Marriages Gone Awry By Hassan M. Abukar July 17, 2011

During the three decades that I lived in the Somali Diaspora community, I witnessed or heard a number of interesting stories about Somali immigrants getting married, or divorced, for an array of reasons that are not unique in any culture. But two cases intrigued me the most because they offer a rare window into the plight of individuals who have encountered partners with unsuspected dark sides. These two stories highlight family pressures to wed, showmanship and duplicity.
90 Days of Gloom
Selma and Abdi (not their real names) had known each other as part of the small but vibrant Somali community in a large American city. Abdi had a successful career as an administrator at a major corporation and Selma was a hardworking retail employee.
Selma came from a well-to-do background. Though born in Somalia, she had grown up abroad. Her father's wealth allowed her to live what was, at best, an aimless existence. He was able to send Selma and her sister to an English-speaking country, but was mostly absent from their lives. Those who knew the family describe the father as a lazy, drunken, philandering wastrel. Selma rarely saw him while growing up. By the time she arrived as an immigrant in the United States, she was in her late twenties. Her family urged her to marry because she was a single woman in an alien country. She associated almost exclusively with other Somalis from her region, though she hung out with what was generally regarded as the wrong crowd. And she made it known that she would not go out with any man who did not meet her geographical criteria. Abdi was indeed from her region, but she expressed little interest in him, telling others that she found him unappealing. Besides, she had heard rumors from the community that he was gay. Abdi had himself heard the rumors about his alleged sexual orientation and categorically denied them. To those who would listen, Abdi offered a vehement rebuttal: "I am heterosexual."
And then a funny thing happened. Community members woke up one day to find that Selma and Abdi were planning to wed!
Why in the world would these two people decide to get married? Many in the community were aware of Selma's past indifference, even strong negative views, toward Abdi. Others wondered if there might be a secret pact between the couple. There were clearly pressures on Selma, 35, to marry. Some wondered if Abdi had ulterior motives of his own, such as proving that he was not gay. Yet the community's doubts were set aside and people came out in droves to participate in the joyous occasion of Selma and Abdi's wedding.
Marriage gone awry
Three months later, Somali community members received yet another jolting piece of news from the couple. Selma and Abdi had decided to call it quits. The gossip began almost immediately. Speculations were rampant as to the possible reasons for the split. Had the marriage been a sham from day one? What had been the motives for the marriage? Was money exchanged between the two to show the world a union that was an elaborate facade?
After several weeks of silence, Abdi told his friends and relatives that the sudden dissolution of the couple's marriage had come about because his wife had attempted to stab him with a knife. He also said that he was concerned about her drinking and had been trying to help by getting her into a rehab facility. In essence, Abdi accused his wife of being a recalcitrant alcoholic who had rebuffed his constant pleas to seek professional help.
Initially, Selma's reaction was more muted. But after some time had passed she decided to tell her own side of the story. Her account was intriguing. She described her husband as a man with a roving eye for men and a short attention span for her. For community members who were already homophobic and, hence, believed that Abdi was gay, her accounting was all they needed for their final verdict. Their reaction was blistering. They accused him of flirting with men and making his wife feel extraneous. By this time, Abdi had succumbed to depression and fled the state.
But some community members could not decide which one to believe. They were both seen as dark and disturbed characters. Some people secretly thanked Selma for having caused Abdi to leave the region. Yet several months after the bitter divorce, Selma relocated to the same city as Abdi, though the couple was never again on speaking terms. Selma got married and was blessed with children. Abdi has been married for the last three years. His current wife had heard all the rumors about his past, but she seems unconcerned about them.
The jury is still out as to what happened between Selma and Abdi.
30 Days of Deception
At age 29, Anab (not her real name) was a single mother with three beautiful children. She had been married at age 18 to a tall, strong, handsome man 15 years her senior who was visually impaired. As a disabled person, he was unemployed and collecting government benefits. One thing he had, though, was boundless energy as a Casanova. Love-making, it seemed, was the only recreational activity he enjoyed the most. But he had a habit of disappearing every time his wife became pregnant. He would visit his relatives in another state and would often be gone for months. These absences, combined with his penchant for stinginess, bothered Anab and she decided to end the marriage. The couple split after an acrimonious divorce.
Five years later, Anab met a man from another state. The two were introduced to each other by a mutual friend. Yassin (also not his real name) had Prince Charming flamboyancy about him and he pursued Anab with a relentless tenacity. He called her several times a day over a courtship that lasted three months. He told her he was employed, healthy, and in love with her.
Marriage gone bad
He was ready to get married, he said. He talked to her parents and officially asked for her hand. Anab's family, which had always badgered her to marry, was relieved.
On the wedding day, Yassin came to Anab's city, stayed for a few hours, met his new in-laws, and bought tickets to bring his new family with him to his hometown that same evening. It was quite a hectic schedule for Yassin. Anab was puzzled why her new husband would not even stay for the night and rest.
When the family arrived at Yassin's residence in the East Coast, Anab made the painful discovery that there was no new apartment of her own. Instead, she found herself living in an apartment that belonged to her new mother-in-law. The discoveries just kept coming. He was, for instance, unemployed--and had been for several months. His mother was supporting him. Her husband also was suffering from chronic diabetics and was on medication. Anab felt anguish, frustration and helplessness all rolled into one. She wondered what other lies she had been told by this husband, a man who had given her an almost completely false picture of his life, health and living arrangements. She soon learned that he had previously been married for two years and that his first wife had left him and married another man. Yassin's lifelong pathology of deceit was emerging.
Perhaps most shocking to Anab was that her marriage was never consummated. In the first week, her husband told her that she must be tired after her cross-country trip. "What a kind and a considerate man," she thought. But when nothing happened after one week, then two weeks, then three weeks, Anab summoned her husband and asked him if he was okay. "Yes, I am fine," he answered in a defensive tone. She recommended seeing a doctor. Maybe he had a medical condition that caused impotence. Her husband screamed at her and told her that he was most certainly not sick.
After a month of feeling like a guest in their crowded housing arrangement, Anab decided to return to her old city and asked her husband to follow her. He assured her that he would be joining her soon.
Ten days after returning to her old city, Anab received a letter in the mail from her husband. He had divorced her because she had allegedly accused him of being gay. Anab was adamant that she had done no such thing. This new development left her devastated, an emotional wreck. What had happened? What had she done wrong?
Several weeks after the divorce, Yassin moved to Europe. He was tired of hearing talk about his short and failed marriage. He has been living in Europe for the last several years. For Anab, the experience was emotionally draining. At 35, she is not married but is hopeful that one day she will be. "My first marriage represented an extreme of abundance," she told this writer. "And my second marriage was, oddly, an extreme of scarcity."
Indeed, the second time around the man of her dreams had become a nightmare. The first three months of their courtship, Yassin was hot. Then their relationship became yet another cautionary tale.
Hassan M. Abukar