Tuesday, November 17, 2009
What's A Girl To Do?
Last night I was confronted with something I was told was inevatible but was really dreading/hoping wouldn't happen. Mongolia has a vastly different stance on domestic violence than America- here it's viewed as a part of life. Many husbands do it and many wives accept it. It's seen as just the way of things because in this culture being male is such a privledge and elevation in status. Sadly, I've seen the evidence here before. It isn't very hard to surmise what a difficult marriage my counterpart had- she is jumpy, afraid of men and submissive much of the time. Last year my counterpart told the PCV that had my job before me that she had been a victom of abuse for many years and had even divorced her husband it was so bad; divorce is a rarity here so that stands to the testiment of how badly she was treated. I've also seen one of Mona's counterparts wear sunglasses for days both indoors and out thinking that it would hide her massive black eye. Last night I was doing laundry at Jakes (he is being an angel and letting me use his washing machine as I have no hot water and my heat isn't very good - not optimal hand washing conditions) and Alana had decided to tag along. We were watching The Usual Suspects, chowing down on the cake Alana and I had made Jake as a thank you when we heard voices, a man and a woman, outside in his hall. At first they were just distracting and annoying, as Jake's speakers weren't very loud. But they escilated to shouts and yelps. Then the conversation outside crachendoed to banging, raverberating blows of something on something echoed loudly. I winced with each noise and pretty soon there was no doubt in my mind as to what was happening outside the door. The three of us looked at each other, what should we do? I mean the options were pretty disheartening. We could step out the door and say "stop, we are Americans and we know better than you- we are here to help your country and tell you what to do!" in English, which the people having the altercation wouldn't understand anyway. And even if we did that, if we did interfere, one of two things would ensue: the violence would be turned on us or the people would retreat into their apartment and continue about their business, just annoyed at the inconvienece. But despite the lack of effective solutions to this problem I couldn't in good consience just sit there while the possible sounds of a woman being abused found my ears from a few feet away. I was about to stand up, grabbing my coat, but just then an older woman's voice sounded in the hall, apparently officiating and trying to allay whatever was going on; things settled down. Unfortunately that didn't last long and the yelling and banging started up again soon after. I couldn't take it- I grabbed my cell phone (which has a flashlight on the end) and thrust my head out the door just in time to see several young women yelling and stomping into an apartment at the far end of the hall, seemingly in hot persuit of their friends who had been fighting. That was about the end of it. Jake said that the people in that apartment were all young and had been drinking all day. Yes, I do regret not going out there and helping the young woman in distress. But at the same time, I would have put myself into grave danger (it's not uncommon for men to have knives here), I have limited communication skills and as evidenced by the older woman and the young screaming ones, the community here had adopted a handfull ways of dealing with this sort of situation- although not enough to stop this from happening clearly. The Mongolians have a proverb that states "don't walk you donkey between a man and a woman" and the Peace Corps enforces that- advising us not to get involved in domestic disputes regardless of context. This issue had been brought to my attension before I left for Mongolia and I had spoken with my family about it. My sister said that of course you should help the woman in trouble and that was my knee jerk reaction, too. But the prospect of going out there and facing a drunk man who is ready for a fight when I am already someone who attracts pleanty of negative attension is a scary thing. I am not sure that what I did or didn't do was wrong or even what I would do in the same situation if I could go back and relive it. The only thing I really know is that it was unfortunate.