I’m undecided on whether privacy is an American value, or an American luxury. As I’m an American and I highly value my privacy, I’m not sure that I have the necessary objectivity to decide.
In any case, privacy is very, very, VERY American. America’s all about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. Pulling yourself up. On your own. Proving your self-worth by means of hard work and innovation; using what you’ve got to make yourself a success.
And this mindset motivates me. It empowers me to get off my ass and push myself to my limits. America constantly tells me: you could be more. I could be a neurosurgeon. I could invent clean energy. I could be the first female POTUS.
I get a tingly feeling in my fingers and toes when I think of my possibilities. I could go ANYWHERE! And I am! I’m in Iraq and I’m learning how to be a teacher! I’m learning about the world. I’m exploring.
But I’ve been struggling recently with this American motivation to become something. My friends in the US are getting engaged, moving in with their boyfriends/girlfriends, going to grad school, getting internships. And meanwhile, I’m single and in 7 weeks I’ll be unemployed until further notice. I feel like I’m over here in the middle of who-knows-where biding my time until my purpose appears to me. All this independence gets lonely. All this effort to “succeed” is tiring.
It’s so easy to compare myself to my friends. We Americans need a direction. The message of you could be more turns into you SHOULD be more.
Then I stop and think, who the hell decides what “more” is?
It’s like I have a huge, unnecessary weight of personal responsibility on my shoulders.
Kurds don’t have this weight. For one, there is little personal responsibility. There is familial responsibility. A Kurd never does something by his- or herself. Actions are planned communally, or at least with the community in mind. This communal mentality seems to me to be frequently a mentality of defense. If you do something wrong, you bring shame on yourself and your family. That all-important ayba comes into play.
But there’s also the motivation of mutual support. Only recently has Kurdistan developed an extensive infrastructure: government, roads, medical facilities. And even now your security is your family. Because the government is corrupt, the roads suck, and the medical facilities are a joke. Present any ailment, and they just give you antibiotics.
Your family raises you, protects you from ayba, then hands you off to your new family when you get married. When you are older, you take care of those who have taken care of you. Family will move in as they age. And when you have your own household, any family member is free to drop in whenever they like, whether it be 11am or 11pm. And you always, always feed them.
Things are looser here. Personal bubbles aren’t even a concept. Your family pokes you and prods you and judges you. But they’ll always make sure you are protected from poverty and hunger (unless, of course, they disown you due to ayba).
In Halabja, even as I was fed and dressed up in jili Kurdi, I felt violated! The women asked me really intrusive questions, pulled back my shirt to see what bra I wore, shook me awake as I was falling asleep to show me their new stuffed animal, pulled me this way and that.
I felt loved and included, but drained. I felt like I needed my privacy, my independence. I had no idea how these people could sit and talk with each other all DAY and then still want to sit and talk until well into the night. And it’s not as if traditional Kurdish life is action-packed with new events to talk about. But man, they have an endurance for being with each other. And Kurds always talk around food. If they’re sitting and talking, then they’re also eating and/or drinking.
As much as I’m critical of this communal mentality and the restrictions it puts on Kurds to behave in a manner free of ayba, I see its benefits. Can I just sit and talk with my family all day? No. I’d get exhausted and cranky. But Kurdish families are tight. They stay together and there’s always a family member to support you. Barring ayba, of course.
All this American fervor over pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps? Have you ever tried to pull yourself up by your bootstraps? It’s impossible. That’s the point.
You’ve got to have someone else to help lift you up.