Written by Grant…
Old Story with a New Twist
Did you know that some girls here in Chad are expected to be married and out of their father’s home by the time they have their first period!? Imagine. Actually, it isn’t something I can even come close to imagining – and I see it every day. So don’t feel bad if it seems a distant story to you, unrelated to your world of Boxing Day shopping and family ski trips.
Plus it is usually an arranged marriage. Plus it is often to a much older man. Plus it is likely that this man already has a wife or two. That often puts them pregnant with child number one before they are 15 years old.
One of our community health workers is 23 and has 7 children. You do the math.
While I am caught up in the social and psychological consequences of this all, our doctors and midwives see the medical consequences of young pregnancies. The girls’ bodies are not fully developed and are not ready for pregnancy, let alone delivery. This puts them at higher risks of complications, including obstructed labour, fistulas, and ultimately, miscarriage. There was a recent delivery of twins at the hospital. It was the mother’s 11th pregnancy, of which 6 were stillborn….
...but the real kicker is that, according to our midwife who actually delivers their babies, THEY ARE HAPPY! The girls seem thrilled to be having their first child at 14 and to officially become a real women. Wouldn't want anything else. Somehow they don't seem to mind the fact that they go from child to women and miss the whole being a girl part.
In my mind, I have this picture of Muslim men making their wives cover up, keeping them from going out, forcing them to have more children. Yet it is a whole, complex social system that somehow makes it not only OK, but truly the norm. And, in the end, it is not the men but the WOMEN who directly enforce this strict code. The grandmothers and mothers and sisters. It seems it is not only accepted by the women themselves, but also DESIRED by them.
So while I always thought those other things were so appalling – the older man, the arranged marriage, that they are so so young – it is the fact that, for the most part, these girls seem to be HAPPY to be having this first child at 14 that is so hard for me to swallow.
How can I even comment on the situation, or pretend that "my" way is better, or to even start to understand how things work in this context when it is so far from my ability to grasp this one thought?
Meanwhile….Dancing in Am Timan
Yesterday, we held a party to mark the departure of two of our expats. There was a Medics vs. Logistics soccer match, followed by a dinner of roasted lamb, dates and your choice of orange Fanta or beer. Of course there were a few speeches and a bit of music, but mostly people just come for the free food and any change from the ordinary.
Being new to this Muslim context, I had no idea how things would work but definitely didn’t expect there to be much dancing. Wrong again. Our cook, the quietest and reserved female staff member that we have, led a charge to the dance floor with some high-pitched yelping, 10 seconds into the first song. Suddenly that awkward pause where the dance floor is huge and no one is willing to be the first was no more.
Later in the evening, an Indian-type song came on and another of our female Chadian staff jumped into action. Although she dresses well, every time I’ve seen her she has always been completely covered – everything but hands, feet and face. Yet there she was, alone in the middle of the dance floor in a tight-fitted pink top, her wrap left discarded on her chair, her hands high in the air and her chest pumping in and out in a frantic rush to keep up to the beat.
Two and Two Together
The 23 year old community health worker with 7 children wants 5 more. That makes 12 in total. She is one of the best from our team of twenty…loud, outspoken, intelligent. She knows how to laugh and has bright eyes that always seem to shine. Nothing at all seems wrong in her world.
…and I am left asking myself just how does it all fit together!?!?
So, two months into my 5th mission with MSF and you have a glimpse into what is bouncing around my head these days. It is only once I am able to rationalize these ideas that I will be able to properly coach the other expats and guide the programs here in Am Timan. Not there yet, but working on it.