Sitting in a circle with Sudanese women. I’m asking questions about their lives. “What do you do if you really don’t like the man your parents have chosen for you to marry?” Ensues long, giggling story about pretending to like the man and then eloping with another man at the last minute, but how that can only be done if he’s willing to match the dowry offered by the first one.
Then they ask me questions, “Are there elopements in the
“Are there blind people in the
“Tell us the truth. Everyone says that things are wonderful between men and women in your country. How do men and women really interact?” I think, and then say that in some ways things are easier for women in
Sometimes I feel sheepish and uncultured. “If people have so few children, who cares for the old people? Who cares for the blind people?” It’s embarrassing to admit to institutions that have replaced family.
“What kind of dowry do men pay for women?”
There is uproar when I say, “None. In fact, the only real expense is the party for the marriage and the woman’s family pays.”
Women younger than me have four children, or five. They want more. They want ten, or eleven. The older ones will care for the younger ones, and eventually the parents, and school is free now, if it’s close enough to walk.
Eventually they have to leave, because they are late to make supper and their husbands will beat them. “It is because of the dowry,” they tell me. “The men pay cows for us, so they own us. You are lucky to have no dowry.”
“If you pay your own way,” I say, “you own yourself.” They smile and cheer.
Another day in a group of women and men, a woman asks me what she should do when her husband beats her because she comes home late for the cooking because her literacy class runs long. “What would you advise?” I fumble and finally admit that I don’t know. It’s not an issue I ever expect to face, and I don’t know what to tell a woman about how to stand up to a man who has absolute power over her, legally, socially, and culturally.
Instead, I talk about education and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the female president of
I feel inadequate. I don’t have a real answer.
There is nothing like
And to make me feel like my three years of law school taught me nothing practical whatsoever.