This will not be a regular blog, like my previous ones. In fact, I am planning on trying something altogether different.
More than one person has challenged me to attempt to write a book. Yup, you read that right. However, a book is really quite a humongous undertaking...one I certainly do not currently have time for. My schedule is busier than ever right now.
A friend, who is currently on his second book suggested I try 'blogging a book'. I could write pertinent parts of the book in a series of blogs, and then, when ready, I can try putting it all together into a book. Hmmm...interesting concept.
A couple friends have suggested I write about our experiences in Kenya...another interesting prospect.
So, in the end, I have finally accepted the challenge. The next series of blogs will not be like my usual blogs. They will be appear like portions of a novel, a story.
The story, though told in the 3rd person singular, is my story. So, if you're interested, watch this space. I hope the experiment works and that you all find this new adventure interesting. I certainly plan to have fun on this.
I have been trying to capture my thoughts, impressions, lessons learned and emotions surrounding my daughter’s marriage to a Kenyan man. This is quite the rollercoaster ride in cross cultural experiences…scary and thrilling at the same time!
It all began with the Ithege. Once we realized our daughter and her beau were serious and had definite plans to marry (after all, we saw her post on Facebook flaunting the engagement ring while we were in the U.S.), we knew we were about to embark on quite an adventure. After Amanda graduated from university, she trotted off to the U.S. for a year and a half to do a course in massage therapy. It was towards the end of this time we all realized that if they were to get married in the summer (before Chip & I were to leave for some months to the U.S.), we all needed to get started on the round of family meetings required for a proper Kenyan marriage. Thus the first meeting was planned to take place even before Amanda returned…the first meeting of the families.
The way I understand it, this first meeting, which they call Ithege (a type of tree, I was told), was actually a combination of the requisite first and second meetings. The way it was explained to me, in the traditional Ithege, the proposed groom’s family representatives come along with the groom and some of his friends, to meet the proposed bride’s family, see where she lives, and be reassured that indeed the girl is interested in marriage…that this is not a figment of the young man’s fancy. Once all this is established, traditionally, a tree would be planted at the entrance to the young lady’s family compound, basically to warn any other interested young men that this one’s taken! This is the equivalent of an official engagement. In this modern day, the Ithege tree now takes the form of money paid to the bride to be’s parents. The funny part to us was that there was considerable agitation that our daughter’s intended had ‘jumped the gun’ and given Amanda an engagement ring before having had this meeting of the families. They were particularly aghast when they discovered that the ring had been given and accepted even before the young man had even officially asked to court Amanda. What is done in that case is that a fine is paid by the young man – determined by his uncles – to the young lady’s family! All these discussions and activities were done with great seriousness and ritual.
There is one cardinal rule in the Ithege…the parents of the bride and of the groom must not speak! This was something which I found both comforting and difficult at the same time. On the one hand, this was all so new to me that I was lost much of the time and so was grateful I was not required to speak. I was sure I would say the wrong thing and offend everyone! However, it was also hard to keep my mouth shut when I felt something needed to be clarified! Chip and I had to keep mum and to trust our Kenyan ‘family’ to do all the necessary negotiations, ritual discussions and explanations.
So what did I learn in this first of several family events leading up to Amanda’s wedding? The first thing I learned was that in 36 years of living in Kenya and working especially among the Kikuyu community (Thuo’s tribe), I realized with great shock that I know nothing at all about their culture! This was a very humbling experience for me…and probably a much needed one! In addition to this was a profound sense of gratitude to the 2 couples whom we approached to help us navigate these tricky cultural waters (later joined by 2 more couples in the next meeting). We would certainly have sunk and drowned were it not for these wonderful friends who were willing to adopt us as true family, even to the point of doing all the uncle and auntie duties they would do for their own biological nieces and nephews. Finally, I was filled with a deep sense of satisfaction in these new discoveries. Even at nearly 60, there are lots of new things to discover and learn. This made me anticipate the upcoming meetings with relish, even as I felt nervousness over what challenges may face us ahead.