I first met Adlet on the soccer field. In the beginning, he was the only one, on our college campus, in China, who would pass me the ball and would treat me as a real teammate. I was excited to finally have a male friend that viewed me as an equal—so I thought. His English, especially at the beginning of our friendship was limited but still better than my ability to speak to him in one of his other three languages (Kazakh, Russian and Mandarin).
I tried to explain to him one day before going out to play soccer in the city that I was cramping and had my period. I tried the words “period”, “menstruation”, “menses”, “monthly cycle” but nothing seemed to click and so I simplified and said “I have blood coming from my vagina. Blood between my legs.” He was horrified and told me I was dirty and that I should stay away from him for one week. This of course upset me and I very directly let him know I was angry, and not dirty and that I didn’t want to talk to him. Aldet, not understanding, why I was so angry or how he should respond, consulted with some Nordic European male friends of mine about if and how he should interact with me when menstruating. Being products of their culture, my dudes told him that he didn’t need to do anything, just be nice as always and see if he could do anything for me. A month later while again on my period Adlet asked me “Do you have woman time?” I answered that, why yes, I in fact did. He smiled and responded “I be nice to you! What you want?”
I had a lot of respect for how much he had changed but we of course were still learning lots from each other. Months later we went to the beach with our mutual friend, a French woman, Claire and because there were three of us, we took two motorbikes. Adlet drove his with Claire on the the back and I drove mine.
When we stopped for dinner at the end of our beach day Adlet told Claire he was not used to having to drive carefully because he had a woman with him, that he only ever drove me around and that I was “strong like man”. I questioned him, what did he mean that “I was strong long man” he explained he meant it as a compliment that he was a feminist (I’d recently taught him the ‘f’ word). Again, I shared my viewpoint and that it was different than his and that I understood he meant well. He now says things like “Elena, is strong like woman!” I’ve also overheard him say that before he met me, he had been raised to think that you always trust what a man says over a woman, you listen to the woman but if it contradicts what any man says, the man is right. I was shocked because I never knew that he’d ever thought that way. Thing is though, I learn just as much if not more from Adlet. He grew up in rural Kazakhstan, a firm follower of Islam, and is like all of us a product of our environment. Adlet, is intelligent and non-judgmental, a tool and a virtue that make him very open to change. I am giving all of this back story because something amazing happened recently and Adlet surprised me once again.
This week, I found out that a health clinic that provides abortions had been vandalized with red paint. I contacted my friend who was working at the clinic as soon as I saw the news and asked her if I could take her for drinks at the end of her shift. She said no that she was exhausted and more than anything wanted to go home but that if I wanted to help, I could come help paint/clean the building. I headed out and invited friends to join me as well. Pictures of us cleaning and a group photo post-clean up was on facebook and Adlet “liked it”.
I figured he hadn’t understood what were doing or what he was “liking” and so I had a discussion with him, sharing what had been done, and what we did to address the situation. Turns out he fully understood and he responded “Yes i understand, good job !
And it’s good idea put photo on Facebook, it mean u guys together never give up))
I mean u a together more strong”. I have infinite respect for this man, who can change his views based on logic compassion, I need to do more of that myself.