The sun blazed high in the sky. The many bare feet kick up dust as they arrive, the hooves of the cattle they bring somehow make less imprint on the dry dusty terrain. The cattle know how to live as one with the land, gleaning its meagre offerings of sustenance where they can. And today the bony cattle are the offering. Today they come from the nearby village, the family, the elders and village leaders too.

The children laugh and play in the dirt, they greet their peers from the next village openly and freely, they all sense the importance of the occasion and hope there will be treats in store. The focus of the attention rests on the shoulders of a young couple, standing proudly in front of their mud brick home. She is barely a woman and her shy smile radiates pride and happiness. Her husband is tall and thin with the angular build of a natural athlete, sharp elbows amidst strong wiry forearms and powerful runner’s upper arms. This is his castle and these are his possessions. Their three-year old daughter stands in front of them, her eyes gazing wistfully at the children playing in the dust as the visitors arrive. Adult words are spoken to her as her head is patted, her cheek pinched and occasionally she is held aloft as words of adulation and praise are chanted into the air, billowing up around her as she flies high for a moment.

Everyone brings a gift, cattle, goats, blankets, fruit and vegetables and somehow the wistful little girl knows they are all for her. Her dark eyes ignore the gifts and follow the movements of the children as they hold hands and form a ring singing her favourite song. They stand like this, as a family, and the sun beats down and the guests arrive with their gifts and the passage of time stretches each second into a lifetime. The young girl, even at just three years old, knows not to fidget, she knows not to speak, she knows this is all for her somehow but her heart cries out under cover of her flimsy best dress, she wants to play. Her Mama’s heart wants to sing out too, she knows this for she can feel the pulse and beat of her mother’s thoughts yearning to join her own Mama and her sisters. But they are women, girls. They wait for their man to allow them to play. She knows this.

At last it is over and her father announces his thanks to the guests. He speaks many words about the beauty of his daughter, the goodness of her heart and his assurance of her obedience and her future as a good wife. They all look at her and there are many cries of celebration and clapping and stamping of feet and then the dancing begins and she looks up at her Mama with hope clearly written in the dark pools of her innocent eyes. “May I?”

They sit at the head of the circle as the dancer’s gyrate and shake, as the feet stamp in rhythmic unison. The drum beat is urgent, a call for movement, yet she must stand still and watch. Her Mama’s eyes had answered no. She turns her head to the left of the circle where her friend are dancing, their feet making the dust dance too, the harsh, fierce sun reflects in the dust motes. They mimic the moves of their elders within the circle, laughter and joy exuding from their hearts and sending messages of happiness across the space to her. They have not received gifts today, they do not have an “important role to fulfil”, they can dance and play and yet she is the lucky one – her three-year old mind is confused, she doesn’t understand.

Her mother’s touch, light yet firm on her shoulder and her breath in her ear, sweet and tinged with cinnamon as she whispers instruction and guides her head back to the dancers.

“Be proud my daughter for today is your wedding day.”

***

This short tale is totally fictional but borne of the fact that young girls within Africa are often promised in marriage as children.  I have no idea of what such a day would be like or any of the customs and rituals in Ethiopia, where this practice is still common but these are the images that have flooded my mind ever since reading the post below which is based on facts. Brutal, shocking and yet facts.

I follow many blogs and try to read posts as fully as time permits but I will confess to often needing to resort to a skim read or else I find whole days swallowed by the deep, fluid pool that is time. This particular blog is awesome and so often highlights issues I care about.

This post does not allow scanning. The facts are screaming too loud.

Married at 3, divorced at 7: Two Ethiopian girls tell their stories

 

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