Friday, October 27, 2006

When two is better than one

I find this article touching. Enjoy reading!

A recent poll in a Turkish newspaper included an eye-catching statistic. A substantial majority of the population, 63%, thought it perfectly acceptable for a man to have more than one wife. Although polygamy itself is relatively scarce in the modern population it still exists, primarily in the ethnicallly Kurdish section of the population and amongst some older ethnically Turkish couples. My neighbours at the first house I occupied upon moving here were polygamous, Ali Osman Kaya was living with Hadiye and Bedriye and had been since 1956. Their story was moving but I am sure not unique.
Ali Osman Kaya, now 82, was born in the year that Turkey became a republic and two years before Mustafa Kemal Ataturk outlawed multiple marriages. A good citizen of the new country, he completed his military service on the Greek border during the Second World War and returned honourably to his village ready to marry his sweetheart Hadiye. He was 24, she was 22 and she had waited for his homecoming for four years . Ali Osman sold most of the flocks he had been given by his father and together they moved from Ekincik to the village of Çandır where he bought 40 donums of overgrown uncultivtated land. The young couple set about the back breaking work of clearing the land, uprooting scrub and trees, using donkeys to till the earth and planting the citrus and olive trees that were to ensure their economic survival. Hadiye tended to the sheep and goats with a passion, livestock are still amongst her greatest pleasures today when at the age of 80 she is still herds their small flock up and down the mountain.
The farm prospered, they got chickens, ducks, a few cows, a couple of dogs and Ali Osman rode a horse when he had to travel to and from the village. Their home was not luxurious but it was comfortable and they had won the friendship and admiration of their fellow villagers with their hard work and cheerful manners. The only thing that was missing was a child. No matter how often they tried, despite the endless folk remedies suggested to Hadiye she never fell pregnant. They appealed to Ali Osman’s brother to give him one of his sons to rear as their own but he refused. For 15 years they stayed together in their childless marriage until at the age of 37 Hadiye accepted that she was now too old to ever have children. Unable to deny Ali Osman the sons he coveted she suggested that he divorce her and take another wife. She said goodbye to the farm and moved alone to a smaller house in the village. Ali Osman married again and the marriage swiftly failed, he divorced wife 2 and then took 16 year old Bedriye as his third wife. Within months she was settled in well on the farm and was pregnant with their first child.
When the baby girl was born everyone was overjoyed except Bedriye, she was unable to shrug off a nagging sense of guilt she had had since moving in with Ali Osman.With a child successfully delivered she was now secure as his wife and able to make an audacious move that no-one expected of a 17 year old young woman with a new baby. Bedriye went into the village and found 39 year old Hadiye in her pitiful small house and confessed to her the feelings she had kept bottled up inside. Hadiye listened in disbelief as the teenager explained that she felt that it was not fair that after 15 years working on the farm and being wife to Ali Osman that Hadiye should be living alone in straitened circumstances. She almost dropped her knitting when Bedriye asked her to return and live with her and Ali Osman, Bedriye’s only proviso was that there was to be no jealousy but peaceful family relations and to this day Bedriye repectfully calls Hadiye ‘aba’ the word used to indicate respect for an older sister or female relative.
To my knowledge the situation between the three of them has always been calm, Bedriye went on to have 4 more children, two more girls and two boys and all 5 children refer to both women as mum. They shared the chores and field work between them, Bedriye tended to the home, washing and cooking and looking after guests and Hadiye looked after the animals, shearing them, milking them and herding them. Bedriye had her own bedroom, always a light sleeper, she was unable to tolerate Ali Osman’s snoring every night and Hadiye and Ali Osman shared a room but not a bed. In the winter the three of them often share the heat of one room together. They are living proof that women can share a marriage and that polygamy is not always the male led enterprise it is made out to be.
Polygamy is thus encouraged in certain situations where there is a problem within an existing marriage. The problem must be perceived to be legitimate for example, as with Hadiye and Bedriye, if the first wife isn't able to provide children. She may not necessarily want to be divorced from her husband and she would like to be part of a family, in cases like these first wives may actually encourage their husbands to get married again and find a wife for him that she thinks would be suitable. The first wife has an important say in the matter as she is considered to best understand the husband and know his personality and she also chooses somebody that she feels personally she will get along with. The second wife has the children but both wives would take turns in looking after them. In the UK’s muslim community arrangements such as these exist and allow second wives to maintain a career or a profession and the arrangement can work out very nicely if it has been carefully discussed and structured.

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