I come from a very strict and conservative Somali community. As long as you are part of this community, you are required to adhere to certain cruel and unwelcoming norms. One of these being marrying as early as possible, to increase the family population and lineage.
Just like everywhere the world over, marriage is a significant thing in my community. Both the boy child and the girl child are pressured to marry once they reach a certain age. For the girl child, it is crucial. She has to come with a groom as early as in her early twenties, or she will be forced to marry a groom selected by her family, a close relative in most cases. Because, according to the ‘society’, no one wants to see their daughter growing into the guumees stage of her life unmarried. Guumees is the Somali phrase for menopause. No one wants to be poked fun at by the other members of the community for seeing their daughter into her menopause and doing nothing about it. For many, it means that parent has failed to ‘dictate’ and literally ‘seal’ the fate of their daughter. Whispers like “so and so’s daughter has turn guumees now and they are doing nothing about it” are common, if a lady in her late twenties stays at home.
The same is done to the boy child, albeit with less pressure. The boy child is mostly urged to ‘make the family proud’ and come home with a pride. He is cajoled into this, to make him feel a ‘man’ and keep the family traditional. The boy child sees this as a sweet gesture and doesn’t feel the pressure, unlike the girl child, who is threatened with shame and many other moral-breaking things, making her guilty for bringing shame on the family and on herself. The boy child, in most cases, takes the responsibility to marry young as a challenge and, while feeling proud, makes an effort and brings the pride home. But some (quite a few, actually) ignore this pressure, and try to sort their lives out before bowing to the pressure from the ‘right thinking members of the society’. I’m in the latter category, and so are many friends I know. But this comes with a lot of backlash from the community members.
I’m not a fan of forced marriages. Many of the ‘forced’ and ‘hurried’ marriages fail largely because of lack of understanding and willingness between the couple. These marriages mostly fail, big time, and the couple are forced into depressions and anxieties they have not chosen.
Marriage should be approached with the utmost preparedness. Marrying someone you do not know or whom you were forced on will most likely ruin your happiness in life because it is an institution that thrives when there is love, when there is a bond and strong mutual understanding, when you see a hopeful future in the person with whom you are to spend the rest of your life. But the community doesn’t learn. They stick to tradition, while witnessing the crumbling of their children and their society.
For the last four years, the societal ‘police’ have been asking me when I will be bringing home the pride and I had been, in one way or another, dodging these questions using humour and sarcasm. One of these was the use of B, one of my close friends. B is older than me by two years and I was using him as a shield telling these bothers that “I will marry after B marries.” This response usually triggered laughter, and the question was quickly forgotten. But the bigger question was, when would I run out of excuses? Well, I ran out a few days ago. Hell, B left me in the open to be devoured by the hyenas.
Three of my close friends married in the last two weeks, and B was one of them. This means no more excuses for me! B bowed to the pressure and finally kissed the foot of society. He may have wanted to stay unmarried for a while just like me, but the pressure was too much.
I think the society is a cruel institution that doesn’t care about the individual person’s happiness. It is cruel because it is, in a way, responsible for the misfortunes of many, in a world where everyone has the right to seek happiness in their own way.
Many young people want to stay unmarried for a while, achieve some dreams and sort some things out first, before signing up for the marriage institution, and it is logical because everyone has a dream and aspiration and a path they feel is right for them. But for the Somali young people, it is a near-impossible feat to achieve independence, thanks to society’s ‘hardworking police’ that never fails to achieve its duty. In one way it is funny how these people seal your fate without consulting you, or with too much pressure and cajoling, and throw you into a marriage you didn’t choose; and in another way it is tragedy because this choice might ruin your life.
I’m a rebel, yes (in the eyes of this community), but I would rather stay longer and attract hate and whispers from the society than sign up for a contract that may literally plunge me into the chaos within me. My excuses may have run dry, but it doesn’t mean I will bow to the dreaded pressure and make myself a miserable person.
I do not want marriage to choose me, rather I want to choose marriage. Because it is sweet when you choose it!