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DM Shiite seeks VGL SF for love

Contact Usama Redha

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Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

It has never been easy for a divorced man to find a new wife in Iraq, where many people view people who have divorced with suspicion and disdain. It has become harder since the war, something I discovered when I stepped up my quest for love and bumped up against the religious hatred that has taken over many Iraqis’ lives.

It all began after a distressing conversation last month with a good friend, who warned me that no father would approve of his daughter marrying someone like me, a divorced man with a 5-year-old son.

“You are not trustworthy enough to marry a girl, because you are divorced and have a child,” my friend told me in a scornful tone. “If someone agreed to let you marry his daughter, it would be as a favor.”

His words were crushing because I know they are true. I am 33, well educated and employed, but I have been rejected by many traditional Iraqi women’s families because of my marital status. Now, because of the sectarian tensions caused by the war, I also have to worry about being rejected by Sunni women because I am a Shiite.

I needed some cheering up, so I called my cousin, a high school student who has been trying to help me find a girlfriend.

She gave me some advice: call Venus, a satellite TV channel that airs in Iraq and shows music videos. People looking for relationships send in text messages, which scroll across the bottom of the screen along with the senders’ phone numbers.

My cousin said this would save me a lot of time. I could quickly ask the women who answered my message whether they could accept a divorced Shiite as a potential husband.

It was simple

I decided to give it a try. One night, I watched Venus for a half-hour and read the messages running across the bottom of the screen. Many were from young men looking for relationships, some serious and long-term, others short and casual. I read the instructions on how to send my own message. It was simple: Write a text message on your phone and send it to a number on the TV screen.

Timing determines the cost of broadcasting text messages. It is cheaper to deliver them after midnight, when the price drops from 12 cents for a minute of scrolling to 50 cents for the first five minutes, followed by 25 free minutes. Most messages begin scrolling late at night.

I typed out my message, describing myself as a young man searching for a young lady who was “beautiful, romantic, and single.” I kept watching the TV.

After 10 minutes, my message began rolling along the bottom of the screen. My heart began to beat faster. I had no idea what I’d say if a girl called. Within minutes, the phone rang. It stopped after about two seconds. I assumed an interested girl had called but had become nervous and hung up.

I waited a bit longer. In 10 minutes, I received about 10 calls, some just seconds apart. I did not answer any of them. Instead, I looked at the numbers flashing on my phone and wrote them down.

After the onslaught, I began returning calls to the people who had responded to my message.

I dialed one number. A calm female voice answered, “Hello.”

“You just called me,” I replied. “May I know your name?”

She told me her name was Huda. She was very nice, and I immediately decided that I’d like to get to know her better, but I was afraid when I thought about the unavoidable question I would have to ask: “Where do you live?”

Most of Baghdad is now divided into sectarian parts, and revealing one’s neighborhood is a clue to whether someone is Shiite or Sunni.

Before I could pose the question, she asked me where I live. I told her my neighborhood, a well-known Shiite district. She didn’t say a word. I asked her whether she was surprised. She said no, but her voice had become more subdued.

Then I asked where she lived. She told me Mansour, a formerly luxurious neighborhood where mainly Sunnis, but some Shiites as well, live. I could not tell from that response whether she was Sunni or Shiite, but her next sentence said it all. “My relatives used to live there, but now they don’t,” she said.

That told me that she is Sunni, and that her relatives had been driven from their homes in the sectarian “cleansing” that has swept most Baghdad neighborhoods.

Early problems

We’d been on the phone only a few minutes and already there was a potential glitch in our relationship. Suddenly, I realized the problems of trying to court someone in a Sunni neighborhood. First, I would have to win over her parents, convincing them I was OK despite being divorced and a Shiite. Then, I would have to bring my Shiite parents into a Sunni district to meet their potential in-laws and convince them they would not fall into the hands of sectarian killers along the way.

I dialed the other numbers. All were Sunni girls except for two Shiites, neither of whom tempted me. In the following days, I kept in phone contact with four of the Sunni callers, including Huda and another woman, whom I will call Rana.

Huda and I became friends, but my relationship with Rana became more serious. One day, after many phone conversations, Rana said she wanted to meet me. She said she had fallen in love with the sound of my voice. We arranged to meet at a busy market in her mainly Sunni neighborhood. In keeping with Iraqi social custom, I agreed not to speak to her. We would only look at each other and decide whether our phone chemistry translated into physical attraction.

I was happy, but nervous. What if our romance blossomed but her parents later rejected me? I dreaded becoming attached to someone, only to be forced to say goodbye because of her family’s feelings. I urged Rana to talk to her family before the meeting, due to take place in a few days, and explain that I was divorced and Shiite. She agreed.

The next day, I did not hear from Rana. This was odd.

A couple of days later, she called. She was angry and sad.

Just as I feared, her family had vetoed her plans to meet me. For once, though, it was not because I am divorced. It was because I am Shiite.

“I asked my mom, ‘What do you think about the Shiites?’ ” Rana told me. “Her answer was that she used to hate them, but now she hates them triply.” The war had turned her mother’s heart against people like me.

I am still in touch with a couple of the girls I met through the Venus channel, including Huda. They have become good friends. Maybe one day I will send another message to the Venus channel to try to meet someone new. For now, though, I’ll just watch other people’s messages scroll across the screen.


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