Bride Price

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs


The things you get roped in to do!

Submitted: February 12, 2018

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Submitted: February 12, 2018

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Jack and I were at secondary school together, but for the life of me, I can’t recall him being there, and he can’t recall me! We first met in Arusha because we both had assignments with the Agency. He worked way out at Mbulu, and I guess in an off-handed sort of way, I helped Jo set up his assignment. Jack had been a rugby front row forward, which summed him up really; he wasn’t afraid of much and he seldom saw the need to back down from his own particular stand-point. He was a dairy farmer, but he took on an assignment to help village folk set up fish farms. He was a bit out of his depth talking fish, so he spent most of his time helping small landowners who kept cows in a zero grazing regime.

We met whenever he came to town sharing a comradery to out-manoeuvre, or out-fox our new field rep, Scarlet, who was as much use as a tear in a mozzie net! We were horrified at the money she paid out for the maintenance of our Landrovers! And even more horrified to who the money was dished out to! He would always camp with us at first, something a lot of the out-of-town vols did, but suddenly he became more independent and stayed at some boarding house. Word was that he had a woman!

During his third stay at the boarding establishment, Jack brought Nuru to meet us, and we found her to be warm and friendly, doting on Jack as he did on her. It so happened that we had been planning a trip to the seaside village of Pangani, and we were pleased when Jack and Nuru accepted our invitation to accompany us. They were good together and Nuru might have known us for years.

Scarlet got wind of Jack’s relationship, and while it was apparently ok for her to have a few African flings, she was disinclined to allow it for Jack. Even though it had nothing to do with her. Sure, we had responsibilities and were supposed to notify the Agency if there was a change in our circumstances but nothing had changed for Jack other than his happiness. My advice to Scarlet was to leave him alone!

One weekend Jack turned up at our house, on his own, with a crate of soda. He had a favour to ask. Jack’s Swahili was well below par and he now had no reason to learn because Nuru spoke very good English. However she schooled him on the cultural ways her people. They had decided to marry, so in the traditional way he had brought the soda as enticement for me to travel all the way and beyond the wop-wops to where Nuru’s mother lived, first to ask for permission for him to marry her and secondly to bargain for the bride price! Both Jack and Nuru wanted to do this in the traditional way, and I was the closest thing to family that he had.

It took the best part of a day to reach Mbulu and Jack’s house where we stayed to night. After an early start, we travelled over dusty, unforgiving roads for a bit over four hours to reach the isolated village where most of Nuru’s family had gathered. It’s a hilltop place, cut out of dry scrubland and sizable because of the medical centre there. Because of the clinic, or as well, it’s a bustling, colourful market town. We met Nuru’s mother, a widow and her three sons who were all older than Nuru and we supped the ubiquitous soda, our reward for arriving there safely, for which there was genuine concern. There was a festive mood in the air, and Jack was rearing to go!

I didn’t really know what was in store for me, but with Jack’s future at stake, I knew I had to kerb my Kiwi get-the-business-over-and-done-with enthusiasm because patience is valued in Swahili culture. Hence the proverb: Haraka, haraka haina baraka – Hurry, hurry (it) has no blessing! While lunch was being prepared, Jack took us around the village. Obviously he’d been there a lot because he was well-known and everyone greeted us warmly, they knew very well what was afoot and they tested my Swahili because Nuru’s mother knew no English, which made them interested to know how I would communicate with her and how the bargaining might go. I was wondering the same thing!

What followed was a veritable amount of eating and drinking! I have no idea how many cooks there were, or how many of us were assembled to eat, but the food was laid on: bites first, roasted banana, cassava, cubes of grilled beef. All this was swilled down with sweet, milky tea, cup after cup! Later came pilau and a beef and green banana stew. Eating is the same as the rest of the culture: haraka, haraka haina baraka! There was soda aplenty and beer aplenty but I reneged on both except at the end when a Coke helped me produce a most satisfying burp! It was well past 9:30pm when the dishes disappeared and everyone settled back to do some serious drinking. By my count the meal had lasted six hours!

I was called to meet with Nuru’s mother alone in a bedroom. We sat side by side on a single bed, as if it was a couch. She was pleasant and welcoming. She sat there waiting for me to speak, and in a show of patience, and to make out I knew what I was doing, I asked her about her health and the welfare of distant kin. She was just as cagey as I was, so finally, I said to her that Jack and Nuru had fallen in love and wish to marry, so on behalf of Jack, I begged for her formal blessing. I’m not sure of the English equivalent, but alipiga vigelegele! She performed a high-pitched celebratory ululation. Rattling her tongue around her in her mouth. I imagined the rest thumbs-upping each other in the next room. So, now that part was over, I suggested we settle on the bride price. I didn’t tell her that Jack’s instruction was to offer whatever it took!

Kindly she patted my knee and told me not to worry. Her late husband had set the bride price for his three daughters and she said there would be no need to bargain, as long as I accepted what he had set. The set price was three cows, four goats, six crates of beer and six crates of soda. She asked me if that was acceptable. We shook hands, hugged and alipiga vigelegele tena! Again. Nuru’s brothers came into the room, with beer including one each for their mother and me. They knew the news but they acted surprised and had questions about New Zealand, Nuru’s safety there, racism and the biggie, what if she wants to come back and Jack won’t let her. I replied, making it up as we went along, that Jack would open a bank account for her with the airfare home deposited and that they could count on me. We all shook hands.

The trip back was a nightmare, but anyway, back at base, Scarlet was none too happy that I had been a facilitator in Jack’s romance, and she tried to throw spanners in the works all the way! She erroneously thought the wedding to take place, and enlisted the help of the Regional Commissioner to put a stop it. But it wasn’t a wedding, it was merely their send-off and the Regional Commissioner, a friend of the family, was one of the guests, so he wasn’t about to call a halt!

Jack cleared every hurdle by at least a hundred feet and eventually everything fell into place! I was honoured to be a witness-signatory at their wedding here in New Zealand and as the saying goes, they live happily to this day.


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