Tuesday, April 17, 2012

April 17, 2012 - I Want a Divorce!

I want a divorce!

Or maybe she said: “I wish I never got married”. She, being my new, young (29) Kiswahili teacher.

I’m taking a two-week intensive Kiswahili course here in Dar and today was day two. I like my teacher, she is good, professional and teaches at her students’ speed, which in this case is slow, but I am really serious about this time around.

Today we were talking about names of different family members, which gives you an idea of how far I’ve reached in learning Kiswahili. I had to explain that my parents were divorced and that I had many step-siblings. At first she didn’t exactly know how to say step-siblings in Kiswahili, but “fortunately” they have polygamy in Tanzania so she settled on: my brother being “from the same stomach” and my step-siblings being brothers and sisters “from another stomach”, which I found interesting.

“In Tanzania,” (I almost wrote Kenya) “we don’t divorce. It is not culturally acceptable.” She went on to explain that before she got married her husband was really nice to her. They would share domestic housework, which she really appreciated and thought that spoke well for the future.

When women turn 25 there is a lot of pressure to get married, even in affluent families. The husband can even be asked to pay a fine if he lives with his future wife before they get married; this will be added to the dowry. For a second, I could see this being embraced by certain religious communities in the US. Anyway, by 28 you basically have to get married and so she did.  It is regarded strange if you don’t have a baby within the first year.

After she got married and had a child (4 months old now), the husband completely stopped helping out at home. They hired a house girl and while she is in the house the husband doesn’t feel secure about helping out. “The man shouldn’t go to the kitchen” is a big thing here and the husband even told her: “I’ll help you when we are alone.” So when she comes home tired from teaching slow Wazungu to speak Kiswahili, she has to do everything by herself.

“To marry” has two different verbs in Kiswahili, one for men and one for woman. If a man helps out in the kitchen, ill-intended family members or peers would say he has (ameolewa) married her (using the female verb), implying that he is the woman in the relationship (in a derogatory way).

We talked about the origin of this but maybe that is for another blog. Just thought I wanted to share this.


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