Are you Married

“Yes!” I replied.

“Do you want another wife?”

“No, thanks. I love my wife. I don’t want another.”

“Don’t you think that our girls are pretty?”

“Yes, they are. But I love my wife, and don’t want another one.”

How many times have I had conversations like this one? More than I care to remember! And any reply I give declining a second wife seems to be met with ridicule. “My wife is my best friend,” was the answer that met with the most ridicule! “Your wife is your friend!!??” Often men here steal their wives… or at least that’s how we translate their action. A better description would be to say that they kidnap and rape young girls that they like the look of. So to them, the idea that their wife might also be a friend is ridiculous. A recent documentary on bride stealing in the country asked a local man why he was getting married: “We need someone to milk the cows.”

Most single expatriates find it hard living here as locals are always trying to marry them off. I know one single lady who created a story about her being a widow with 3 children at university back home in Holland. She used to have great fun creating anecdotes about them to relay to the next taxi driver! When we first came here as a young married couple without children we were always being asked when we were going to have children (or whether we had left them in England…). Now I am here, married, with two children, but still people are not satisfied! “Only one wife! We take two or three! I know of one man who had seven!” “Only two children! I’m one of seventeen!”

I first met Kudaibergen (literally, “Given by God”) 3 years ago. He was working as president of the charity he himself had established for the provision of credit for village farmers. He worked alone with just an accountant in the room next door. I reconnected with him again earlier this year and the staff had increased. The same accountant, Gulia, was still there, but now she was joined by Gulira, Nurbek and Erlan. Kudaibergen, like many people here with a “position,” is quite a proud, authoritative man. His staff have little freedom to use their own initiative. He says “Jump!” and they ask “How high?” He frequently calls his staff into his office to shout at them when they have done something that is not to his satisfaction. I’ve often felt sorry for Gulia. Being a single mum she doesn’t have much opportunity to find alternative work, and this current situation could be better than many others she might find herself in. At least she has a stable income to support herself and her 5 year old son.

5 months ago I thought that Gulia was putting on weight. But, she was actually pregnant! Her second son, Adilet, was born a couple of weeks ago. Well, I must have misunderstood her home situation. I won’t ask questions! It’s not polite! Last week I had to write a letter for Kudaibergen to an English-speaking supporter. I wrote the following text…

“Let me tell you about my family. My wife is called Mirgul. She graduated from the agricultural institute as a vet, but has spent most of her life at home looking after our children. We have 4 boys and 3 girls.

My oldest son is married with one son and one daughter. He lives here and works at an employment office, helping people to find jobs. My second son lives in the capital city and works as a furniture maker. He is married with one son, so I have 3 grandchildren!

My eldest daughter has just finished studying in the capital city and is now working as a beautician. My 3rd son is in year 10 at the Turkish lyceum in town. My 2nd daughter is in year 9. And I also have two younger children who are 5 years and 1 year old.”

Poor woman, I thought! Two more children after all that time? Is that possible? Surely not!

Well, this morning all the pieces of the jigsaw fell into place and I’m still reeling from the shock. Perhaps I should have realised sooner, but if you’re not from a country where this kind of thing happens you don’t expect it and you don’t go looking for it! In yet another “won’t-you-takeanother- wife” conversation Nurbek and Erlan told me that Kudaibergen had a second wife and that I knew who she was. My heart immediately sank. The clues they gave only confirmed my worst thoughts. Gulia is Kudaibergen’s second wife. Adilet, her newly born baby is Kudaibergen’s son. EVERYBODY seems to know about this… and it’s all OK. His first wife knows about his second wife, his second wife knows about the first wife. They live in the same town and frequently see each other. And yet again, I’m the one being laughed at. This time for struggling to cope with the fact that this is all seems to be legitimate when in the country I come from not only is it considered immoral, but it is also illegal.

My heart bleeds for the women of this country.

And just to recap… my wife is my best friend. And yes, I do love my wife. And please feel free to laugh if you want, but I’m proud of it.