The first guests arrived. I was among the party to greet them, since it was customarily expected of me, the oldest female child, to stand by the door and welcome people I had nothing in common with. Extended family and a family I was seeing for the first time but still, they were the community I was a part of and I had been taught ever since I can remember, that community and its requisites were to be held above all. While my grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles shook the guests’ hands, I could barely make eye contact, since being the youngest woman among the household, it was my duty to find slippers that would fit each and every one of the strange feet I was getting closely acquainted with at that moment. The same procedure repeated with me handing out the slippers until all the groups of guests had arrived.
Before I took my seat on a chair at a far off corner, close to the door, I welcomed all the guests kissing and holding the back of the hands of older guests to my forehead, kissing the cheeks of younger guests as well as my peers and merely shaking hands with male visitors I did not know very well. Just before a conversation began with the familiar “How are you?”, “How are the kids?” questions, I made sure to do the tour of the seated guests dripping lemon cologne they rubbed in their hands or wiped on their heads and offered them candy from a crystal bowl.
Once all formalities initiating a major gathering were covered, I pulled a chair, one of the least used ones, since all sofas and softly padded armchairs had been offered to guests and my elders, and dutifully watched the proceedings for a while.
The eldest family members of both parties began asking the usual questions with a pinch of reference to the weather. Then, it was time for me to retrieve to the kitchen to make the Turkish coffee in the cezve with some sugar, one of the most poignant symbolic customs of the night. The first boiled coffee with the greatest amount of foam went to the eldest and preferably to the male guests, to be followed in descending order the estimated date of birth and of course the sex of the others.
And thus, in between tiny sips of sweet foamy coffee, the eldest male guest commenced the much anticipated speech: “Our son is well educated, respectful, considerate and earns a substantial amount of money. He can easily provide excellent conditions for a good family. Our valuable friend has seen your daughter and highly recommended her as a befitting match for our son. We have asked around, and have been told she is a well behaved, hard working, gentle girl.
“Long word short, with the grace of god and the word of the prophet, we would like the hand of your daughter for our son in marriage.”
What should have followed was a gaze at me from my father for the sake of performing what the customs command to receive the conceding answer from my meek mouth: “You would know the best, father. He seems like a nice man.”
Satisfied and proud, my father would have continued, “the young people have seen and liked each other, and for us, nothing is left to do but give our blessings,” and we would put on golden rings tied by a red ribbon to be cut by the eldest man in the house. We would all smile, take collective pictures and determine a schedule for the future wedding.
Instead, I said: “No.”
I said “no” to all the elders I had showed respect in due accordance with every aspect of our traditions, and refused to accept what they saw as befitting for the “son”.
I said “no” to marrying a man I barely knew; “no” to being deprived of the right to continue my life under the terms I determined merely to become a home maker, a dependent cleaner instead of an independent individual.
I said “no” to years of tradition followed year after year; “no” to the grace of god and the word of the prophet.
I said “no” to submission, to servitude without agency, to showing respect for old age and waiting for old age to earn respect in return.
I said “no” to being overlooked and being perceived only in search of a potential wife for a man.
I said “no” to force an outlet for my own personality, to find my own way, to be my own; “no” to descriptions that would be coined solely in relation to the men around me; a wife, a sister, a daughter…
In saying “no”, I said “yes” to free-will and to being free.