Sunday, June 15
# 4 ½ The 3rd Event
Before I begin this tale I want to tell you how I can be reached, should the need arise. I can be called or texted at 011 254 729 970 303 Keep in mind that Kenya is 10 hours ahead of PDT…4 pm in California is 2 am in Kenya!
Agnes is getting married and we have been invited to the Payment of the Dowry celebration, to be held at her family home. This is a real opportunity to be part of this tradition, and besides, 3 people can get a ride if I drive! After we dress, we go out to the courtyard where we find Agnes, dressed beautifully, Julia (same) and 2 of the girls, Monica and Esther. They both graduated high school in November and are awaiting word of where they will go on to school. Esther from SFG and Monica from Naivasha Girls, a very prestigious high school.
A group of young men, all fancied in suits and ties, come into the compound. One is Jackson, the groom, the others his groomsmen. In earlier times this meeting of bride and groom on such a day would be forbidden, but now the dowry tradition is a fun day and no one would say much about the breach. He’s a lovely young man and clearly very happy. We are introduced and I wonder aloud how Agnes could have chosen from among such a handsome group. They all laugh and Agnes whispers in my ear that she will explain later how she did it. Keep tuned and I’ll share at some point. I ask again about the time and am told 1 or 2. “Is that Kenyan time or clock time?” A good laugh and I am assured it is Kenyan time, which later proves to be all too true!
They all leave, in separate cars, of course and no one of the families will know of the meeting here. We don’t leave for awhile, so Judy and I, having had an early breakfast, have a snack, knowing this will be a long day before the feast begins. This proved to be a very smart move.
Again the car is full, with Ann in front, Judy, Monica and Esther in back. Fortunately Ann knows the route, which takes us up, up, up a narrow paved road, fortunately not well traveled. Finally we get to the turnoff on a very bumpy road and I feel for Ann, but she is stalwart. “I’m a very strong African woman,” she claims and I agree.
It seems like I’ve driven forever and I hope the tires last the beating they have taken. Finally we are there, turning into a farm field. Agnes greets us and after we meet many “sisters and their brothers and their cousins and their aunts” (uncles and grandparents too), she takes us by the hand to show us the farm. It’s large and prosperous, with the usual goats, sheep, cows, chickens, rabbits and dogs. We see a field of maize which they raise for the animals. Both Agnes’s parents are teachers and have little time to work the fields, but they have a hired man to do that.
We go to sit in the tent and are glad it’s there, as the sky is dark and threatening. This highland area gets lots of rain, some of which came later in the afternoon, but was ignored as the festivities wore on. Esther, matron of SFG is there. I had seen her briefly on Wednesday, but now we had a chance to chat more, as we joined a circle of Agnes’s friends. I met her closest friend, Lillian, another social worker, who is employed by Findlay’s, a local flower farm. For some reason I ask whether it is fair trade, not too likely, as there are only 4 or 5 out of 50-some, but to my surprise, she lights up, clearly pleased that I know about fair trade. She tells me all the benefits the workers there get, including very generous help with school fees for children of the workers. It’s not organic, but the fair trade designation which you might like to google if you’re not familiar with this important designation is a big step up in corporate responsibility. We agreed that Judy and I would visit Findlay’s soon to see whether they want to send some of the workers children to SFG. Currently they attend a different school.
We wait a long time. Evidently there has been a mechanical breakdown, as well as the fact that the groom’s family comes from Narok, very far away. But finally they arrive and a very prescribed ritual begins. It is somewhat complicated by the fact that the bride is Kikuyu and the groom Masaai. Each tribe has its own traditions around engagement/dowry, but this is all in fun. First the groom’s family comes to the closed gate, asking for permission to come in.
There is much laughing—everyone smiling and clearly enjoying the whole process. Finally a small payment is passed, close-fisted to the bride’s family and the visitors are welcomed
Then the ritual really begins, with introductions and speeches ad infinitum. Again, we understand little, but when everyone burst out uproariously I asked the man next to me to explain. Just like at home, in a big crowd it’s is usual to direct people to bathrooms. So what he said that evoked such amusement was “If anyone needs to “make a call” the women go over there (indicating an outhouse behind a big plastic sheet screen) and the men to there (opposite direction) where there is network. (pun on making a call)”.
The old tradition was the groom’s family would be many goats, sheep and cows, but they have come from very far. It would have been very difficult to bring many animals, so just 2 symbolic
goats are brought and a big show of a money payment. The envelope is very slip, but we learn later that cash is not paid now because thieves know where to go. Now money is deposited in a bank account and what is passed is the deposit slip, which the bride’s father studies carefully before accepting it and slipping it into his pocket.
One of the best parts is bringing out the bride all covered with lessos (large shawls, often tied around the waist for an apron, or used to tie a baby on the back) along with 5 other girls, all covered as well. The groom must identify his intended and if he makes a mistake the fine is large. Jackson is laughing, as he kneels, crosses himself and inspects the 6 pair of feet. Suddenly he begins to remove the lessos from one girl who turns out to be Agnes! We all clap and lots of jokes are made. Later I asked Agnes whether she had told him which shoes she would be wearing, but she swears no and besides, the girls all switched shoes. Maybe he recognized the color of her toenails.
In time all the intros, speeches etc are over and out comes the food. In the Maasai tradition, the men do not queue up for food. The women fill plates to be taken to the men, eldest being served first. All the groom’s family are served before the bride’s family, but there is plenty, with large portions of watermelon, pineapple and orange slices for dessert. They serve Kenyan tea and the party begins to break up. By that time it is after 6 and I fear it would soon be dark. Because the sky is threatening and some rain did fall, everyone who had come by matatu and piki piki wants a ride. My 5-passenger car carries 7—2 girls smashed in the far back. The car is heavy and the road so bumpy. It’s a miracle the tires lasted, but they did.
The inside windshield is dirty and though I tried to wipe it off, I find whatever is on it refracts the on-coming headlights and I am often blinded. It’s the worst driving experience of my life, I swear. One of my passengers is Esther, matron at SFG. Finding the turn-off in the dark is problematic at best and with oncoming traffic downright scary, but we are in luck making a right turn (across traffic when one drives on the left) safely. We drop off Esther, then down towards town, stop for Ann and then we are at the gate. Home never looked so good and I am again exhausted and tense as a tight rope.
Another great day, but long and the distances far. Loved it though.
This morning Agnes told us that her parents were really excited to have 2 mzungus attend their event. It is very unusual and was the talk of the village. I do sense that not too many folks come to live among the people like we do, but for us, that is the appeal of being here, getting to experience the culture as it really is, not something performed for visitors.
Tomorrow my first real day at SFG.