In some families, he is also expected to pay for the bride’s engagement and wedding dresses, and her wedding night lingerie. In short, it is a huge financial undertaking for even a perfectly fit and normal young man, which is why most Jordanian men can’t get married until they are 30 years old or more.

So in September, Aboud went to America for a month to look either for a spot in a clothing design BA program, or for a job. Not surprisingly, considering the global financial circumstance currently, he didn’t find one. When he returned to Jordan, he was absolutely devestated, convinced that all his options had been exhausted, and he would never be able to marry Eshrak. In order to protect himself from being further hurt, he cut off all communication with Eshrak. He hasn’t spoken to her or seen her except once, and she’s devestated. So is he, but mostly too manly to admit it.

Instead, he’s been calling my roommate Megan and asking her to relay messages to Eshrak, and Eshrak has been calling Megan and asking her to relay messages to Aboud. Perhaps because we’re Americans and more sympathetic to their desire to be married, and more willing to believe that they’ll be happy despite his disability, we’ve been put squarely in the middle.

The hardest part is that there’s absolutely nothing we can do. Eshrak wants this desperately, she wants desperately to be Western and to be one of the boys, but she loves her family and respects them deeply, and is unwilling to offend their relatively conservative beliefs. And all we can do is sit by and watch.

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