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I’m still here in this hot, dusty place of long dead volcanic craters, of sandstorms that hurt your eyes and sting your face, of buzzing flies and shoeless children, of seeming poverty and entirely different social mores, and yet everything had changed. I had met Badria. She was sixteen. We fast became friends and I would visit her after school. Badria would make me hot sweet tea while quizzing me about life in England, about schools, about girls, about home life, about relationships, about society. I gave what limited information I, as a twelve year old had to offer. And she was always hungry for more. She had British magazines that she would pour over, pointing out the things that seemed wonderful to her, especially, I think, the freedom of women.
Badria’s Dad was a relatively enlightened man and was determined that she learned to speak English. She was the only one of her family to do so. He had insisted she had an education, which in those days, sad to say sometimes even in these days, was a rare occurrence for a girl. And a very lucky thing for me. I had found something in this oh so foreign place that put a smile back on my face…there was something for me to look forward to.
One day, I told my Mum. I had to, she wanted to know where I disappeared to most afternoons, and she was okay with it. I think she was a little relieved that I was happy again, and discovering that the only thing I was up was visiting Badria was no doubt something of a relief.
It was short lived…my friendship. I arrived one afternoon to discover the household in an uproar. Badria took me aside and asked if I would do something for her. Of course I said yes, with little or no thought to what it might be. I was a twelve year old with a daredevil mentality. I was to go into the room where the men were. There they were deciding Badria’s future. She was seventeen now and it was time for her to be married. Her Father and brothers were interviewing a prospective husband and his father and my job, it turned out, was to see if he was handsome. Badria wouldn’t meet him until her wedding day.
I wandered in with my best, most studious air of innocence. It was the first time I’d been into their meeting room. I’d seen her father and brothers before, in passing, so I knew I could work out who the prospective husband was.
They were smoking, I think it was a hookah, but what did I know. I was still small, still skinny and still insignificant…they ignored me. I didn’t understand what they were saying, but I took a good look at the new boy in the room.
“Well, “she said when I got back, “is he handsome?”
I said yes. I thought it was what she wanted to hear.
The marriage was arranged and I was invited to the wedding feast. I was so excited and pretty amazed that my Mum and Dad said I could go. I wore my best dress. It was blue with threads of silver and I thought I looked like a princess. Not an Arabian nights princess, but princess-like, all shiny and sparkly. And off I went.
It was bedazzling, loud music, bright lights and such a feast. The details are a little hazy, drums were pounding, tables were laden with foods that I had never seen before and I think I saw the eyes of sheep…they were definitely eyes of something. But I only had eyes for the pink, sugar coated jelly like squares. Yum, my first and very definitely not the last taste of Turkish delight. It was all I ate that night. And amazingly enough I wasn’t sick!
People didn’t pay too much attention to me, as usual, and I couldn’t speak Arabic so I had no clue what was going on, but it was loud and joyful. I couldn’t get close to my friend. She was standing next to her new husband, covered from head to toe in brightly coloured robes. If I felt like a princess, she looked like a queen, definitely an Arabian nights looking queen, but she seemed sad.
Finally, I had a chance to speak to her. She was sad she told me because now she had to leave her family to live with her new husband and his family and worse, at least for me, she wasn’t able to see me any more because her husband didn’t approve. Now I was sad. I went home. I cried.
I never saw Badria again. I have wondered about her over the years. Did she maintain her curiosity about western society? Did she get an opportunity to visit England where she dearly wanted to go. Did she keep her zest for life. Is she happy? I shall just assume the answer to all these questions is yes, the alternative is too sad to contemplate.