Negotiations are stressful things to enter into, particularly when they are life changing. The back and forth of lengthy communication, especially by third parties can be frustrating and exhausting to the people at the centre who just want to get on with their lives.
So it was with the endless negotiations and wrangling around Muslum’s marriage. Muslum is my friend David’s resident gardener, a sweet and gentle young man with the dark soulful eyes of a young Ayrton Senna. He takes care of David’s garden and pool, wrangles his boisterous pack of dogs with endless patience and kindness and presides over the mangal during the summer barbecues we all enjoy at the estate in Sogucak. He has been there for years and as with all Turkish employees gradually you learn the back story and their lives becomes part of your story and their evolving tale intertwines with yours.
To us Muslum is an unobtrusive and peripheral fixture in our lives, drinking the occasional beer with us, watering the gardens, tending the weird herbs that he grows in a sunny corner of the estate, carrying the shopping for David on our market trips and looking after our dogs when we were on holiday. However to his large family he is the eldest son, the only year round breadwinner feeding ten people and in terms of family responsibility his role is huge. On him rests the future. No life of confirmed bachelorhood for Muslum; the family name and the future generations must come from him and so despite the family’s often precarious financial circumstances the search has been on for several years for a wife for Muslum and as time went on the pressure mounted.
I don’t have a problem with arranged marriages, they aren’t compulsory here but in traditional families at least one son or daughter will usually agree to one. I’ve seen arranged marriages that worked splendidly and unarranged ones that didn’t last six months and ended in bloody divorce and I believe the most important thing you bring to marriage is politeness and care and so romance and how you met are a bit unimportant to me. I do have a problem with how much of a financial burden arranging marriages places on families of little means in this culture and who only want their sons to marry nice girls. I don’t think rich equates with nice and a nice husband is infinitely better than a rich one. But money is very much a factor in these marriage negotiations and has been for centuries.
This is how the system works. The eldest son will marry first, no ifs, no buts, this is what will happen. And so word is sent forth into the extended community that a bride is being sought. The grooms attributes are not bigged up in any way in instances like this, the family are looking for a nice wife not a trophy wife because basically the family can’t afford a trophy wife. A nice decent wife from a decent family at a reasonable bride price is the aim.
Whilst traditionally younger brothers cannot marry before the eldest a sister can and if worst comes to worst families have been known to arrange a good bride price for a compliant daughter to fund a son’s wedding but in this instance no daughters of marriageable age were available to help alleviate the money worries so Muslum’s wedding was always going to be balanced on a financial knife edge.
Normally old friends of the Groom’s Mother will have a few ideas as to suitable young ladies and in this case they did and a girl from a small village in the east was suggested once it was know a bride was sought. She sounded ideal and protracted negotiations were entered into. Finally a suitable bride price was arrived at, the elders of the family travelled to the brides home town, assessed her tea making skills and the gold actually changed hands – this was two years ago! You would have thought the bride has been negotiated over and money having changed hands that this is now a done deal and the nuptials may commence. Sadly, not. Whilst you may have paid for a bride you can’t accept delivery until she has somewhere suitable to be a wife in and this is where it all went badly wrong for Muslim and the process ground to a stressful halt.
It’s sort of like agreeing a price on your house and starting to pack up your furniture and book the removal men and plan your new life only to have it all fall apart on you when the buyer becomes unreasonable, because in this instance the other party became very unreasonable and Muslum’s dreams of respectable matrimony went up in smoke.
Having happily accepted the gold the bride’s family then got seriously picky on where she was going to live. They wanted a fully kitted out home for her. New kitchen. New Beds. New furniture. Everything. Which was a bit extreme considering they lived in a house with no inside loo and the kitchen was a wood burning fire outside under a piece of galvanised tin. Whilst it was commendable that they wanted the best for their daughter it was also asking a lot of a family that had few assets and no substantial income and maybe it was something they should have mentioned before they agreed on the arrangement and that way saved everyone a lot of heartache.
Timing being everything things got worse when Muslum’s younger brother who normally contributed a summer wage from his job on the coast was drafted into the army and his contribution to the family finances was lost for over a year.The stress began to tell on Muslum, particularly as by now he was very much in love with the Bride, or rather, as he had only met her the once, with the idea of becoming a husband.
Week by week he got thinner and quieter, fading away into himself, the stress gnawing at him as he wondered how he could afford to furnish their little flat and feed the rest of the family in the mean time.
He despaired of ever becoming a husband. Becoming a husband is a big deal, it should be everywhere, but it is particularly important in Muslum’s culture. It is the next big step on the ladder of life. As a husband he becomes a real man, he automatically attains more respect with his own father and he moves out of his Father’s shadow and becomes a decision maker in his family. His opinion carries more weight, he automatically becomes more important and valued and as a young man of little ego this meant a lot to Muslum.
I did get seriously worried about him, particularly over the last year when it became obvious how much of a struggle this would be. He was pale and drawn and often seemed on the verge of tears as he thought it would never happen. Any questions relating to possible marriage dates or how his fiancé was became taboo at David’s house!
But slowly and surely things did happen and money was scrapped together and family and friends rallied round and progress started to be made.
Nick and I went to visit the family a few weeks ago at their immaculate little house in Aydin. Amid a fluttering flurry of tea making sisters, all doe eyes and flawless complexions we reclined on bright cushions in the warm sunny salon and drank tea and then inspected the new bridal bower in the downstairs apartment. You could see how much work had gone into it. The rooms were freshly painted, a new bathroom had been installed and although small the flat was lovely, an ideal first home for any young couple and frankly something many young couples starting married life in the UK would have been proud of (and couldn’t now afford!).
Muslum was still at his wits end though and growing increasingly negative by the day. Despite the signs of progress he still couldn’t see that it would finally happen. But Muslum has friends and friends have friends and things were found and provided and donated and suddenly the events rushed to a climax and out of the blue we received a message that the official wedding was in four days time!
Coming Next – The Wedding of the Year (with some very serious pictures!)
I read this with increasingly alarm thinking something really bad was about to happen. It had me on the edge of my seat! Poor Muslum. Can’t wait for the wedding!
It really was a helluva saga, and it had a massive effect on the poor boy. I think if it hadn’t happened he would have had a total breakdown, it was that bad, and the change in him since the wedding is amazing. You’ll meet him next time you visit. K xxxx
Wow, what a sad story. I’m glad everything is working out for him. It is amazing that families here, that have absolutely no money, or at least no money to spare, will furnish a complete home for the newlyweds. My understanding, is the bride’s family provides the kitchen and bedroom furniture, appliances, accessories and etc., and the groom’s family provides the rest. Since my family wasn’t here to provide anything, and I had been working for almost 30 years when I moved here, my husband and I attempted to refuse his family’s help. We still ended up with all new appliances from his family, and help with painting and repairing the house. It’s two years of marriage now and a year in Ankara – the gifts are still coming! Where there is a will, there is a way. Best of everything to Muslum!
It was a sad process and it put an enormous strain on Muslum who was desperate to get married. All the bride’s family agreed to provide was a fridge and I don’t think that has arrived yet! This just didn’t follow the established protocol. Every other wedding I have seen here, like your own, was a generous spirited and open handed process with the parties coming together to achieve their purpose – to give the young couple a good start to their married life. I’d like to think that this was all about getting the best for their daughter but I think actually they just begrudged spending the money.
Anyway, the wedding eventually happened, the bride is happy in her new home and getting to know her new family and like you the gifts are still rolling in and their little flat will be a palace when her parents come to inspect in a few weeks. xxxxx
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