On a sunny weekend morning my husband was enjoying the company of his compound friend over a pot of freshly brewed coffee. They were having a man talk.
'We should buy a boat between us!', I heard one say...'No, we should buy a big old truck!'
You know, that kind of stuff.
Suddenly, the neighbour glanced into the back yard. 'Hmm, he said. Is there any reason you have a covered up lady wandering in your garden?'
What? he caught my attention. He is kidding, was my first reaction.
-No, seriously. She just went behind the water tank!
Slowly, I crept up to the glass doors at the back of the house. At first, I could not see anyone, but then I noticed a pair of slippers placed right next to the wall of the water tank area. And, before I could think any further, a lady, covered up in black, appeared from behind the wall. She carefully put her slippers back on and slowly walked back to the side gate.
As we tried to figure out what she might have been doing in our tank area, Husband jumped off his chair.
'Look!' He pointed to the kitchen window. 'She is walking back! With a chair this time?!'
I suddenly recognised the woman. It is our Malaysian neighbour, I thought.
'Well, go on then! Go ask what she wants?' husband encouraged me.
Why me? I wanted to know. Confronting a stranger in my back garden was not on my agenda for a relaxing Saturday morning.
Husband pointed out that he could not go. 'It might be rude and inappropriate for a man to ask her any questions'.
Hmm, I thought. Either that, or the real reason is he is afraid she might actually be a stalker or a psycho of some sort, and is sending me out first to find out.
But curiosity took over, and I peeped outside. Some excited voices were coming from the side path of the garden.
I walked around and saw my neighbour (I guessed correctly, even though I barely met the woman and never saw her outside before) and two other women, one of which I guessed to have been her maid and another-her daughter. The maid was holding a wicker chair up to the high concrete wall calling to a white fluffy cat who was clearly not that interested.
'Vanilla!!! Vanilla!' she kept calling, offering the chair to the cat.
I was relieved. The women did not look that scary. (Maybe a bit silly for thinking the cat was ever going to come down on that chair, but that's a personal opinion. I could be wrong about that as I am not a cat person, whatsoever.)
I cleared my throat in my most polite British manner. 'Khmm...Excuse me?' I called out and smiled, just in case. I did not want to make it obvious that I thought it was very bizarre for me to catch them standing in my garden, without having knocked on the door and informing me beforehand.
They saw me and thought it was funny. They laughed- happily and openly and I could not help but laugh with them. 'The cat!' They shouted all together, pointing to Vanilla, who was successfully ignoring all of us.
Ah, OK, I said. What else could be said?
I returned home, to a very curious Husband and his friend.
'So? what are they doing in our garden?'
' Strange, isn't it' I said thoughtfully. 'Why would she not knock on the door first before appearing in our back yard?'
'Well, she might have been embarrassed in case I opened the door?' Husband tried to be culturally sensitive and understanding. 'Maybe she should not be speaking to strange men?' 'Yes, I said, but what if you were sun-bathing in your garden? Now that would be an inappropriate encounter!' True, we all agreed.
But the truth is...when such different cultures clash, there is no simple explanation. What might be a natural thing for a British (or an Azeri turned British for that matter) might never occur to a person from a completely different part of the world. Perhaps, it was not the question of being shy or not allowed to speak to a man, but also the desire to not bother or disturb us that was the case? And when you try to understand, it almost makes sense.