Afeefa’s Story

jjj[1]By: Nellie Zacharias

“She didn’t make it.  Sometimes I think God’s plan is for the best.”

 This is beginning to the letter I received from a good friend who was so very distraught that her long-time friend had died.  We tend to think that cultural differences in gender issues are left behind when people come to America, after all people come here for the betterment of their lives right?  We want to believe that the cultural stew infuses everyone’s lives right away.  It simply isn’t so.  So many cultures hang on to beliefs and practices right here in the U.S. both for the good and the bad.  A lot of what is kept is very very good.  But sometimes we come across disappointing stories of women left in the cold in ways we normally associate with other parts of the world.  This is one story.  This is a true story.   The names have been changed to protect family members and loved ones of the community.

Afeefa is a third generation relative that I’ve known since growing up in Brooklyn, NY.  We lived at 53rd street and her family lived at 52nd.  She was beautiful.  Its funny how everywhere they’ve moved, we’ve fell into arms.  From Jerusalem to Cleveland.   She ended up marrying her first cousin at 15 and didn’t have a very good marriage.  Her husband, born and raised in Jerusalem came to America as a hungry immigrant.  I hate to say that, but over there, they grow up hearing stories of how easy and beautiful American women are.  They (boaters) come here anticipating the taste.  (Now, I’m not putting all of them into the same category, but I’ve seen enough to make such a claim.)  Shamefully, he neglected his wife and children through the years for the simple prospect of selfish desires. 

Their relationship withered to continuous arguments, domestic violence, and emotional abuse.  Afeefa pretty much tolerated it all.  This year in February is when he drew the line and chose an Asian girl that he met at work over his wife.  He moved out and left her.  Aside from the lies he gave her subsequent reasons to justify his actions.  He would tell Afeefa how this woman makes him happy, how she listens to him and maintains a humble tone, pleases him sexually, prepares food for him, doesn’t complain about financial needs, everything his wife had not been capable of doing.  It broke her heart. 

She would always tell me;”I see all of these women who have progressed in their lives, whose husbands have bought them houses and cars, and go home to their children and make it a priority to be a part of their lives.  Why don’t I deserve these things?  What am I doing wrong?  Do you think it’s me?”

Afeefa was a selfless human being that never said no to anyone.  No, was not a word that rolled off her tongue.  If you needed help, she was there.  Her children, God help them, were very well raised and had many of her qualities.  When I would invite her over for dinner, she wouldn’t sit or rest until the kitchen was cleaned.  She wished to have a house of her own, but felt that at least she had the ability to live in an apartment building.  “A lot of people aren’t so lucky.”

Seven months after her husband left her, he decided he was ready to come back home.  On Monday he contacted her family and notified them of his plans.  Her parents welcomed him with open arms.  Not even a lecture.  They just wanted to have their “daughter’s honor” unmarred.  It would relax them to know that their daughter wasn’t living alone anymore and people wouldn’t talk about her every time she would leave the house.  No more suspicions of Afeefa’s whereabouts.  It devastated her.  Aside from her working at a daycare and visiting with friends, she led a humble life.  Her parents didn’t even put up a fight, not even a word of objection towards his past behavior.  She refused his return.  Her family was forcing her to accept him back into her life.  Her mother and father had a trip to Jerusalem scheduled for Tuesday morning.  If Afeefa’s husband Munaf returned home they would feel secure about their daughter’s safety.  It was agreed that Munaf would go home Tuesday night.

Afeefa and her sister went to exercise Tuesday evening and on the way home, her sister Omera was insisting that Afeefa not complain about Munaf’s return.  According to her sister, they started arguing and throwing fists at each other’s shoulders while Omera was driving.  Omera recalls telling Afeefa, “You’re going to let your husband come home and accept it.  You’re going to make it work,” after Afeefa revealed that she hates her mother and feels that her mother did this so that she can go to Jerusalem guilt-free.  I have to mention something before I continue; Afeefa’s family also abused her, even after she got married.  She was very insecure and received a multitude of put down emotional abuse and sometimes physical.  Yes, physical.  Her mother treated her like a slave expecting her daughter to cater to her every whim and woe.  Basically, everyone in that family thought they were better than her, even her younger sister Omera.  Everyone thought they knew what was best for her.  We all told her that she didn’t have to tolerate such behavior, that she was a grown woman, but I guess some things are better said than done. 

Omera and Afeefa were arguing, and Afeefa was agitated by her sister’s continuous disregard and disrespect for her feelings.  “I hate him, and you guys just want him to come home.  Just like that as if nothing ever happened?  I can’t do it.  It’ll kill me.”  They were near their brother’s house and Afeefa begged her sister to pull over, “I’ll have Nafi drive me home,” and her sister wouldn’t.  “If you don’t pull over, I’m going to jump out, she cried.  I don’t want to be in this car with you.”  Her sister was still yelling at her, they reached a red light Afeefa opened the door and Omera hits the gas to prevent her sister from exiting the car.  Afeefa falls out of the car and Omera kept going.  Omera would later tell the police that she saw her sister land on her knees and hands and assumed she was fine, that she didn’t want to upset the children by stopping for her.  Instead, she called her brother Nafi to check up on her. 

An old man found her, and called the police.  He was so struck with fear and anxiety that the poor guy had a heart attack and they sent two ambulances.  Now we don’t know if Afeefa was hit by another car or not, but she suffered two skull fractures and a black eye, her brain was hemorrhaging.  She had no bodily damage, just cranial.  We don’t know how long it took for the guy to discover her body, but he found her on the curb.  She fell into a coma and died Thursday morning around 12:30 am.  Her husband, ironically, was the only one the doctors would give information to, although he hasn’t been there for her for the last year and he was the one that had them pull the plugs.  Her parents who had gone on with their trip to Jerusalem were finally able to return Thursday afternoon.  They were devastated by the news.  You don’t know what you have until you lose it.  We went to the mosque yesterday and made prayer for her, it broke our hearts to watch her leave as they carried her coffin and head for burial.  Women don’t attend the burial. 

I miss her

 

Editor’s Note: The Author’s name has also been withheld as asked and a ghost name used instead.

8 Comments on “Afeefa’s Story”

  1. This is a very disturbing story; a difficult one for a mind to contemplate that has always assumed equal human value regardless of gender. It feels dismal. Such a great poverty of thought to choose the distinctions of propriety over the emotional well being of a sister, wife, mother, daughter. Ah men! I’ve heard that the fight for woman’s liberation was won in the wild west, dominated by men, when the women all crossed their legs. It will be very difficult to change this aspect of cultural role placed on women until the women unite in their agreement that they too, have values.

  2. Wow, her life really sucked – my question is this: why did she just sit there and take it? I could understand if this happen somewhere in the Middle East (where females are insulated from any strong female role-models), but this one knew that there were alternative paths she could take in life – that she could dump her irresponsible hubby and move away from her hyper-controlling family.

    So what stopped her from doing so?

  3. Christopher, it is exactly for this reason that we found it important to print this story and letter. Too often we think “I could understand if it happened in the middle east..but here…” To understand the cultural differences that are right on our doorsteps seems sometimes beyond people’s vision, and to blame a woman for holding to the life she knows and holds dear, what is comfort to her is to miss the point entirely.
    What stopped her from doing so it that small but important thing for so many, what we have been talking about for the last month. Faith. I know it is hard to fathom for many, but it is nevertheless an ingredient that binds and needs to be understood in order to help. To make flash assesments of should have or could have without stepping into a different world is to miss so much including opportunities to help.

  4. [QUOTE=grainnerhuad]To understand the cultural differences that are right on our doorsteps seems sometimes beyond people’s vision, and to blame a woman for holding to the life she knows and holds dear, what is comfort to her is to miss the point entirely.[/QUOTE]

    I’m not casting blame on anyone – I’m just perplexed that some one who has been exposed to alternatives to the traditional roles designated for them and still remain with their previously asigned stations in life.

    [QUOTE=grainnerhuad]What stopped her from doing so it that small but important thing for so many, what we have been talking about for the last month. Faith. I know it is hard to fathom for many, but it is nevertheless an ingredient that binds and needs to be understood in order to help.[/QUOTE]

    I see your point, but typically faiths that promote the subjigation of an entire gender on this level (ususally the females) do their best to insulate themselves from outside influences (ex. the Mormon Fundamentalists) to prevent members of that gender from being exposed to alternative lifestyles – in this case it happened right in the middle of NYC. How does such a repressive faith maintain that kind of dominance over the individual when there are so many other memes competing for influence in the same area?

  5. Thanks Christopher for clarifying. It is mindboggling to us how someone with seemingly so many choices stays in a situation that they technically don’t have to. However there has to be a way to get in and understand in order to help. It is also particularly sad that this individual was at a point where she had had enough and was going to leave all behind and lost her life because of it. It is stories like that that sometimes keep this cycle going, I think. But more than anything I think people want to belong to their family, culture and ethnicity of origin, they want to carve out a spot for themselves. It is for this reason you see witness protection families falling out of protective custody, you see gay Iranians who face hanging stay in Iran and try to hide a piece of themselves. The question is how do we help people hold on to that important piece of themselves while making themselves important?

  6. [QUOTE=grainnerhuad] The question is how do we help people hold on to that important piece of themselves while making themselves important?[/QUOTE]

    In social orders as represive as the one mentioned in the story I don’t even think this is possible – the individual is in a situation where he/she can have one but not the other. In such circumstances one must either repress one’s self or else destroy the part of his life that requires his/her repression (as the woman in your article attempted to do and died for it – it’s oddly reminicient of the parable of the tightrope walker in “Thus Spake Zarathustra”).

  7. It seems to me there are as many factors going on here as occurs with a typical repeat domestic violence victim. Those early childhood years do so much to the way a person learns to relate to others. The parental roles and sibling roles are the re-enforcement that create the understood response; the expected one. They grow up understanding the parameters of the roles and developing the skills to live within them, but not the skills to oppose them. In families where domestic abuse is an accepted condition, you will often find the parents non-supportive of the victim if the husband is being “a good provider”. The attitude is the woman must have done something wrong in order to receive punishment. In cultures where the woman is undermined, there is no true support system. The victim must either accept the cultural definitions of woman’s place or become an outcast. A painful choice; one that entails denying cultural heritage and familial considerations.

    Living in a city with millions of other people doesn’t really make that much difference. Those millions are strangers with different habits, life styles and cultural distinctions. The instinct is to cling to the familiar with all its known rules. In order to change the circumstances of the victim, the environment of cultural distinctions must also change. The rules must change. Women must be seen as individuals, not objects to dominate. They must be acknowledged as assets to the home, not burdens. The women themselves must realize this and help each other up, not pull each other down.

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