A couple of posts ago, I talked about what I hoped to be my lasting impact on my community: friendship [link], but it wasn't until last week when really began to understand exactly what kind of project I was trying to undertake.
Last Saturday, I asked my Women's Conversation Club to describe the characteristics of a good friend.
Of course, an hour later, I felt like we really hadn't made any sort of progress. Several girls mentioned keeping secrets and having someone to talk to that was just like them. Most of the girls disclosed that they, in fact, didn't have any friends and thought the topic was uncomfortable.
It took me a few days, but during an impromptu tea, I had the opportunity to sit down with a small contingency from this Women's Club and kind of get at the heart of the matter: friendship definitions are culturally based.
In Azerbaijan, generally women do not really have "friends". Sure, they got acquaintances, school chums, their husbands, but that American definition of a confidant, a supporter, a devil's advocate, does not exist. I am assuming something similar happens with men, but since cross-gender friendships culturally inappropriate, I have no idea. My closest male friends are my closest Azerbaijani girl friend's brothers. I just figured out how to pronounce all their names last month (this is my 3rd year folks).
Now, for you American readers, if you sat down right now, you could easily make a lengthy list of attributes you hoped for in a friend. In Azerbaijan, that gets tricky. The concept of a friend is foreign, so during my conversations, an actual list was never really solified. Yes, women were looking for confidants and supporters, but they want someone who would not try and steal their husbands or become jealous of their possessions.
Huh (again)? Now, I do not know about you, but I know my girl friends back at home have never had to fear that I would covet their significant others or with their iPhones.
It makes me wonder if I bit off a goal that is just too big to chew. I am coming from such an American place on this friend thing that half the concerns expressed by these Azerbaijani women make no sense to me. I mean, come on now, if you don't want your friend stealing your man, don't try and steal hers! But is that simplifying the matter too much? Is the man stealing an underlying issue of something larger that I just don't understand?
Ugh, stuff like this is a constant in my life. The cultural differences between Azerbaijan and the U.S. are immeasurable. It is easy to think that some things are universal, but I've quickly learn that those things are few and far between.
So yeah. What to do now?