For the past two years I've belonged to a book club made up of faculty members here at Seoul Foreign School (www.sfs.or.kr). The last book is Reading Lolita in Tehran. There are some good parts in it but the part that struck me most was what I can't share in the group on Tuesday so I'll share it here.
Toward the end of this book, one of the young women in the book group starts to discuss her bitterness after a visit with her husband to Syria. "What shocked her most were her sensations in the streets of Damascus, where she had walked freely, hand in hand with Hamid, wearing a T-shirt and jeans. She described the feel of the wind and the sun on her hair and her skin-it was always the same sensation that was so startling....When she returned home, she felt angry because of what she could have been. She was angry for the years she had missed, for her lost portion of the sun and wind, for the walks she had not taken with Hamid. The thing about it, she said with wonder, was that walking with him like that had suddenly transformed him into a stranger. This was a new context for their relationship;she had become a stranger even to herself. Was this the same Mitra, she asked herself, this woman in jeans and a tangerine T-shirt walking in the sun with a good-looking young man by her side? Who was this woman and could she learn to incorporate her into her life if she were to move to Canada? 'I can't live with this constant fear,' said Mitra, 'with having to worry all the time about how way I dress or walk. Things that come naturally to me are considered sinful, so how am I supposed to act?'"
Reading the above I was surprised with how much I identified with Mitra,a Muslim woman on the other side of the globe. Last month, my boyfriend and I spent a chilly spring break in Toronto and we were both struck by how different things were there in attitude and atmosphere. Granted, neither of us would be thrown in jail or beheaded for holding hands in either Korea nor Kansas. But suffice to say, there would be severe repercussions. Hate crimes happen all the time and most are either not reported to the police or recognized by the authorities as such. Coming back to Korea there are so many times, I look at him and I just want to simply hold hands and yet can't because of that fear. I've grown so much personally these last four years in Korea that I have to wonder "Who will I become after a four years in Ontario?"