For single Syrian women, search for soulmate comes up empty

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A picture taken on January 8, 2018 shows a Syrian man arranging dresses at a wedding dresses shop in the capital Damascus. (AFP)
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A picture taken on January 8, 2018 shows a Syrian woman standing outside a jewellery shop in the capital Damascus. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018

For single Syrian women, search for soulmate comes up empty

DAMASCUS: Syrian student Nour wistfully examines her bare ring finger, then scans fellow classmates around her at Damascus University. Amid the sea of women, there’s no eligible single man in sight.
At 30, Nour says she is eager to get married — but Syria’s protracted conflict means potential suitors have emigrated, joined the army or lost their lives.
“I hope a wedding ring will decorate this finger someday,” says Nour, who asked to use a pseudonym to speak freely.
“But there are no more young men here. They all left years ago. I’m noticing a drop year after year.”
Syria’s conflict erupted in 2011 with mass protests, just as Nour was preparing to graduate with her first degree in economics.
She recalls fielding weekly marriage proposals at the time.
“But today these proposals have almost completely stopped. They’re limited to ones I see as incompatible for a normal marriage — either from men who are already married or old!“
To pass the time, Nour has opted to pursue her second degree at Damascus University in literature.
“I’ve got nothing to fill my time with. No friend, no lover, no husband,” she sighs, pulling her dyed blonde hair away from her face.
“I’m terrified I’ll find a grey hair before I get married. I’ll definitely lose all hope at that point.”
In Syria’s broadly conservative society, women were generally expected to marry in their 20s, but the lack of eligible bachelors has somewhat relaxed those norms.
“Now, because of the crisis, a woman could marry at 32 without people saying she’s late to wed,” said Salam Qassem, a psychology professor in Damascus.
More than 340,000 people have died in Syria’s war, and thousands of men have been deployed on front lines far from home.
Of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million, more than five million have fled the country and even more are internally displaced.
That has unraveled the social networks parents once used to find potential spouses for their sons and daughters, said Qassem.

“Neighbours used to all know each other in the past, or could get to know each other easily. But today, families are scattered all over the place,” she said.
Some Syrians have creatively circumvented such obstacles with “Skype weddings,” where brides and grooms in different provinces or even countries authorize a third party to sign their marriage licenses as they exchange vows online.
Yusra, 31, said the fact that she has yet to wed makes her parents fret that she will “miss the marriage train.”
“I don’t want you to become a spinster,” her mother warns her repeatedly, advising her to “look around carefully to find a catch.”
But much like Nour, Yusra — who works as a government translator — finds herself surrounded by women or by male colleagues that she considers too old to be compatible.
“Everyone knows a huge section of Syria’s youth has paid the biggest price for what’s happening,” the tall, slender woman told AFP.
“Some emigrated. Some are fighting. Financial considerations prevent others from even thinking about getting married — not to mention, of course, those who died over the past seven years,” Yusra said sadly.
On top of all that, she said the war has “widened the sectarian rift in society,” making people from different religious backgrounds less likely to get hitched.
The war has also led to skyrocketing inflation, widespread unemployment, and economic losses estimated at more than $225 billion — making 37-year-old Firas balk at the thought of a wedding.
“Rising living costs and other financial factors make getting married like mission impossible,” said Firas, who works in a washing machine repair shop in the Damascus neighborhood of Bab Touma.
Mortar rounds fired by rebels entrenched outside the capital have landed near his shop, endangering his life and those of this customers.
“I can’t make plans or imagine my future. I’m living day by day — God knows if I’ll be alive tomorrow,” said Firas, who keeps a pencil tucked behind his ear even when he is not in the shop.
“Anyone that gets married in these circumstances is crazy. I can’t guarantee a safe and dignified life for myself, so how I could I guarantee one for my wife and children?“
In a nearby district, medical student Munzer Kallas hangs a massive calendar on his bedroom wall, with key dates circled in red.
They mark upcoming application deadlines for scholarships to pursue his studies abroad.
“I don’t think about marriage at all. Marriage needs stability, and I decided to follow my brother to Germany,” said Kallas, 26.
“I’m better off looking for a plane ticket than a wife.”


Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

(COMBO) This combination of pictures created on January 24, 2019 shows men with henna-dyed beards in Dhaka on December 24, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2019

Orange is the new grey for Bangladesh beards

  • It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard

DHAKA, BANGLADESH: From shades of startling red to hues of vivid tangerine, brightly colored beards have become a fashion statement on the streets of Bangladesh capital Dhaka.
Facial hair of sunset tones is now the go-to look for older men wanting to take off the years, with an array of henna options available to the style-conscious.
“I have been using it on my hair for the last two months. I like it,” says Mahbubul Bashar, in his 50s, whose smile reflected his joy at his new look.
Abul Mia, a 60-year-old porter at a local vegetable market, agrees that the vibrant coloring can be transformative.
“I love it. My family says I look a lot younger and handsome,” he adds.
While henna has been used widely in the country for decades, it has reached new heights of popularity. It is now virtually impossible to walk down a street in a Bangladesh city without seeing a colored beard.
Orange hair — whether it’s beards, moustaches or on heads — is everywhere, thanks to the popularity of the colored dye produced by the flowering henna plant.
“Putting henna on has become a fashion choice in recent years for elder men,” confirms Didarul Dipu, head fashion journalist at Canvas magazine.
“The powder is easily found in neighborhood stores and easy to put on,” he adds.
But the quest for youth is not the only reason why more and more Dhaka barbers are adding beard and hair coloring to their services.
Top imams also increasingly use henna powder color in what experts say is a move to prove their Muslim credentials as some religious texts say the prophet Mohammed dyed his hair.
In Bangladesh most of the population of 168 million is Muslim.
“I heard from clerics that the prophet Mohammed used henna on his beard. I am just following,” says Dhaka resident Abu Taher.

Henna has long been a tradition at South Asian weddings. Brides and grooms use henna paste to trace intricate patterns on their hands for wedding parties.
It has also long been used in Muslim communities in Asia and the Middle East for beards.
Previously, aficionados created the dye by crushing henna leaves to form a paste. It was messy and time-consuming but modern henna powder is far more user-friendly.
Taher, who goes by one name, believes the dye has given his beard added vigour.
“Look at this growth. Isn’t it strong?” he exclaims pointing to his chin.
“The powder turns the grey hair red but does not change the remaining black hair,” he explains.
Some believe henna powder has health benefits and, as it is natural rather than created using man-made chemicals like some dyes, does not cause any medical issues.
The new trend has also boosted barbers’ fortunes — more men feel compelled to dye their hair and to do it more often at the salons.
“In the past we hardly would get any customers for this,” recalls Shuvo Das, who works at the Mahin Hairdressers in Dhaka’s Shaheenbagh neighborhood.
“But now there are clients who come every week to get their beard dyed,” he says.
“It takes about 40 minutes to make the beard reddish and shiny. It is also cheap. A pack cost only 15 taka (four US cents),” Das explains as he massages the dye mixture — imported from India — into a customer’s beard.
According to Dhaka University sociology professor Monirul Islam Khan, the growing number of henna beards “is a sign of increasing Muslim fervor in Bangladeshi society.”
But, he adds, even those who are not strict followers do it.
He explains: “They want to look younger. Even the women are getting fond of it as it makes their hair glitter.”