In Pakistani culture, it is common for parents to give their daughters a dowry when they get married. Many people spend their life savings on their daughters’ weddings or even go into debt. Some unfortunate girls can never get married because their families are too poor to afford a dowry. The rich ones of the other hand send off their daughters with expensive clothes, jewelry, money and property. The dowry is meant to be a form of financial protection for the girl although in most cases, the husband or in-laws end up taking control of it.
My parents started spending on my dowry when I was just a little girl. They didn’t buy expensive clothes and jewelry in hopes of marrying me into a wealthy family. Instead, they sent me to the best schools in the country and invested in my education. Needless to say, it was not easy for my parents to afford private school fees. I was usually the poor kid in school studying alongside children of wealthy politicians and businessmen. I still remember the three years I spent living at a boarding school in the hills of Murree.
Life in this school were structured in every way from study time to sports time to when and what we ate and how we dressed. We weren’t allowed to keep any food with us outside of the dining hall and could eat any snacks our parents gave us on Saturdays only. I remember feeling jealous of the other kids because of their exotics snacks like KitKat, Toblerone, Pringles – stuff that is so cheap in America but was a luxury for Pakistani kids at least back then. We were also not allowed to leave the school premises except on weekends with a visitor. Many kids would get a visitor every week and get to do fun things. My parents lived over 9 hours away and could only visit me once a month. I would get sad and often wonder why my parents sent me to this school and if I really belonged there.
A few years later, I moved to the US with my family at age sixteen. My first conversation soon after getting off the plane was with an American family friend. As he talked to me, he couldn’t believe that I had only been in the country a few hours because of how well I spoke English. Little did he know that I had been forced to speak English at my boarding school back home. Thanks to my language skills, I was able to pick up a job at a candy store within just one week of moving. I started going to high school and adjusted to my new classes quickly. In fact, I found school to be easy compared to the curriculum at my school in Pakistan. I then went on to get my college degree and start building my professional career.
I often wonder how much of my success in life so far is made possible from the simple fact that I spoke English when I moved to US and had a strong foundation in good education made possible by my parents investing in me. What if my parents also had the mindset of treating their daughter as a liability that many parents tend to do in countries like Pakistan… Would saving money for a big dowry have been a wiser investment? I much prefer the gift of education my parents gave me as my dowry…