Meeting the in-laws

Recently, a good friend asked me for some advice as he prepared for a rare trip back home. As I write this post, I wonder quietly whether he came through unscathed, but I guess I’ll have to wait for him to get on a plane and for us to eventually sit and chat with a cold beer in hand, before I can find out the true extent of the said expedition.

For many folks who have settled abroad, a long overdue trip back to the motherland is something to get excited about, and it’s something you plan for a long time.

Granted, a holiday trip home, especially with ‘er indoors and the kids is a project in itself. However, the benefits say for folks at home who genuinely want to see you (as opposed to those who get pissed off that you’ve spent thousands of pounds on air fare for you and your kin – money which would have been better spent via a western union transfer to them), far outweigh the financial and emotional investment and stress involved. Well, with the exception of that dreaded trip to the outlaws.

“Come we stay” has been the de facto option for most immigrant couples from home who meet abroad, and I suspect that at the back of every man’s mind (at least those who are not just interested in the convenience of in-house booty as opposed to a serious relationship), there’s that daunting feeling that the time will come when you’ll have to make an honest woman of the lady you’ve been waking up next to for most part.

It’s the sort of trip that despite constant assurances from your other half aka mshikaji, its extremely naive and negligent for a man to embark on such a trip to the wild west solely on the assurances of a loving partner. I mean, how would she know it’ll be OK unless she’s been married before and has forensic evidence of how your outlaws (I mean in-laws) to be will react? Call it a duty to the survival of fellow man folk, but seeking and giving advice from those who have experienced that dreaded trip to the girl’s family to, shall we say, atone for and explain why their precious daughter has been living in sin with you for however long.

I’m not talking about weddings here. Weddings are side shows and opportunities for drama and fairy tale showbiz that a significant amount of folks don’t have the opportunity to indulge in. Where I come from, a marriage is a done deal once the traditional formalities are given a nod by the powers to be. This would involve that dreaded visit that I talk about, complete with the delivery of “cows” to the homestead of the outlaws. This concept of a wedding in church is a more recent western oriented phenomenon that those who can afford to, go ahead with to compliment the process of a traditional marriage – and as my aunt Rhodah would say – “forget the wedding – once they let you leave that boma with their daughter, it’s a done deal. Otherwise, that girl won’t be allowed to leave”. Aunt Rhodah should know, she’s been around the block a few times and left her father’s gate several times – and she ain’t a spring chicken.

So when a friend asks “what can I expect when visiting the outlaws” – the best advice to give is:

  1. Get a good negotiator – you’re too emotionally involved. Get a chief of staff you trust, a consigliere who can competently represent your wishes and that of your mshikaji. Also make sure you have a good delegation of friends – peers you grew up with and your tight with, an aunt you trust, and perhaps one of your dad’s peers – call him an elderly statesman who is in the delegation for good measure. You’re going to need them.
  2. There’s always a fixer in the girl’s family – identify that person quick and get on their side. It’s usually (but not always) a grandmother, or an elderly female mother figure like an aunt. This is the person who has the ability to smooth things as and when (yes as and when and not if and when) things go pear shaped.
  3. Forget all the assurances your partner has given you or all the “it’ll be OK sweetie – my folks are really nice nonsense”. Consider everyone an outlaw. Only those at the table will negotiate the bride price and she’s not going to be there, and in most cases, will never be told how ugly it got.

I’ve been involved in enough of these expeditions to pick the signs of how things can transpire, and the one thing you always say to yourself is this is the time to be a boy scout – always be prepared…LOL! My expedition was comparatively and thankfully a straight forward one, but by being part of many other expeditions of friends and those close to me who asked for my support – I have seen enough that will traumatize any fully grown warm blooded male.

In one particular case, the whole marriage was nearly called off because of the brinkmanship of some of the folks on the outlaws team, and the insistence of the elders on our delegation that their boy was not going to be taken for a mug…LOL! It’s only in such cases that you ever get to see the value of the “fixer” from the girl’s side.

You see, in my culture, its customary that the suitor takes no part in any aspect of the negotiation. Their job is to sit down and look pretty and occasionally remind folks by standing up to answer the question of “who the gentleman is that is seeking to take away their daughter”.

It’s also customary that after the niceties and warm welcome, there is a sidebar session where the girl’s mother is given her own time with our delegation outside the main negotiating table. This task is usually assigned to the chief negotiator aka consigliere and perhaps a female in your contingent like an elderly aunt or something who step outside with the mother of the bride. During this sidebar, the mother of the bride has to be “sorted” out in her own terms.

And boy don’t some mothers know how to milk this one. I’ve heard lines like “You know that girl kept me in labour for 18 hours and she was a very difficult birth” or “she was a very stubborn child when she grew up” or “she broke all my favourite plates”…LOL! The point is – until the mother of the bride goes back to the negotiating committee and declares that “wameniona vizuri kando” (they’ve sorted me out properly), can the proper negotiation of the bride price go ahead. It doesn’t matter how much the mother of the bride relieved you off, or what arrangement you came to – whether in full or in instalments, that part was a side show that plays no part in the bride price negotiation.

It is at this point where it’s possible to see grown men cry….LOL! particularly in cases where more than just the immediate family of the girl is involved – uncles and cousins are notorious for this. But let’s face it, the negotiation and payment of bride price has become a cottage industry of sorts – and for the most part, it’s immaterial what a girl thinks or hopes will happen. They have no influence in what her “peeps” are capable of. And some of these guys play hard ball. All the girl can hope while hanging out with her own peers and kina auntie is that her husband to be will get past the outlaws. The longer it takes, the more nervous she gets, especially when she gets insider whispers during those very frequent and essential sidebars for “consultation”.

The ante is seriously upped when the bride price is dramatically increased for things like perceived virginity (dare you try and call their bluff and suggest their daughter was not a virgin when she met you – this is not the time and place to stand your ground…and considering you’re the first suitor she’s brought in front of this committee, they have a case for the presumption that she was a virgin before she met you – and you don’t want to take this case on LOL), the girl having a university degree and a job of her own (read: our western union remittance will reduce), the fact that you both live abroad and you’re balling it like a nonsense, or that you have a good job and can afford it. It brings a whole new meaning to “we raised our daughter well and we are pleased that you appreciate our effort – and the bride price is a token of your appreciation to the work done here all round”.

So as you can imagine in lore’s case, things weren’t going well on the negotiating table. It was another pal Kim who noticed Lore was in distress – mainly from the throbbing vertical vein that had formed on the left side of his forehead and his eyes developing an unnervy shade of red. Kim swiftly whisked Lore out of the house on the pretence of having a cigarette break – but clearly, the man was being distressed by the very thought of the brinkmanship that was threatening his impending marriage. A few of us joined the so called fag break at the fence and were even approached by one of L’s girlfriend’s peers to find out if we were OK and if we needed anything.

Clearly Lore’s girlfriend and her peeps had seen L being led out in distress and wanted to find out what was cutting – but the only thing you could say is “wazee bado hawajamaliza” (the elders are still talking). Though it was hard to see at that time, we suspected that the folks negotiating on behalf of the bride had their own agenda…LOL! They were there to get paid and they knew that Lore had a good job abroad.

There was a timely break in the protracted negotiations when you had to admire the skills of the elderly statesmen and women we had with us. They had insisted on coming for the ride, though most of us were convinced they were there for the feast. But their value begun to show by the way they maintain conversation and a light hearted spirit to pass the time by with laughter and old timers stories. For most people in the house who weren’t part of the negotiation, it seemed that everything was going on well – if they only knew…LOL!

What we didn’t know at the time, is a group of the mercenary negotiators who were hell bent on getting paid, had accosted the bride to be during this negotiation and meal break– apparently to get her to confess how much money Lore had with him. In fact they literally threatened the girl to tell them how much they had brought with them from “ngambo”. It’s an understatement to say that they scared the living shit out of the poor girl who was in tears for most of the time after that. I guess you could be if you’re being told that your “man” is too stingy to pay the bride price and that his people are threatening to walk away – which I guess was an option, but never one that had reared its head on the table.

Lore’s girlfriend’s distress didn’t go unnoticed and a savvy aunt approached us at one of our famous fag breaks at the fence with that re-assuring “are you guys OK out here” greeting and smile – and a coded “you guys are not leaving this girl here” message, with cryptic instructions of how we could find the back door. Of course we were too stupid then to figure this out and more focussed on the fact that there were totally unreasonable demands being made on the high table and walking away now seemed an option to consider…LOL!

After indicating to our consigliere that auntie so and so had given us a coded message by saying we were not leaving that girl there – the consigliere, who now looked like a man who needed a break… – had a word with the oldest member of our delegation, a neighbour of Lore’s dad who had travelled with us. He disappeared for about half an hour and on his return, the consigliere asked for another break.

Honestly by that time, few actually had any hope we were going to pull this off – yet we had to maintain our smiles and pretend that all was well. The truth is that if we had guns – her 2 cousins and uncle (the mercenaries) could have easily been dead – though you have to question whether that would have done any good for Lore’s marriage…LOL!

The key was the grandmother. She had been out in the background and no one took notice of her – and it was the old man from our delegation who went to have a cup of tea with her. From what we gathered, she was well aware of the mercenary tactics of some of the members of the outlaws team though the hope was that the rest will tame them. But I guess pay day is pay day. The deal that was brokered was for what Lore was willing to offer to be an upfront payment of some sort – and that a small token of appreciation will be on-going – kind of like to keep a bond for the family.

On our part, we gave way to not demanding and being given assurances about what future instalments and demands will be, and on the granny’s part, she guaranteed that the girl will leave that homestead with us and an assurance that tomorrow was another day – this will pass.

Even as people celebrated the new traditional union, there were some very bitter people in that room. Some of our friends went as far as loading everything that the girl owned, including presents from her folk into one of the SUV’s we had, and by the time all the good-bye’s and crying was taking place, all the drivers were revving the cars outside the gate. All that was left was for that girl to be smuggled into one of the cars….LOL! She was ours and we weren’t taking chances that them mercenaries were going to change their minds.

Funny thing is that over a year later at Lore’s wedding, the two looked so happy in church and lapping up the event. If only folks there knew that that wedding might have never happened…LOL! I guess it must be harder for the couple especially since they normally have to take a back seat as others see to their business. I don’t blame Lore for never telling his wife what was said in that room. There is some truth that sometimes you have to protect the ones you love and some things she just did not need to hear.

And to think of how she was a bitch to everyone during the wedding preparations – “Guys, no one is going to fuck this up for me – this is the most important day of my life”. Lordy Lord, if she knew the hoops Lore and his boys had to jump to give her the freedom to say that…LOL!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *