I left the tour group I was translating for to play basketball and I slowly moved over to some steps that I could sit down on. I was stiff and tired after a long day of wandering around and bargaining, my weariness showed as I lowered myself onto the stair. Before finally dropping all my weight I did nod at the family who was already occupying the steps and quietly muttered a question asking to join them. They nodded their accent and I gladly took a break for a minute. I could overhear the family discussing me, but lacked the energy to engage them or even correct their preconceived notions.
"Do you think she is a foreigner?"
"She can't be, she asked in Uyghur if we would mind if she sat down."
"No. she didn't say anything when she sat down."
"Yes she did, she looked right t me and asked to sit down."
"Then she must be Uzbek because she doesn't look like she is from here."
After a few minutes one of them finally got brave enough to just ask me, at that point even my tiredness won't let me be rude enough to fake lack of understanding when asked a direct question. After setting them straight on where I was from, what I was doing here, and where I learned their language, the mother asked me the most surprising question.
"When are you due?"
I stared at her blankly not really understanding the question, at least not understanding how it related to me.
"You are expecting aren't you?" she asked again.... only this time she used a euphemism that literally means to have heavy feet. (which didn't seem to fit seeing as I barely weigh 95 pounds right now).
She tried one more time "aren't you pregnant?"
"No" I said with a bit of a nervous laugh, "I'm not even married".
"Not married?! How old are you?"
"We're the same age" announced the mother as her 13 year old son slid closer to hear my response. He wasn't the only one drawing closer, I noticed the crowd had grown from the original family to include may curious passerbyers.
I tried to defend myself a little. "Well in my culture a lot of people don't get married until they are 30-35. In fact my older brother just got married for the first time a couple of months ago. So I still have plenty of time."
Everyone in the crowd started shaking their heads at me, I am still not sure whether it was out of pity or shame. "Not here," said a voice from behind me. "girls get married when they are 17-19".
"I got married when I was 15" said the mom "I have a son older than this one."
"You'll be too old to have kids."
"There won't be any men left to marry."
"Don't your parents want grandchildren, I was a grandmother by the time I was 36".
The comments kept coming at me. I tried to laugh them off and enjoy the fact that a group of 30 some odd people where that anxious to offer an opinion on my life choices. I did notice a police or two eavesdropping at the back of the crowd, but they did nothing to break up the ever increasing amount of people who seemed to disapprove of my life.
"What are you waiting for?"
"Have you ever been married?"
"Do you at least have a boyfriend?" The calls were coming from further back, and I could only imagine the story that was being circulated through the mass of people for the benefit of those who came late. The next thing I saw was the throng of people dispersing very suddenly. I looked up and noticed that the riot police armed with their wooden bats had marched right up to the crowd and was attempting to force people to move along. I looked them in the eye and sincerely apologized. "I am sorry officer, we were all just chatting. They were asking me about my life in Canada". I could tell once the police had seen what was in the middle of the large group, they too were interested in stopping to ask questions, but their sense of duty prevailed and before you know it I was able to slip out of the park and head back to my hotel for a real rest. The group of tourist had mainly watched from the outside. They said they had been worried when they saw the riot police enter the park and march with purpose right over to where people had been mulling around me. Talk about things to be thankful for, I am so glad that I was not dragged down to the station for another long conversation about my marital status, insulted and told I look fat like a pregnant lady or even worse.