A secret I wish I hadn’t heard – a friend’s divorce09 june 2011, 11:34
It was one of those meetings you really look forward to – catching up with a good friend you haven’t seen for awhile.
Nazgul – that is not her real name – is a Kazakh in her late 20s, tall and thin, with a lovely face. She’s also lovely inside. For some years she has run a charitable organization that helps many people.
We sat in an Astana coffee shop talking about our families and other topics. It was a chance for me to learn more about the positive changes that this lively, capable young woman is bringing to Kazakh society. I’d love to describe those changes in detail, but doing so would reveal my friend’s identity.
Somehow the topic turned to religion, and Nazgul told me something she had never told me before.
“I’m divorced,” she said – and it was because of religion.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I married a Kazakh man who is a devout Muslim,” she said. “He wanted me to wear a burka (an ankle-length dress with a hood that covers the hair). He also wanted me to stay home all day – to have no job – and not to talk with men who were not relatives.”
This surprised me because Nazgul has the quintessential outgoing personality. I couldn’t imagine her staying home all day. She loves interacting with others, reaching out to them, helping them.
“That situation must have been very difficult for you,” I said.
“Yes,” she replied. “In the end, I couldn’t live that way. I tried, but I just couldn’t do it.”
After two years, she asked for a divorce.
It’s difficult to know what to say when a friend reveals a painful secret like this, so I was silent for a moment.
“You know, I still feel guilty about it,” she said. “I feel as though I could have tried harder, or done something different to save our marriage.”
“It’s pretty hard to second-guess yourself on these things,” I said. “The outcome probably would have been the same, regardless.”
It was my way of telling her that things usually work out for the best.
Her situation reminded me of studies I’d read in the United States saying that religion is a major source of divorce.
Sometimes the problem involves a husband and wife who are of different faiths. Sometimes it involves one partner being more fervent than the other. I’ve seen that happen with Christian friends.
Anyone who has been in Kazakhstan awhile knows that the country appears to be at a religious crossroads.
A key sign, according to both Kazakh friends and foreigners who have been in the country for many years, is an increase in the number of burkas you see in many cities.
None of us knows what this increase portends, but I’m struck by what a wealthy Kazakh business owner told me recently. After years of paying scant attention to religion, he said, he decided to become a dedicated Muslim. The reason, he said, was that he felt he’d lost his values at a time when so many people were pursuing the god of wealth.
I’d heard Christian friends in the States say the same thing.
Two years after Nazgul divorced, I could feel she was still in pain.
It was apparent to me, as I said goodbye to her, that she will be struggling for some time with the question of what role religion will play in her life.
And I wondered whether she would ever marry again.
Although it was good to see her, her secret couldn’t help but leave me sad. I tried to hide it from her but I could sense she detected it.
As her taxi was driving away, I thought of something a divorced friend who was suffering told me long ago.
“When a couple gets divorced, part of them dies,” he said.
There’s no doubt in my mind he’d spoken a universal truth.