I was forced to live in Peshawar, Pakistan when I was 12 years old. It happened suddenly and without warning. I was taken to live there by force, against my will (a long story for another day with convoluted reasons, some of which I still don't understand). Growing up in Maryland, my extended family had seen pictures of me as an "American" kid - and they didn't like it. There was a particular photograph of me at the age of 11 wearing a denim knee length, form fitting skirt with my hand on my hip. Apparently, this photo freaked many of them out, and they decided to teach me how to be a "real" Muslim girl. So the plan, which they had already been plotting for some time, became real. They decided to bring me back to Pakistan and teach me to be a good Muslim, a real Pakhtun and a proud Pakistani - a docile girl who would get a good arranged marriage in time. What they didn't reckon on was my strong personality and questions about everything. And that's where the trouble began.
There was so much gossip! Communities worldwide gossip, but my family system gossiped more than any other system I had ever been around. In Pakistan, gossip is a way of life; it helps people put each other in check and establish hierarchy. Plus, it's a past-time. As a very dear Pakistani friend once said to me "Well if we don't talk about people... what WILL we talk about?"
The problem with gossip is that it's negative. People said things to me and about me that weren't even true and were so easily misconstrued. And then there was me just trying to be a teenager in a culture that encourages repression, and a family that punishes for the minutest thing. Imagine innocently looking out the window and seeing a cousin's male friend standing there when you are about 14. Imagine not even knowing he was there or who he was. Now imagine very strong insults being hurled at you over and over for purposely "checking him out." It hurts, right? It's more shocking than anything because you didn't even know what you had done, but no one would believe you.