Purity Re-established

“Who would be crazy enough to go into a war zone?”

“I’ll be in the south part of Ireland, not Northern Ireland,” I said.

In 1975, friends and colleagues believed I was daft for planning a trip to any part of the Emerald Isle.  At the time I was working in London, Ontario, not far from Detroit, Michigan.  It did not comfort my nay-sayers when I pointed out that Detroit had more murders in one month than Northern Ireland had war deaths in one year.  “Seems to me,” I said, “it’s safer being at war with Ireland than shopping in Detroit.”

My reasoning did not entice anyone to join me.

After landing in Shannon,  it was evident the Airport agent for car rentals didn’t relish handing keys over to North Americans.  I promised him I would practice driving on the wrong side in the parking lot before attempting a public road.  “And which wrong side are we talkin’ about?” he threw out with a gruff tone.  I apologized, grateful that I did not have to declare my dyslexia on my Passport.

I promised every Irish person I encountered that I would drive carefully.  Those who had shared a little Irish Whiskey with me were especially adamant that I reconsider at least three times before pulling out of anywhere.  Fulfilling my promise meant the Irish dander behind me rose to an all time high.  One chap screeched to a stop within inches of my car.   He taught me Irish expletives after my hesitation created a right-of-way for 84 scatter-brained sheep.

Eventually I decided a passenger could feel safe riding with me.  Young hitch-hikers spotted the roadsides so I decided I would give a ride to a single woman as soon as one appeared.    As if willing it to happen, just over the next hill, safely leaning against a hedge, a woman my age quickly jumped to attention.   I stopped to see where she was going.

“I’m going in the same direction as you,” she said.

“I’m going to Galway Bay, north of here.  That is, if I can find a road sign with English still on it.”  The Irish, as a protest for having their own language spoken, painted over the English names on road signs.  A road map was only helpful if I could pinpoint where a large, well-laboured, Irish finger pointed on the English document.

“Yes.  Me, too,” she said.  She had an accent that sounded French, but she looked Arabic.  As soon as we were on our way, we began introducing ourselves.  She was from Algiers.  Her beautiful Algerian name began with a “T”.

She said, “Since you are from Canada, you speak French, no?”

“Poorly,” I said.

“Well, my English is not good so I think we should both practice.  You speak French to me and I will speak English to you!  Brilliant, no?”

“It’s not brilliant if you know how much I have to concentrate on driving.”

“Oh, you are a good driver!  Let’s do it!”

“I’ll try.” I wanted to dust off my High School French that Parisians could understand, but not my French-speaking countrymen.  Go figure!

T. ended up doing most of the talking.  Questions, in French, remained fresh enough that when she spoke, I could ask a question about the subject.  She elaborated with gusto.  Her trust seemed to grow with each mile.

Soon I was hearing her heartache over the way women lived in her culture.  She attended university in England and returned to Algiers believing she would convince her countrywomen to liberate themselves.  She had returned believing women would want to follow her example and break the fetters that she, too, had previously accepted.  She didn’t realize that they would be too fear-ridden to fall into step with her.  She consistently felt disappointment when she would passionately attempt to rally their willingness to protest and change.

After a couple of years, she accepted that any change would take a great deal of time.  She saw that a transition would need patience.  Meanwhile, her father began making overtures that it was time for her to marry.  She panicked.

She told me, “I fell in love when I was at Oxford.  I had sex with this man.  He was from England and I believed we would be together forever.  However, the love did not last.  It was my fault.  I found our differences became burdensome.  I ended our relationship.”

“Are you thinking you would like a reconciliation?”

“Mais non!” she said.  “No, I am here because I am frightened for my life.”

“Oh, T.!  What does that mean?”

“If my father found I was no longer a virgin, I would be put out on the streets.”

“Your mother would not allow that, would she?”

“She would have no say.  That’s what I mean about women in my culture.  I’d be on the street and none of my family could have anything to do with me.”

“Ohmigod!  Is it still like that?  I thought that was a thing of the past!”

“I wish it were.”

“So why are you here?”

“I told my father that before he began marriage plans, I wanted to come to Ireland.  I told him that when I was studying at Oxford, I had no time come over to this beautiful land and I really wanted to see it.  Fortunately, he agreed.  I have an appointment in London to have my hymen replaced.”

Lunch of Purification in Ireland Photo from: http://www.google.ca/search?q=ireland+pictures

Somehow I managed to stay on the road.  “Let’s stop for a bite to eat.  I need some food,”  I said.  I pulled in at the next pull-over, shut off the car and said, “You are such a brave woman, T.!  I cannot believe you have to do this.”

“No matter how difficult the operation, it will be less painful than the consequence of not having it done.”

We got out of the car.

A herd of sheep grazed peacefully in the field beside us.  The land extended its green carpet down to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.  Birds flitted about us singing their notes of satisfaction.  The sun warmed the countryside, bringing out the aromas of rural, green growth.  As if rehearsed, we pulled out our bags of food to share on a grassy spot by a shade tree.  Irish breads, a variety of fresh cheese and ripe tomatoes were laid out with large, green olives.  Apples, oranges, bananas and grapes lay on the sidelines.  T. added two bottles of mineral water.

Our sadness, felt in silence, created a bond based on impenetrable feminine unity.

Feeling like a priest performing ablutions before communion, I broke our food, wiped my hands on spare tissues and looked over at T.  Dark brown eyes, brimming with tears, spoke her exhausted sorrow over centuries of repression.

Shared tears offered the holiest grace of any communion thus far in my life.

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44 thoughts on “Purity Re-established

  1. What a powerful story. Women in the U.S. need reminders of how good we have it compared to other cultures. Scary and sad, but a beautiful retelling. Thank you.

    • Yes, SDS, there are still too many cultures that have subtle and not-so-subtle practices that keep women down. I was just listening to a radio interview with an arabic woman who is taking her life in her hands by driving in public. Some of her ‘sisters’ have been imprisoned because of being caught. And these women think they have to tolerate this type of abuse. That’s what my friend T. was sick about…the fact that her countrywoman had bought the repression, their fetters.

  2. “Shared tears offered the holiest grace of any communion..” …these words capture such beauty and will stay with me throughout the day…thanks for sharing this story.

  3. I enjoy your past adventures, many of them make me relive parts of my past, not always similar but usually a small relationship that opens the door to an event ….thankyou.
    Sad or happy the results do lead one to their heartfelt feelings and make you touch up with your spirit. The mirror image of yourself can only help you be a better person.

  4. What started out as a bit of humor took such a detour. I just want to wail for what is done to women in some cultures. Imagine having to have your hymen replaced to escape the unthinkable. While I know that this type of abuse is a reality, hearing this brief first person account told to you and shared with us really brought it home.

    • I just cannot imagine living like that. It is unfathomable. I realize that we don’t all live in the same manner, but when repression and fear are used to control another, it is not okay.

  5. Beautiful post, Amy. Especially enjoyed the beginning shift of perspective you attempted to share:

    It did not comfort my nay-sayers when I pointed out that Detroit had more murders in one month than Northern Ireland had war deaths in one year. “Seems to me,” I said, “it’s safer being at war with Ireland than shopping in Detroit.”

    Sounds like an ideal spot for the communion of souls.

  6. “… Shared tears offered the holiest grace of any communion thus far in my life.”

    Amy – what a powerful post. Thank you for sharing and bringing this message to light!

    • I sent a card to her a few months after my time in Ireland. She did not reply. I suspect the risk of being found out was too great to stay in touch. She’ll always be a treasure.

  7. Hi,
    It is so hard to even imagine what some women go through in other Countries, yes we here terrible things sometimes, stoning, death for the family honor and the list goes on, but to actually live in places that do these things it really must be horrific.

    A wonderful post, and Thank You for sharing the story of T, it is a shame she could not stay and live somewhere else, it is going to be so hard for her I feel, I wish her nothing but the best for her life.

    • Thanks, Mags. I asked her about moving to England, but living outside of her country was not an option for her. Strange, in a way, that the very source of her angst hosts her adamant devotion. Plus, not surprising, family was extremely important to her. Though she was well educated, she had not begun steps toward a career. I suspected the education was an escape from home.

    • How to ever ingest all of the good stuff that awaits my time and attention! When I am no longer able to run around as though I am still a teenager, may my mind and eyes still serve me. 😀

  8. Hi Amy .. amazing story … and so sad because 35 years later there’s no change yet .. certainly an interesting travel companion .. and Ireland is beautiful.

    I hope T is all right now .. I suppose we’ll never know … Hilary

    • I hope she’s okay as well. She may even be a grandmother by now…who knows. I hope she remembers our time together, too. It was a pivotal experience in my life.

  9. I find it surprising that she would have sex with a boyfriend even after knowing all the complications, risk, and stress it would involve.

    I love the line, “And which wrong side are we talkin’ about?”

    • Hi GG – thanks for the visit! You are wisely pointing out the power of the sexual drive. However, T. was planning to change her world. At that time, she believed with her whole soul that she could.

  10. Great story, Amy. Sad that, 31 years later things have not changed much, in fact, in some countries conditions for women are even worse. I think this is another one of those examples of how the universe intervenes at exactly the right moment. You were delivered to ‘T’ when she most needed a friend, someone she could confide in who could never compromise the secret. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of that honour than you.

    • As usual, Kathy, the learning was a two way street. Her culture had always been a little bit of “make believe” to me until I met her. Now I support the activism of Avaaz.com. Started in Toronto, Avaaz presents E-petitions highlighting situations world wide including one where a muslim woman was going to be stoned for being alone with the man she loves. The results from the hundreds of thousands of responses have proven the power and punch of our “speaking up” – saving people, stopping overkilling of animal species, etc. (Their site lists the projects and the results achieved). Thanks to T., my interest in those horrible realities is strong.

  11. What a beautiful story and so tenderly told Amy! One doesn’t expect an Irish adventure to include a story of hymen repair. Whew! I hope that poor girl was able to marry successfully.

    I’ve been following the story of the female drivers in Saudi Arabia for some years now. All they ask is to be allowed to drive their cars! My goodness I cannot imagine having to live like that.

    • A past partner who was a helicopter engineer working in Abu Dhabi in the 1980s told me that the women were supposedly free to drive a car. However, when a woman was seen out driving, she was run off the road by male objectors. There was a major fine for creating an accident involving a camel and only a minor one for causing an accident with a woman. Amazes me that there are men so afraid of women that they strive to repress and restrain females. Methinks the times are a’changin’. And it won’t be through war tactics.

  12. Thank heavens for the brave women who came before us in our country. How can her Father support her receiving an education and expect her eyes and heart to not be opened to new customs at the same time? This, I have not understood. Her knowledge and her desire to share it place her in such a place of torment. I will remember to shed a prayer of light on women who suffer so. Thank you Amy. Well written.

  13. “Shared tears offered the holiest grace of any communion thus far in my life.”

    THAT was a powerful truth.
    What a sad thing, what a horrid position for the mother, daughter and father.
    *sigh*

    • Life is really very incredible for those of us in our culture. I would hope I could be there for any one of the other cultures – if they feel they want change.

  14. Amy I started reading and was going down that road with you and then you picked up T and I will wonder for the rest of my life about her. Thank you for sharing this pivoting moment of your life.

    • Ah, I’m so pleased that you read the story. And I’m so glad to make your acquaintance. I hope to follow your progress in putting you into your home, Colleen.

  15. We’ve started the journey in our new home. What a journey so far! If you get time I’d love for you to read my posts from Ireland. Our last trip there was June and July 2010. I wrote every day from Ireland to share it with my family back here in Ohio. It was a fabulous way to share where I was and what I loved with people I love. I am intrigued by your journey. Not just your travels, but your journey where you are. Here’s to more shared reads and writing!

    • I will go back over your Ireland trips, Colleen. If you are intrigued by my journey, it means you have a good one going on, too. I believe we will be sharing them.

  16. Beautiful story, Amy, wow. I love how you mixed travel writing, life lessons and the plight of others in this world all in one simple, elegant story. i adore your last line about the shared tears–powerful. love your writing.

    • Thanks very much, Lisa…I’m delighted her story can be shared to build our awareness. I wonder if her youthful determination could have been more successful had Twitter and FB existed then. Wonder if changes are slowly being made now.

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