I could hear the voice faintly in my sleep but I could not pick out the words. Before I could figure out what was happening, a slap landed on my back forcing me to jump out of bed. My sleepy eyes were met with the excited voice of my friend Sade. She kept twisting her body and screaming, “Aduke is getting married. Let’s go watch the ceremony.” I tied my wrapper and we hurried down to Aduke’s compound.
Aduke was gorgeously dressed in the traditional ‘Iro and Buba’ lace material and a headgear, with beads to complement. Only brides getting married to rich men often dressed this way in and my mother insists I get married to one. We watched as Aduke was handed over to her husband, a 45 year-old rich timber merchant. She was going to be the 4th wife. Then the dancing and celebration began. The music was the same old rhythm - another 18 year old had just got married.
As I watched, my friend kept teasing me. “It will be your turn next year.” She said.
“Yours too.” I retorted.
She smiled back and said, “Of course I am ready, my husband-to-be is rich. He has four mud houses, one house made of concrete blocks, three large plantations of cocoa and groundnut, two camels and a ‘moto’! Am I not lucky?”
“ Yes, you are.” I replied sarcastically.
Then she continued, “I am going to be a new wife in a different tribe. I heard a 15 year-old girl in another town got married to a 60 year-old man. I think we are lucky we get married at 18 here. Are we not?”
“Yes we are!” I shouted back, irritated by her stories. After which I sank into my moment of despair.
The music continued as the people sang A ti ri òdòdó tó rewà, á si ti wa ja (we have seen a beautiful flower and we have come to pluck it). The word ‘òdòdó ’ (flower) kept ringing in my mind. Flowers are grown to add beauty to the environment. Their aesthetic nature attracts pollinators, ‘pluckers’ and groomers as well. Too often, flowers are plucked prematurely and crumpled in the hands of mere admirers or left to wither in a forgotten place. Other times, the mother stalk sheds off the flower due to insufficient nutrients, despite the pleas of mother-nature, and she is trampled by passers-by. Very few times, however, she is taken up by groomers, who tend her to maturity to fulfill her purpose. No wonder a man is called a groom in the western world on his wedding day.
Yes, we are girls. Yes, we are beautiful. Yes we are likened to flowers. But are we groomed? Do we just blossom to be plucked prematurely? Why are our mothers pressurized to shed our lives and dreams on the platform of infanticides, sex-selective abortions, and malnutrition? Why do the payments of our school fees depend on the number of men we attract? Are we only nourished to grow big enough to be married off?
Why are our fathers in a hurry to accept the bride-price as a payment for a new wife? Are we commodities? It’s true that we are 18 years old but are our hips strong enough to carry nine months of pregnancy or even bear the pain of delivery? Don’t girls also have rights?
The flower is beautiful and you should not don’t destroy it with VVF, UVF, HIV/AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) and even divorce. Don’t wait for us to be 18 so you can pluck us. Rather groom us. If you allow us to grow, we can be more.
My thoughts faded back into reality and I realized the people were still dancing to the music ‘A ti ri òdòdó tó rewà, á si ti wa ja’. My friend had joined in the celebration too but I was no longer interested. As I walked back the dusty path leading to my house, I silently prayed: I don’t want to get married at 18. I do not want to be a divorcee at 25 and a grandmother at 35. I want to be more, please give me a chance.
Happy #InternationalDayofTheGirlChild… WE CAN BE MORE!!!
*Ododo – Yoruba word for flower.
*Moto – local parlance for car
*VVF – Vesico Vaginal Fistula, a condition where there is a hole between the female bladder and the vagina. It allows the involuntary passage of urine from the bladder through the vagina and is a disease that only affects women. About 800,000 women suffer from this condition annually in Nigeria(UNFPA).
*UVF – Uretero Vaginal Fistula, is a condition in which the urine from the ureter bypasses the bladder and flows into the vagina. for a new wife? Are we commodities? It’s true that we are 18 years old but are our hips strong enough to carry nine months of pregnancy or even bear the pain of delivery? Don’t girls also have rights?