The first time I thought I was ready to marry someone, I was scared. Scared out of my wits. I mean, I was just a boy who barely knew anything. I still barely know anything. How was I to pick somebody’s daughter and declare my undying love for her, buy her a ring, pay dowry, organize a wedding? I lived in a house that we could honestly just call a large room, for heaven’s sake!
Still, I did ask someone to marry me. At 27. Benjamin Zulu would have a fit.
It’s been almost three years now and I can tell you that marriage is cool. It’s not all sunflowers and rainbows though. I’m not like head over heels in love with my wife. Gasp! But Mark, aren’t you supposed to be head over heels in love? Aren’t you supposed to be thinking about each other every minute of every day? Frankly, I don’t think so. If you are always thinking about your partner, how would either of you ever get anything done? You can’t canoodle all day, you know. I honestly forget Eve exists for hours in a day, especially when I’m at work. Sure, we make the occasional call to see how the other is doing, but other than that, I honestly don’t think about her like the RnB songs tell me I should be. Sometimes I feel guilty about it but most of the time, I don’t care.
It sounds callous, I know, but you’ll get it one day.
Anyway, I’m writing this because 2021 is apparently the year most of my friends have decided to ask their partners to marry them. Are they head over heels in love? I don’t know. What I do know is that they have started on a journey that is oftentimes painful. Imma let you know why.
When I asked Eve to marry me, and she said yes, I was excited. I felt like I had accomplished some epic thing. I had graduated from university, I had a job, I lived in a decent place, and made decent money, the only thing missing was a wife. And I was about to have that too. Oh, wouldn’t it be a simple life if you just chose the person you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, bought a dress and a suit, went to a pastor to say some words over you and that’s it? Wouldn’t that be the grandest?
It would. But unfortunately, that’s not how life works. See, when Eve said yes, suddenly our relationship became official. When I say official I mean like we would have to tell our parents, our siblings, our grandparents, the government, the church. Our relationship – which is supposed to be just the two of us – had to be announced to the public. And the public has opinions! Wah!
Our situation was a bit more complicated than most because my bride to be’s parents weren’t together. They were thrilled for their daughter but there are some things we couldn’t understand. Something about her dad not having completed dowry for her mum so I had to pay for her mum first before paying for Eve. What? Then her mum saying she would pay for herself so that I wouldn’t have to do that but I’d still pay for Eve. Okay…? Then I was told that because her mum was okay, she didn’t want me to give dowry to her but instead, I should give Eve’s granddad. (Eve’s mum lives abroad, for context) I was like, okay. Fine. Whatever. This is all just dumb tradition but I guess I can bear with this for now, right?
Friends, when I met Eve’s grandad for the first time, I was welcomed really well. He had a big house that he proudly told me was built in 1975. The first stone house of that area apparently. He had requested one of his sons and one of his daughters to be with him when I visited with Eve. Eve’s aunt gave me a buttload of food which I wanted to decline but so as not to offend anyone, I tried to finish.
I did not finish that food.
They asked about me. About my life, my parents, where I was from. Something about my clan – which I do not know anything about because, as I have said repeatedly on this blog, I am Kikuyu by birth and that’s it. I don’t know how to speak the language, I can barely understand the words that I do know, I don’t know any of the songs, any of the folklore, any of the traditions. The only thing I know, because I asked a long time ago when I was six or something, is how the Kikuyu name their children. I think I was confused as to why all my boy cousins were named Wambugu. That was my name. Mine. And all the girl cousins were called Shiro after my sister. I could not understand why the grownups would allow such chaos, especially when we were all gathered together at Christmas.
“Wambugu!” Someone would yell. Typically one of the mothers because the dads were all busying themselves with barbequing or something.
“Yes!” Like 10 of us would yell back.
Then they would specify which Shiro they meant.
Anyway, apart from the naming culture (which I will not follow when I get children), I know nothing of this tribe. So it was a shock that after almost killing myself on that dry-ass mukimo, I was presented a list. Written in… you guessed it, Kikuyu.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s nothing big. It’s just a list of things that we normally ask for dowry,” Eve’s uncle said. Her aunt was smiling at me offering me a sliced mango. Her grandad was silent. Gazing at me trying to gauge my reaction.
Eve took the list from my hands and started reading the items to me. Unlike me, she at least knows a thing or two about the culture. “It says they want a bull with a hump, a he-goat, and a she-goat. Two sheep, male and female,” she said.
“Those are for the ritual sacrifice,” her aunt said. Ritual sacrifice? What the heck? “Would you like some juice?”
“No thanks,” I told her.
Eve continued, “A bundle of six lesos, six pairs of earrings, six yams, six stems of bananas, and some honey. 40 sheep – half male, half female; 40 goats – half male, half female; two dairy heifers and two cowbells for the goats.”
By the time Eve was done, I was mad and sad and not at all glad. She was furious too. She had it in her head that her mother was to receive the dowry (and she hadn’t asked for much mind you) and her granddad was totally taking advantage of the situation by bringing forth that list.
“It’s all so simple,” Eve’s uncle said. “You know dowry doesn’t end in Kikuyu culture.”
“Is that so?” I asked. I was ready to leave all the food that was in my body on the floor of that 1975 house.
“Would you like some tea?” Her aunt asked.
“No. I’d like to leave. Eve, twende.”
“Aki mnaenda bila kunywa chai?”
Lady, I’m about to burn this whole place down! I came here to introduce myself not to be fleeced out of everything I have, I wanted to say. What I did say was, “We have a long trip and it’s getting late.”
Sorry, I forgot to mention that this happened in Karatina and we were coming from Nakuru. Not a short trip especially if you have to rely on public transport. A car would be more convenient but it seemed that those people did not plan on us ever having a car based on that list of theirs.
We talked to Eve’s mum on the way back to Nakuru. She assured us that everything was fine and we should stick to the original plan. She said she’d talk to her dad to sort out things – which she did and we were happy. Quick side note, I have the best mother-in-law.
Fast forward a few months to the actual dowry ceremony. I had in my pocket the amount I was asked for my Eve’s mum. I told my own parents this. I told them explicitly what I knew, what to expect, how to travel to that horrible place in Karatina. They said they understood.
They did not.
They called people. The people they called ruined things.
I told those people the plan. We go in, we have a meal, I give the token I was asked. Simple. Direct. But so you know what they did? They laughed at me. They said, “That’s not how these things go.” God reminded me why He did not give me superpowers because there would have been several hospital bills to pay. So these people, my uncles, went in and negotiated on their own.
Before I finish this story, let me say that these traditions are stupid. Stupid!
After they undid what I spent months building, I gave my token, as I was instructed, to the grandad. And do you know what he had the nerve to say to me? He said, “The next time you come, you should buy me a new gas cooker.”
Buda, mi sirudi huku tena, is what I wanted to say. Instead, I laughed and said, “We’ll see.” Which is how I say no.
We went home and on the ride back, one of my uncles said, “The next time we go -”
Eve and I didn’t let him finish, “The next time who goes where?” Eve said.
“We’re not going back here,” I said. “If you want to go back, go back on your own. Don’t bring us into it.”
“You know we have to build up relations as a fam-”
I wasn’t having it. “If you go back, you go back on your own. Build your own relations, I told you the plan, you decided you know better. Kama mmetoanishwa, hizo ni zenu. We’re done with that place.”
Needless to say, the ride back was very silent.
Anyway, I’m sharing all this just to tell the ones who will be getting married soon that these traditions are as dumb as a sack of rocks. The purists will say, oh Mark, you don’t understand, dowry was a means of solidifying family ties. Yes, they used to mean something back in the day, I understand. But now those traditions are being used as a means of wealth generation. It’s sad but it’s true. How dowry is being handled today, does not solidify anything other than apathy towards the receiving family. Do you know how I know this? Because in the almost three years since that day, I have not set foot on that Karatina property. And I do not plan on ever setting foot there again.
I also have unresolved anger towards those uncles who ‘knew better’. Appointing people to speak for me whom I have never even met! How can someone who doesn’t even know you go to speak on your behalf? Madness!
My advice, keep it in the family. The neutral family. They’re the ones who the Lord entrusted you to. Extended family wachana nayo. Well, you can invite them to your little shindig but let them stay very far away from the actual talks. The important people are you, your partner, and you guys’ parents. Everyone else can suck it!
Anywho, the journey to “I do” is fraught with danger. Fraught! But you’ll make it. I believe in you.
Now, for everyone else who isn’t on that journey, ahem, Valentine’s is coming.