A few weeks ago, a young girl and her two children appeared at my compound. I’d seen the girl before, but now it was obvious that she was staying at the house. Family structures are quite fluid among the Dagomba, it seems, so I didn’t think twice about it.
A few nights later, Yaku and I were eating dinner when a young man showed up. He greeted Yaku and the girl before taking her and her children out of the compound. Yaku seemed a bit bristly after the encounter. I didn’t have to ask why, because he was eager to tell me the story. Apparently, the girl is his sister. She’d gotten pregnant in high school with the young man who’d just been by. They’d since been married, but because she’s young, she is staying with her mother to learn the ways of raising a child. Again, a Dagomba thing.
Yaku was not pleased with the man, that much was clear from the tone in his voice when he told me who he is. We continued eating, though, and moved on to other conversation topics. I didn’t really think about the situation after that.
Last week, Yaku asked me if I remember the guy. He told me that the husband gave the mother 2 cedis (~1.33 CAD, but more like 4-5 CAD when you factor in the buying power) and then disappeared. Yaku’s voice was shaking; it was the first time I’d seen anything remotely close to anger in the man. “What can you do with two cedis?” he asked me.
“Nothing,” I quietly responded. Yaku went on to tell me that he wanted to go the man’s family to give them a piece of his mind, but that his own family had prevented him from doing so. “I know it’s not the right thing to do,” he said, “but what else is there to do?” I had already answered that question: nothing.
“I bet this wouldn’t have happened in Canada,” continued Yaku. Ha! Little did he know. I told him that teenage pregnancy happens all too often in Canada and that some high schools even have day care centres in them to support teenaged mothers. I went on to explain that the girl and her family usually have little power in influencing the boy to deal with the situation in a manner befitting of a man and that if they’re lucky, they’ll be able to get regular child support money from him.
Yaku wasn’t surprised by this and after my explanation I realized that he was just venting his frustrations. Personally, I hate it when people burst my frustration bubble, so I felt as though I’d ruined his opportunity to articulate his feelings.
I think it was fellow JF Kevin in Malawi who wrote about witnessing the end of a marriage. He pointed out that even in Malawi, life still happens. The story of Yaku’s sister highlights the fact that there are certain things that cut across cultures. No matter where you are in the world, there are always people experiencing conflict, hurting each other, or drastically and negatively changing the course of each other’s lives.
Of course, there are also always people working together, finding love in one another, and drastically changing each other’s lives for the better. I think that there’s something to be said about the uniting force of either; in that one conversation with Yaku, I was able to really understand his frustration and exasperation.
I’m never going to be able to change the situation for teenaged mothers in Ghana, but at least I can take something positive away from this garbage dump of a situation.