“Am I losing my daughter or am I really gaining a son?” That is what was going through my head as I sat in the Itara meeting – a traditional meeting of the bride’s and groom’s families. It was a kind of sad, wistful feeling. But, I’m getting ahead of myself…

In the Itara, the bride’s family travels to the home of a representative of the groom’s family to check out the nest…to make sure they are sending their daughter to a good family, where she will be taken good care of. Itara is also the traditional word for the upper part of the kitchen hearth, where firewood was stored to dry. The idea is that the bride, mother and aunties are checking out her new ‘home’ and the bride makes and serves tea and snacks to the guests. In this meeting of the families, after a hearty meal, the fun begins. After numerous introductions of who is who in each family and after hearing from the bride and groom to confirm that they are still going forward with the union, the bride, her companions (friends), mother and aunties all head into the house of the groom’s family representative.

This is where the wistful emotions began to make their presence felt. As all of Thuo’s aunties and his mother gathered around Amanda, escorting her into the house, I suddenly felt bereft of my daughter. It felt like she was leaving me and I began a sort of grieving process inside. I kept the brave smile on my face and was genuinely enjoying the symbolic ceremony, but I also felt the stirrings of sadness inside too. “Am I losing my daughter?”

We were all escorted into the cool home and Amanda was whisked upstairs, where I could hear ululations and singing drifting down the stairs. Amanda’s ‘aunties’ (adopted ones from her church family) and I waited downstairs with some representatives from Thuo’s aunties, who occasionally responded antiphonally to the song drifting down the stairs. Now a new emotion began to surface…irritation. I mean who do these people think they are, stealing my daughter away like this? What are they doing with her up there, anyway? Why do they need to hide her up there? Why am I not up there with her?

Finally, the procession of aunties escorted Amanda down the stairs, ululating, and I discovered what they were doing up there…dressing her up in traditional lessos (lengths of cloth, often used as clothing) and jewelry. We were all led to the kitchen, where Amanda was shown the ‘hearth’ and was given the tea and snacks that she would serve to the guests, aided by her friends. But before that, was an important time where all the aunties, the 2 mothers, and Amanda’s friends sat down in the living room for a talk about marriage, what to expect, and any advice that may help her in her new life together with her husband. (I discovered later, that the men were outside doing the same with Thuo). My feelings of irritation subsided as they gave me the first chance to speak to my daughter and I remembered something God spoke to me long ago concerning our children…

Our kids are not ours…they belong to God. He only lends them to us for a season to care for them on this earth, to protect them and to guide them in His ways. Our primary job as parents is to help them move from being dependent upon us to being dependent upon God. They are His. This possessive clinging to my daughter was not pleasing to God. So I repented, relaxed, and settled myself to see what was next.

After the advice session, we all moved back outside to rejoin the men, with the ladies dancing, singing, and ululating, Amanda and her friends carrying the tea and mandazi (a type of doughnut). As we settled down to enjoy the tea and informal chatting, it began to dawn on me that indeed I was not losing my daughter, my family was not diminishing, but indeed growing. As much as they were calling Amanda their daughter, Thuo, likewise is joining us as a son. Not only that, but now, officially, our family has been welcomed into their (very large) family and they into ours. This is how it is in Africa. A marriage is never between 2 individuals, but between 2 families. From that time, Thuo began to be more than Amanda’s fiancé.

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