In the culture that I work in girls get married as young as 13 (sometimes younger) and this is considered normal. That being said, I get a lot of strange looks when I tell people that I’m not married. I’ve had conversations that have started with, “Do you have kids?” When I reply, “No, I’m not married” people don’t quite know what to say. Often they ask me why I’m not married. But is there ever an easy answer for that question? Especially for someone who would like to be married one day? Keep in mind that this conversation is also happening in their native language, not mine. I don’t have the language to explain why at 23 (practically an old maid) I’m still single. Besides, even if I did have the language to explain that no one that I have felt compatible with has asked me out, I don’t really want to get into that conversation. So here’s how I simplify it. I say, “I am a little (young) girl. The men who have asked me on dates are a little bit bad* and I don’t love (like) them.” Then they usually ask if I would be willing to marry someone from their culture. I say, “Maybe. What is important is that he is a good man. Right now I am happy to be alone because I have not found the right man.” People are usually satisfied with these answers even if they are still a bit skeptical.
Thankfully, I haven’t had some of the bad experiences that some of the other single women have had working with this people group. In a different city, a single woman was refused service at a restaurant because she did not have a man with her. One of my friends here in Nairobi does not remember meeting her now-husband for the first time because she was proposed to four times that day. You should also remember that the single women working with this people group have to be particularly tough and independent to be able to do their jobs. It’s a really scary job at times. It takes huge amounts of bravery and trust in God to work with the people we do. Most of us are from cultures that celebrate or at least tolerate strong women. It feels like a little bit of a trap that the same character qualities that allow me to survive here and serve this people group are the ones that aren’t really allowed for women.
It’s an interesting process to give up many of my rights and expectations of how I should be treated as an American woman. There are many moments each week that everything in me cries out, “I SHOULD NOT BE TREATED THIS WAY!” In those moments I have to check my sense of entitlement and remember that I feel this way largely because of cultural differences. It’s a path of learning humility and how to be dependent on other people in healthy ways. It’s learning to submit to a culture that isn’t my own and that I’m often really frustrated by. It’s also acknowledging when people do sin against me so that I can take that to God and forgive them.
With joy and struggle,
*I have been asked out by some really wonderful guys. I just say this to simplify things, and because since moving here I have been on some laughably bad dates.