Whist backpacking in Nepal I accidentally attended a Nepalese wedding. It was that hour before sunset when the shadows grow longer, the orphans and I were going about our twilight task of collecting tomorrows water in old faded sprite bottles. As we were waiting for our turn, behind some monks and several shoeless gap-toothed children, we were disturbed by the screech of a scooter. This was unusual as the water pump was on the outskirts next to a crumbling but still majestic temple and a rice field on a little-used side road and was generally exempt from the numerous scooters that zigzagged around filling the fresh mountain air with petrol on the main roads.
On the scooter was a girl and a man. They were surprisingly formally dressed compared to the often shoe-less inhabitants of the area. As they approached the temple dust kicking up on the pot-holed excuse for a side road.
I suddenly became aware of the scent of burning inscence, and noticed a small gathering of around 20 people around a shrine. . There was small forlorn looking suitcase with a few rich looking golden and red pieces of material and some bowls and pans. The girl had long brown hair braided the same way the orphan’s wore their hair to school, she had a red bindi and was wearing traditional clothing. She had a ethereal look about her, as if she wasn’t fully there. She would have had to have been a few years younger than my nineteen years. The man appeared several years her senior and did not have a face which appeared kind or gentle. There was no visible sign of romance or lust or love between the two soon-to-be newly weds.
The surroundings were breathtakingly beautiful – it was twilight, the sky was still clear, on the horizon the snowcapped Annapurna ranges were fully visible. The temple was simple yet adorned with fading prayer flags which swayed gently in the breeze and red and gold sculptures of the many Gods which caught the fading sunlight.
However there was something overwhelmingly melancholy and sad about the scene before us. It reminded me of the first few lines of a Michael Drainsfield poem I had studied in Literature class ‘After a birthday’,
i drew a line
on one side now
on the other, childhood
In many parts of Nepal one day you are a little girl running around helping to collect water and kicking bunches of rubber bands with the other children and the next day you are a married woman with a dowry and a husband and expected to do the cooking and have your own children. A line is just drawn in the sand. Innocence is closed off.
In our society the demarcation is less clear. Marriage is not something we have arranged for us or is necessarily required or desired by all. In Western culture, marriage is celebration of love, saying you want to be with this person for the foreseeable future (and gain the legal benefits) – not a closing off of innocence.
In our society we draw wavy, jagged and unbroken lines between childhood and adulthood. We get to be young adults. Stuck in a limbo where we can become ourselves and decide who we want to marry or even if we want to get married at all.
One day (hopefully by the time the children I was fortunate to meet in my volunteering placement are my age) I hope that the third world also shares this opportunity and girls younger than me won’t be force in to marriage with men they don’t love before they have had time to be their own person and figure out what they want from life.
Not that there is anything in aspiring to marriage and motherhood. But I believe everyone deserves to have the chance to be something more than a wife and a mother. Everyone deserves to have the chance to develop their own sense of self and draw their own lines. Growing up is not about drawing a straight line through one day and the next, the line is jagged, missing pieces and likely to loop around a few times.