Saturday, October 16, 2010

Marriage Musings Part IV - Jessica

Danielle's younger sister Jessica is fifteen. This spring she finished her last year of middle school and was preparing to start high school in the fall, when her aunt proposed that she marry the oldest of her cousins, 29. Since she was born, it was assumed that she would marry one of her cousins, as she was one of only a few girls in an extended family of dozens of boys, but we didn't know that her aunt wanted her for her son so soon. In the course of a couple of weeks, she had to decide (at the incredibly unstable age of fifteen), whether she wanted to drop out of school and get married, and move to the city to live with her husband/cousin and his whole huge family.

She had been almost a little project of mine - I was teaching her English and drilling her on her homework, always talking to her about being the first in her family to get a high school diploma and even go on to college, about all the possibilities she had for careers and futures. We talked news and politics and pored over my map of the world. I honestly intended to invite her to spend a summer or a year with me in America someday so she could learn English and see a bit of the world outside of the village. And then came the marriage offer. Her aunt insisted that even though they wouldn't have the wedding until next summer, she would have to quit school and move in with her husband's family immediately, to help out around the house and get used to her new life. The legal age for marriage in Morocco is 18, but no matter how many times I brought this up and tried to argue that there's a reason for this law, the family would just bring up examples of women in the village who had married at 13 or at 14, and they're happy.

My (unconfirmed) interpretation of the situation was that the aunt had wanted this girl as her daughter-in-law from the beginning, and was afraid that if she were to finish high school, she would not be satisfied marrying one of her uneducated cousins. I think her aunt was also getting older and tired, and with only one daughter and a house full of boys, wanted an extra hand with the housework as soon as possible. Jessica had to decide whether to stand up to all the pressure from her aunt and her own family, finish her education and possibly not ever find a husband (since there definitely is a preference for uneducated, young wives), or marry her cousin, who she knows is a good man from a good family, where she would be treated well, not have too hard of an adjustment to make, and she would still see her own family all the time.