Getting married, not to mention being a journalist, in Africa has its cultural quirks, and dangers, as evidenced by the recent strange death of journalist Godwin Chepkurgor, who was apparently just killed by a herd of bull elephants while on assignment for a Kenyan publication.
This sort of thing happens in Africa once in a while, but we’re hearing about this now here because Chepkurgor made headlines a little while back for writing Bill Clinton to ask for daughter Chelsea’s hand in marriage when the then-president visited Kenya in 2000. His dowry offer? 40 goats and 20 cows.
You laugh (at the offer, not Chepkurgor’s strange death), but you have to know this sort of dough (actually milk and meat) is a significant outlay.
We know this all-too-well in our home because the dowry system is still very much entrenched in Uganda also, and, in fact, my own children’s long-time babysitter – Dorothy – has had her wedding delayed because, as I often tell her, it looks like there just aren’t enough cows in Africa to pay for her great worth.
Actually, Dorothy’s boyfriend’s offer is far less than what Chepkurgor offered for Chelsea, but fair. Even so, the families haven’t been able to come to terms, so Dorothy and her man have had to postpone their big day, month after month.
In fact, Dorothy and her man can’t even yet be “introduced,” which is the East African form of engagement, a far more elaborate and binding affair than a western engagement.
This, notwithstanding that they’re both into their adult years by a couple of decades and long out of their respective homes of upbringing. Which means that the whole dowry thing can get rather manipulative. The original purpose was to compensate the bride’s family for the loss of a young daughter’s help in the home, not a opportunity to see how much you can negotiate for to line your own pockets.
In Dorothy’s case, she had prayed and prayed — and PRAYED — for many years for a husband, and not only a husband, but a good one — “Oh, Mr. Thom, so many Ugandan men aren’t any good. I’d rather be single.”
These prayers are something My Own Bride and I, along with our kids, witnessed and joined in on for a very long time. Not only this, but every neighbour in our Hamilton condo block — Dorothy has come to Hamilton many a summer — also knew of her great need as she was never shy to share it.
When Dorothy’s wedding finally does happen, the reception is planned to be on our front lawn of our Ugandan home.
To now keep the wait for that at a reasonable time-frame, we’ve advised Dorothy and her man — he is a good man — to simply bypass their families and move on with their plans. Of course, in African culture, that’s easier said than done.
So Dorothy is praying again. As far as she’s concerned, it’s the only way. She may be right.
For more on Dorothy and her friendship to our family, see here.