One thing that never ceases to surprise me is that even after two years in Mozambique, things still surprise me. And recently, these things have arisen in the realm of marriage.
Really my only friend in the truest sense of the word here (and the only one who has not taken a vow of celibacy and service to God), my friend Cristina is about 20-24 years old (who really knows) and in 11th grade. What she lacks in natural academic ability, she makes up for in effort. She is married to a teacher at my school named Benvindo and has a two year-old daughter with him (I recently tried to explain the concept of the terrible twos to them to rationalize their daughter’s newfound argumentative phase but they didn’t really get it). Apparently, a few years ago, Benvindo was teaching in the rural district in which Cristina grew up, and her parents were steadfastly prohibiting her from continuing her education. Willing to take any opportunity to get the hell out of her house and fulfill her dream of going to university, Cristina married Benvindo. But Benvindo, a good 10-15 years older than Cristina, did it right. He went to her parents’ house and asked for her hand before he slept with her. With a veritable soccer-team of kids to raise, Cristina’s parents assented and off she went. Cristina was 18 and had the promise of being able to go to school; so in relative terms, the marriage was pretty legit. And overall, Benvindo is a good guy (note my low standards for men here): he pays her yearly school fees, usually treats Cristina and their daughter alright, is employed, and doesn’t drink excessively. He has, however, also been known to refuse to buy Cristina her school notebooks and pens, and steal money from her popsicle earnings, all in the name of claiming poor (but then he will go and install satellite TV or buy a desktop computer circa 2001…whatever). On the whole, however, Cristina is one of the lucky ones.
Her younger sister, on the other hand, is not so lucky. She is about 14-15 and recently got pregnant at the hands of a teacher at her primary school (girl is in 7th grade…when Cristina came to my house asking for advice on this subject, I got to teach her some new vocabulary words: pedophilia and rape). We weren’t sure for a while if she was in fact pregnant, but she is. And the teacher is about 40, already with a wife and kids. So this girl, if he accepts her and her unborn child into his house, will be the second wife: essentially a sentence to being treated poorly by all involved parties. And since her parents have kicked her out of the house for getting pregnant in the first place, she is kinda shit outta luck if she doesn’t move in with said rapist-teacher. I asked Cristina if her sister could come to live with her and Benvindo in Invinha, and she said that people will invariably gossip that Benvindo is now sleeping with his sister-in-law, though she and I agreed he probably wouldn’t do that (but who knows). This girl has no future of continuing school (Cristina said she is a smart girl), and overall, the situation is rather upsetting, though unnervingly common in Mozambique. Cristina is going back home this week to see what can be done and is rightfully distraught in the meantime. I also do not have any ideas for her, except the ever-elusive time-machine.
And to add a third example to the mix, my houseboy, Daniel, is getting married to a girl his aunt and uncle arranged for him. The poor kid (he is 22) was apparently extremely nervous about telling me, as he thought I would fire him. He explained that he had been rejecting arranged marriage proposals for years because he wanted to finish school first, but his family had put too much pressure on him recently, especially since he now has a house (an unintended consequence when I promised to fund it’s construction). And I can’t really blame him: 22 is old here, since people only live to be like 40-50 and he’s a good kid. He said he actually likes his “fiancée,” Gilda, and has promised to bring her by for me to meet her. When cleaning the other day, he pointed to the blanket that is on my spare bed and reminded me that I had promised the blanket to him when I leave, as he wants to have one to welcome his new wife to his house. Oy. When we first discussed this situation, I told him that before they get married, he must secure a job that is not washing clothes for Invinha’s resident PCV (we are almost sure he has a job at a restaurant in the city), he must treat Gilda well when they get married (i.e. help with the housework since he knows how to, treat her equally, and not waste their money on beer), he must wait for her to turn 18 before she moves in (sometime next year), and not get her pregnant before then. Other than those stipulations, what was I supposed to say to him? However, two days later, when he brought Gilda over to present her to me, I noticed, with Cristina’s knack for gossip, that she was in fact pregnant. So Daniel had lied, and made his future tremendously more difficult, and I was devastated. People call me Daniel’s “mãe” (mother) because I basically look after him and take care of him. I therefore initially felt the pain as if my son had just gotten his high school sweetheart pregnant, which is essentially what he had done. My first inclination was to fire him for lying but then I realized that with a wife and child to support, that probably would not help anyone. So I calmed down to have a talk with him. Through tears from both parties, I tried to get him to realize what a big responsibility all this is: he has to now secure food for 2 extra mouths, when I know he does not eat on a regular basis even now when I give him food rather frequently, and they will both ideally still be in school without steady work. I explained that he can’t cheat on her, so as to not bring “illness” into the relationship, and can’t start drinking. Basically, he should do exactly the opposite of what he sees all other married men do. The whole time he looked as if he had not actually thought about what this all entails, because I’m sure he hadn’t. It is hard for me to criticize, as the underlying reasons for this situation are just our cultural differences, as marriage so young and sexual promiscuity are downright expected here, but I can’t help but be disappointed. His life, or less pessimistically, simply his youth, is ceremonially over. And when I suspected he had a girlfriend months ago, I had told him, no judgment, he could come ask for condoms from my house. Apparently not man enough to ask for condoms, but man enough to take care of a family?
In other news, we are having a cockroach infestation in Invinha. And they only come out at night it seems. I was woken by one on my face in the middle of the night the other night (so I now tuck in my mosquito net extra tight) and Cristina warned me that they eat clothes. I’m not sure yet as to the validity of that statement, but I’ll keep you posted. And one of the nuns, who is from
Swaziland, a tiny, English-speaking country with a king and a queen that borders , came over to visit my house yesterday. Marveling at my bookshelf, I told her to choose a book to take home. Which book did she select? Eat, Pray, Love. I only hope she doesn’t get to the “love” part before I leave. Mozambique