29 October 2010

Let's Misbehave

Carving by sculptor Ray Villafane

Happy Halloween! I wish you ghouls and goblins and candy corn, and for those who are interested, a blessed All Saints’ Day. Given the season, I thought it appropriate that I found out today the majority of my co-workers are convinced I’m going to hell. There was a lot of hemming and hawing and bushes that were not beaten around, but that was the gist of their confession.

The Doctor, who remains persuaded of my imminent conversion to Islam, has faith that I will ultimately be saved from damnation. The others, though, admit that I’m something of a lost cause. I suppose I may at least take solace in the fact they are regretful about it. They do appear a bit torn, as they accept that I am a spiritual person. Interestingly, this is more thanks to the yoga than my weekly attendance of Mass. Indeed, they almost always choose to ignore that I’m religious at all; I’m not sure if this is because I’m western or Christian.

Without question, my Afghan co-workers take exception to my Catholicism (as, in fairness, do my largely agnostic American friends). We’ve discussed our faiths a number of times by now, and they are rather adamant that my belief in the Holy Trinity constitutes polytheism. I attempted to clarify the matter with the St Patrick Elucidation (if that’s not it’s official name, it should be) to no avail.

Moreover, while they are more than receptive to my critiques of the Bible as beautiful but outdated, the Koran is not-to-be-questioned perfect. There are no errors, and if I were to read it, I would see the light of its perfection, never mind that I have. I attempted to point out that this ‘perfect’ record of the word of God states that in matters of law, one man is worth two women, men are allowed to marry as many as four women, over whom they have dominance the same as over their land, and angels, as sublime beings, should only be called by men's names. My protests were met with either blank stares (of course it does. Your point is?) or assurances that it all makes more sense in Arabic and I was missing the nuances (yes, a man is allowed to have four wives, but only if he can feed them all equally. Isn’t that better?). The Bible contains similar absurdities in both Testaments, such as when to sell you daughter in to slavery, admonishments for women to keep silent in church, and the reminder that man is woman’s head and to be deferred to in all things. Upon further reflection, the prescribed treatment of women is similar in both sacred texts. Cut from the same cloath, they teach that the ‘fair sex’ is unclean during our menstrual cycle, and should be treated at least as well as livestock, if better than slaves. It’s good to know where we stand.

Perhaps because of the common religious ground, polytheism notwithstanding, I suspect they are inclined to view me as unredeemably damned because I’m a liberal, and therefore licentious, Westerner. Though my colleagues seem quite fond of me, they nevertheless assume I must lead a hedonistic lifestyle. Mind you, they never actually ask, not that I would be inclined to tell them. Perhaps I could just burst in to song: “if you want a future, darling, why don’t you get a past…” One did ask rather hesitantly if I was upset with them. I laughed and assured them that I was alright – Catholic guilt aside, according to my faith tradition, all hope is not lost.

The ‘we like you but think that you’re damned’ juxtaposition isn’t all that rare. My daily interactions are actually full of really interesting dichotomies. I have an erstwhile friend among linguists with whom, on some days, I am particularly close. On any given day, he is so very western, but on others, so very not. For example, he readily admits to having a crush on me, and frequently alludes that he would like to act on it. When this happens, I remind him that he has a serious girlfriend back in the States on whom he does not want to cheat (as he once pointed out, American women take that much more seriously than do Afghani women). At which point, he usually gets miffed and compares me to a German whore.

Similarly, while affirming that cheating is both wrong and backwards, denoting a lack of respect for your significant other, he holds that monogamy is aberrant. This is clearly why the divorce rate in the States is so much higher than in the Middle East; these overzealous wives won’t let their men openly frequent sex workers. Given this stance, he is also oddly supportive of lashing as a reasonable punishment for adultery (for both parties, mind you. He’s not a barbarian, and that’s what it calls for in the Koran). Stoning, though, is a bridge too far. He thinks I’m fit, frequently asking for workout tips, but opines that my vegetarianism is both unhealthy and unnatural. Otherwise pleasant lunches are often marred by lectures on the benefits to be gained from eating cow (rich from a man that shuns pork) and recitations of the calories in my food. I simply sigh. There are so few pleasures here, and I just want to eat my chocolate chip in peace. Tomorrow I’ll eat with the crazy Bulgarians. They might well think I’m going to hell, too, but at least I know that they probably expect to be going with me.