It sounded rather preposterous to me but my new friend, Toufic, was nodding his head vigorously in excitement.
‘I think I have found my bride,’ he said. ‘She’s everything I’ve ever wanted. I can’t wait to marry her.’
‘When is the big day?’ I inquired, amused at his excitement.
‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘I suppose some time after I meet her.’
I must have looked shocked for Toufic burst out laughing. ‘It’s true,’ he said. ‘She’s a mail-order bride from Russia.’ I must have looked even more shocked. ‘Everyone is doing it,’ he rushed to explain.
Well, maybe not everyone but certainly many men, I later found out. Much to the disgust of young hopeful Lebanese women, some men have turned to the internet to find brides.
‘All the Lebanese girls I dated just want too much from me,’ he said. ‘They want to have a house in the most expensive area in town, cars and maids.’
But the internet sites which provide Russian brides promise something different. ‘Russian women,’ one site claimed, ‘are unspoiled. They tend to be devoted adoring wives.’
They are also beautiful, slender and willing to relocate. Pictures of the women, their profiles, hobbies and the qualities that they are looking for in men, are on display. Men have to pay a certain amount for each email address.
At first, Toufic decided on 21-year-old Olga. But Olga informed him that her monthly internet connection cost $50 and she therefore couldn’t communicate with him. Toufic obligingly offered to pay.
When it became apparent that Olga’s English was very weak, Toufic found himself paying for English lessons. Olga also received a mobile phone with a bill which conveniently made its way back to Toufic. She also demanded clothes, jewellery and a weekly allowance. Toufic obliged.
After two months of ‘dating’, it was time for Olga to come to Beirut and meet her future husband. And so Olga and her mother arrived in Lebanon where a fully paid hotel suite awaited them.
After a two-week all-expenses-paid stay, the women agreed to the marriage if Toufic provided them with a brand new Alfa Romeo car, a luxurious apartment registered in Olga’s name and a generous monthly allowance. Olga and her mother were soon sent back to Russia.
Toufic had since been ‘dating’ Julia. ‘And I think she may be the one,’ he said. ‘I have already sent her air ticket and booked a hotel suite for her. I can’t wait to finally meet her.’
Suddenly I see a lot of Russian women in Beirut. Some have children in tow. ‘I miss Russia,’ one woman told me. ‘But I like it here too.’ Her name is Anna. She met her husband over the internet. He sent for her and after a few weeks together, they decided to get married. ‘My family is very poor,’ she explained. ‘A Russian husband cannot give me what my husband here does. I have a nice home and good life now.’
But not all the women have met their husbands over the internet. Some met their Lebanese husbands when they were students in Russia or Europe. Others were among the hundreds of Russian cabaret dancers who have been arriving in the country for the past several years.
‘I make $40 a month in Russia as a dancer,’ one woman told me. ‘As a cabaret dancer here, I make about $500. My family doesn’t know I am a cabaret dancer. I send them some money and they think I am dancing in a ballet abroad.’
The dancing itself is innocuous: there’s no stripping involved and performances are in a troupe. But the audience is entirely male and dancers are encouraged after their performances to mingle with their admirers and get them to spend as much cash as possible on drink. Several such meetings have ended in marriage.
But Toufic had no intention of setting foot in a cabaret venue to meet the ‘right bride’. ‘Not my style,’ he said disapprovingly.
The last I saw of him, he was busy preparing for the arrival of Julia. Spending money, jewellery and clothes had already been sent. His experience with Olga had, however, scared him. Just in case Julia wasn’t the ‘one’, Nathalie would be arriving from the Ukraine a few months later.
That was over a year ago. I haven’t seen Toufic since and often wonder if he ever found ‘the perfect wife’.
Judging by the amount of email I receive advertising mail-order brides mostly to Western men, I can only hope that some Russian brides are living happily ever after.