We danced, as requested yesterday, to start the day off.
Today was all about the body - feeling comfortable with yourself, in front of others and trusting in one another. I finished the workshop with a choral movement exercise, a progression of the last one, which was going well until one of the women got distracted by Tabitha, and decided to take her camera off her and lift her into the air, at which point the whole room burst into claps, cheers and laughter. They then decided to lift Itab, our producer, too and whilst I was pathetically trying to regain order - they surprised me from behind and carried me on their shoulders all around the room. At least I got them to travel in a group. Although with a slightly different aim to the exercise! There was no way I was going to regain focus so - what the hell, let’s a have a moment of release. The women explained to me that they do this for every bride and groom on their wedding day - no wonder you are all so good at lifting us. Break time I suppose.
I sat and chatted with Zarifa and some others during the break. She is 29, bubbly, happy and a natural extrovert. I almost had to lift my jaw off the floor when she told me she had 5 children, the oldest who is 14. I thought she was single for some reason, she seems so young and youthful. She went on to say “I took a man who was 14yrs older than me when I was 14” (and then pulls a face as though she hates him, or the idea). I asked if she had a choice - "No, my father said I had to." I asked if she will marry her sons at the same age - she said, "No way. My son is clever, he doesn’t want to marry so young." Yesterday the diector asked them all to write a story about their lives - she wrote it but couldn’t write freely. "I don’t know why, I felt locked but I want to write it all properly. I’ll write it for you." I would love that, I tell her. At a young age, she had ambitions and desperately wanted to study but had to stop at 9. When I ask why, she shrugs her shoulders and the look in her eyes breaks my heart. She clearly doesn’t have a choice. She has to do what her parents tell her. I ask if she had the opportunity to study now, would she? Her husband won't allow her. "Why?" She shrugs again. I feel a frustration building in me, I feel like I want to hit a wall. Someone interrupts me for a brief moment. I use the excuse to turn away from Zarifa and try to swallow back the tears I feel coming. When I turn back around her eyes are filled with tears. I have to stay strong, we’re in a big group and I can’t let it turn into a big crying fest. The rest of the women sitting with us are the same - they are all in their 20s, were married in their early teens and have between 3-5 children each. They ask about me - my age, if I’m married, if my sister is married. I tell them my sister got married last year at the age of 37. Now it’s their turn to pick their jaws up off the floor! They are curious why. When I explain that we choose to study, get careers for ourselves and be independent women before getting married they revere me. I feel almost a sense of panic at not knowing how it can change for them.
We obviously hear of such stories but when you are actually so close to it, you know the people who are going through it and you find out they don’t have a choice but to live that way, when really they wish they didn’t, it’s scary. For me it is anyway.