Bridging Impossible Distances: I Hope to God my Mother doesn’t Read This

May 20, 2016, 8:09 a.m.

I very narrowly avoided being married off.

My parents and I did not get along during my adolescence. I’m told I misbehaved horribly, was a compulsive liar and refused to do anything they told me to do. I remember only that I wanted to spend all of my time reading fiction, not liking my parents and lying so that they would be less disappointed in me (and so that I could read Harry Potter). But the salient point is that in my parents’ view, I was headed down a road that could only end in my moral collapse. So my entire family (sans my father) packed up all of our things and went back to Ghana, where hopefully the purer, more moral environment would reform me. The plan was that I would stay in Ghana until I finished high school, and then we’d talk about college.

For various reasons, instead of graduating from high school in Ghana, I ended up returning to America and living with my aunt and uncle. I lived with them for a year-and-a-half before living with my parents again. My relationship with my parents was a little bit better and my mom and I talked sometimes. One conversation between my mother and I was about that failed permanent move to Ghana. She talked about how much I misbehaved as a 13-year-old. She said she didn’t know what to do with me and joked about how much of a struggle it was always stepping between my me and my father.

She laughed as she said that the original plan when we went to Ghana was to find a decent man for me and marry me off as soon as possible. I looked at her in shock and asked why. She brushed me off and replied that it was because I was behaving so badly that they were worried I was boy crazy and would have sex, if I hadn’t already. They couldn’t let me be so morally degenerate, so they had to take me away from the corrupting environment. She said that her hope was that I’d take to married life, quickly get pregnant and then I’d have a baby and be forced to be responsible.

I sat in shock for about a minute, being angry and upset and horrified and all manner of pissed off.

And then she got annoyed and told me to stop overreacting. After all it hadn’t happened, and even if it had, how bad could it have been? She was my mother, she wasn’t going to make me marry a wicked man or someone who wouldn’t respect me. He would have been relatively young and would work in a city or something so I wouldn’t have to be a farmer’s wife or a petty trader’s wife.

She was insulted that I thought she wouldn’t be a good matchmaker. I had just called her judgment as a mother into question.

I remember my thoughts very clearly: angry declarations and immediate sarcastic responses. I thought I would never have stood for it (“Oh, yeah?”), that I would have run away (“How?”), that I would never have let the phantom husband touch me (“Yeah, you and what army?”), that if I had gotten pregnant I’d have had an abortion (“At what hospital?”), that I would never have kept the child or raised it (“Really?”). And I realized that if my mother had gone through with the plan, that if I really had been boy crazy, that if I hadn’t been happy in Ghana and behaved more to my mother’s liking because of it, that if my father had been in Ghana with us, I likely would have been an unwilling participant in my own wedding at the age of 14.

I don’t know how long I sat there imagining what my life would have been like. I imagined being a mother, possibly also being pregnant. I imagined washing clothes by hand, drawing water from a well, sweeping dust from every imaginable surface, every day for the rest of my life.

And then I asked her what about school? How was I supposed to be in school while married? She again brushed off the question and replied that if I behaved after getting married of course she would help me with married life and any children that I had. But it was more important that I be a good person and be a virgin when I got married and a good woman after that, than be an educated but loose woman spreading my legs for every man who said ‘hey’ to me.

I tell this story not to illustrate that my mother was a bad mother or a bad person. Far from it. If I have a fraction of the patience, intelligence, work ethic and just raw goodness of my mother, I will consider myself blessed. She is likely the best possible mother I could have had, all circumstances considered. I don’t like her very much and I avoid her as much as possible, but she has all of my respect and admiration, and if I had to uproot my life at the drop of a hat to help her, I would (actually, I kind of did).

I would say I’m telling this story for awareness, that this still happens even in America and that we may think we’re beyond the Dark Ages when a girl could be married off to protect her virtue, but this is an issue in which awareness will accomplish nothing.

There’s nothing really to be aware of other than that my parents don’t think child marriage is an evil and that they believe there are circumstances that necessitate forced marriages. There’s no secret network that I know of, of semi-westernized, semi-Muslim girls whose non-westernized and very Muslim parents considered marrying them off due to the paranoia that they may be become sexually active (though if there is I’d like an invitation please). I’m not trying to encourage any kind of outside intervention; honestly 95 percent of any potential interventions will range from not being helpful to being actively harmful.

I write this because it still blows my mind that my mother found nothing wrong with the idea of marrying off her 14-year-old daughter. Because a part of me still thinks that I was the one overreacting to that news. Because maybe if enough people tell me that my reaction wasn’t inappropriate, I may start to believe it and start moving on.


Contact Dabiyyah Agbere at bagbere ‘at’

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