If you ever studied abroad, you must know how it is like to live in a dormitory. Rooms are so small and narrow that sometimes you don’t have much space to breathe easily. I was invited to an Uzbek dinner in one of those small rooms yesterday.
The room is designed for only two students to fit. We were seven people in this room: six guys – all good friends of mine – and a lady – one of the guy’s girlfriend. At the middle of the room was a table. The table was “decorated” with salad, spoons, cups, coke, bread, and of course our beloved national meal Plov.
As a famous Uzbek saying goes: “Perhaps our place is narrow, but our heart is wide.”
The friendly atmosphere was just great in the room. In spite of the narrowness of the room and despite being at the center of Europe, I felt pretty much at home – at the very heart of Uzbekistan.
We finished eating after 20 minutes, but we kept talking the next 3 hours. We love talking. We love talking about all kinds of stuff, starting from world politics all the way until new fashion trends on travel bags. But most of the time we just make fun of each other.
I checked up with my watch. It was 23:10. “I have to get up at 6 tomorrow,” I thought.
While others were still talking, I stood up quietly and started cleaning the table. I figured “They invited me. They were amazing hosts. They even cooked Plov. I should at least wash up, to show my gratitude.”
I took the dirty dishes off the table, went to the kitchen, which was a narrow 3 meterish place with two wash-basins. Sponge… detergent… hot water. I started washing up.
After several seconds the lady showed up, leaving the guys in the room.
“Let me do the dishes,” she said.
“No-no, I will do it. Don’t worry about it,” I responded without looking at her.
“Why?!” she seemed to be nervous for some reason.
I didn’t know what to say. “I will wash up.” I said being confused, “Take care of the table, if you want.”
She said “Okay” and brought some more dirty cups and spoons from the room.
“I wanted to do the dishes when the guys are done with their conversation,” she made an ‘excuse’, grumbling.
I thought “Why is she making an excuse?”
“Abdulla, let me do the wash-up,” she said once again. “Seriously. I am not feeling comfortable.”
“Use that wash basin, if you want,” I said pointing at the basin just next to me.
“Oh yeah! I didn’t think about it.”
While we were both at the wash basins, we talked a little bit about her graduation from the University. Then I thought “What makes my friend’s girlfriend feel not comfortable, if I wash up?”
So I asked her: “Why don’t you feel comfortable to sit with the guys now?”
“Well, you know…,” she said not looking at me and carrying on with scraping the plates. “I am a girl and I am kind of supposed to do the house chores. The guys [in the room] would look at me like at a girl with awfully unappropriate manners, if YOU, a man, would do the wash-up and I, a woman, would sit with them chilling.”
For some reason, this compelled me to think about my mom.
“Interesting…. But don’t you feel “low” and inferior?” I asked being curious about her personal feelings about this.
“Absolutely I feel inferior! I feel sometimes very low,” she said smiling. Sometimes people smile in order to hide their deep feelings.
These feelings are, most of the time, associated with childhood traumas, and by smiling we hold ourselves from bursting into tears.
I don’t think that this lady was about to burst into tears. Nor do I think that she had some childhood traumas connected with washing up. But I do think that at least she felt really bad about the current situation.
There was a long pause after that.
“How about the country you come from?” I asked. “Would you feel and do the same if you had a similar situation in Tatarstan?”
“Well, there are some other cultural nuances, but basically – yes: that would be the same problem,” she responded.
This is the approximate attitude towards women in my country and Tatarstan.
And I am going to guess, it’s a similar case in Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, China, India, Bangladesh, African countries, Middle East, perhaps even in some parts of the western world. I believe this is really unfair towards women. Why in the world should they ever feel inferior? Women are those who brought you and me to this world.
Think about this: When mothers give birth to a child, they endure such pain that they almost die. Don’t they deserve a little more respect?