EXPAT WEDDING: HOW (NOT) TO GET MARRIED IN KENYA

by missfootloose on August 14, 2010 · 36 comments

in Africa, Culture and Customs, customs, expat, Kenya

After our bizarre, ten-minute wedding ceremony in Kenya was over, I wasn’t sure if my Peace Corps volunteer hero and I were really married or not.  What I did know was that I had a 9-karat gold ring on my finger and that the equatorial African sun was hot enough to give me hallucinations. Let me tell you the story:

HERE COMES THE BRIDE

“What are you going to wear for your wedding?” my Scottish friend Fiona asks me a week before the big date.  The ceremony is to take place in the District Commissioner’s office in the town of Nyeri where my man and I live in sin in a small house with a lemon tree in front.  Fiona’s second husband runs a big ranch and is also a white professional hunter, the kind who takes foreigners on safari for fun and profit.  When she comes to town, Fiona brings me fresh produce from her over-abundant garden.

What am I going to wear to my wedding?  “I don’t know,” I tell her.  “I’ll wake up and look in my closet and see what I can find.” Fortunately for me, I have never dreamed of a big, white, fancy wedding.  (I hail, after all, from the Netherlands.) My dreams were more about actually being married.  To the perfect husband, of course.

Fiona frowns at me.  With two weddings under her belt, she clearly does not find this an acceptable response.  She has ten years on my tender twenty-two and has taken me under her Africa-experienced wing.  (Her husband and my mate play on a rugby team together, hence our acquaintance.)

“You don’t know?” she says, disapproving.  “You have to wear a proper dress for your wedding!  After all, you only get married once.”  She stops herself.  “Well,” she continues, “at least you hope so.”

She decides we should look in my closet and see what is available, which isn’t much as I had arrived from Holland with only one suitcase.  She pulls out a mini party dress (I can’t even remember why I brought it) and says: “Perfect!”

The dress consists of a short brown skirt below a white lacy top with flared sleeves.  “We’ll rip off the skirt and put on a white one,” she instructs. Then she takes charge of the project by bundling me in her car and taking me–plus-dress to town to buy some white fabric and then on to the Indian tailor shop.

So that is the story of my wedding dress.  The story of my 9-karat gold wedding ring will have to wait for another post.

Next: The wedding itself.

On the sunny morn of our wedding day, my prince and I walk to town together and present ourselves at the District Commissioner’s office for the joyous event.  Our wedding party of twelve strong awaits us at the door, an illustrious hippie lot consisting of one Swede, one Brit, a couple of Kenyans and several Peace Corps volunteers, all dressed up in their finest jeans and cleanest shirts.

We squeeze ourselves into the small office, a humorless space devoid of festive adornments and full of stale air.  Behind the altar desk stands the District Commissioner, a man of solid build and serious demeanor.  Also present are two mystery maidens, pretty Kikuyu girls in neatly pressed frocks.  We do not know who they are, but soon discover they’re here to serve as our witnesses in case we don’t have any.  We do, but the girls do not leave because (I assume) seeing wazungu (white people) getting hitched in this town is not a daily occurrence.

It may well be a very rare occurrence because the DC, wearing a suit and tie as is befitting his status, is sweating bullets.  Not only from the heat, because along with the sweating he is also trembling and displaying a nervous tick.

After various solemn greetings, the ceremony commences.  The DC directs himself to my man, ignoring me.

“Do you understand,” he asks, his cheek twitching, “that this is a civil ceremony and not a tribal one?”

My husband-to-be says yes, he does.  So do I (this is, after all, Africa), but my understanding is not of importance apparently.

“And that under civil law, you can only have one wife?”

My man says, yes, he understands.

The DC’s hand trembles so much he drops his pen.  “And do you understand that if you want another wife under civil law, you must first divorce the first one?”

Ye gods.  We are talking about getting rid of me before I’m even married.  How cool is that. I’m standing here in all my bridal glory and the DC is talking to my man as if I am not even here.  I’m overwhelmed with emotion at this sacred matrimonial moment.  I’m sure, dear reader, you can identify.

My not-yet husband says he understands about divorce.  (He hails, after all, from America.)

“However,” the DC continues, cheek twitching some more, “in the event you want a second wife but don’t want to divorce your civil-law wife, you’ll be allowed to marry a second one under tribal law.”

This is good news!  My man won’t have to get rid of me if he wants another wife!  I’m overcome with emotion.  (This is, after all, my wedding day.)

After some more of this scintillating discourse, we finally get to the one single question I have the privilege to respond to:

“Do you take this man . . . .”

I say yes,  I do.

*

Years have passed, but so far no second wife, tribal or otherwise.

_____

NOTE:  This wedding was not a recent event, and I am sure that the ceremony I have described has been changed and modernized.  So if you want one just like it, you are out of luck.

* * *

So, dear reader, do you have a wedding story?  Were you sold for a couple of goats perhaps?  Or bought for a camel?  Pray tell!

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{ 36 comments… read them below or add one }

Boonsong August 14, 2010 at 3:37 am

Very amusing, as always. Thanks for this.

All the best, Boonsong

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Lady Fi August 14, 2010 at 12:46 pm

Oh, this was funny! Just think: if you had had a traditional wedding then you wouldn’t have had this great story to tell.

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Souldose August 15, 2010 at 9:53 am

You are a great story teller you could write novels.. What a funny wedding story.. Im a south african

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Mara August 16, 2010 at 6:17 am

I’ve only ever been asked. Three times. First by a man about 30 years my senior (but he only had dirty things on his mind and I was only 19). Then by a man who was about 30 years my senior (but he only wanted the money. Which I didn’t have, I was only 22). And lastly by a man who was three years younger (he lived with his mum and he was very drunk. I was 22).

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GutsyWriter August 16, 2010 at 11:09 pm

Now you make me want to write about my wedding experience in Kauai.
Sometimes I wonder if we’re not related. We do have to meet one day. Please bake me some bread when we do.

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Barbara August 17, 2010 at 12:36 pm

A Moroccan rug salesman proposed to me and offered 500 camels and described the extravagant 7-day wedding we would have, all the while stroking my arm. But I think he just wanted me to buy a rug…and also his teeth were bad, which was unacceptable to me (I’m an American), so we never got beyond me not buying a rug.

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Very Bored in Catalunya August 17, 2010 at 1:38 pm

Great story. I take it you weren’t allowed to take an extra husband under tribal laws then?

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Miss Footloose August 17, 2010 at 8:38 pm

@ Boonsong, I’m glad you enjoyed the story!

@ LadyFi, everything is fodder for the writer!

@ Souldose, thank youi for the compliment. You couldn’t know, but I am a writer and I have written novels. Love stories. no less. I just put up the info in my sidebar.

@ Mara, you were lucky you got away from these guys!

@ GutsyWriter, yes we’ll have to get together one day! I think we’ll find things to talk about… (And I’ll bake you a loaf of bread ;)

@ Barbara, you’re worth 500 camels! Are you sure you wouldn’t have wanted to be the wife of someone so wealthy as to pay that for you? And your father, I’m sure, would have been very happy taking receipt of these animals and kept him in his backyard.

@ Very bored in Catalunya: No, nobody offered me the possibility of a second husband under tribal law. Multiple husbands were not allowed. Talk about discrimination.

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Mary August 17, 2010 at 8:47 pm

I love how the whole official “transaction” part of the wedding goes down as if you are not even standing in the room! You must be pretty special to have made it past the temptation of tribal wife #2.

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Doris August 18, 2010 at 5:00 am

On my wedding day, we drove from where we were living in Seattle to Vancouver Canada where we would be married. We figured a Canadian wedding certificate would make it easier for my husband to immigrate to Canada.

My witness couldn’t believe what I was wearing so she made me change into one of her dresses. Then, on the way to the marriage commissioner’s home, I stopped and voted in a provincial election. We had two girlfriends as witnesses, as well as a cat and a couple of birds.

Before the day was over, we had to go to the provincial Office of the Registrar General to get the official stamped papers declaring we were officially married as we had to be at the Immigration Canada office at 7:00 a.m. the next day. We spent the evening filling out immigration forms and drinking a bottle of champagne our witnesses gave us as a wedding gift. We stayed at the Ritz Hotel in downtown Vancouver which within a year was turned into a parking lot.

Three months later, we had a home wedding reception for our family members who traveled from across the U.S. and Canada to attend. The double wedding must have sealed the deal as we’ve been married 27 years and are still very much in love.

Doris, The Traveling Boomer

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Cathy August 19, 2010 at 1:49 am

Wow… what an experience! I had two weddings – both to the same (and still current!) husband. One here in Germany at the town hall, and one (a service of blessing) in church in Britain so all my elderly (and not so elderly) relatives could make it too.

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missfootloose August 19, 2010 at 10:47 am

@ Mary, yes, it was bizarre being ignored at my own wedding ceremony! No tribal wife no 2, but maybe it’s my husband who is special instead of me ;)

@ Doris, what a great story! It’s always fun to hear of other people who’ve had unusual weddings. Maybe that sort of experience makes you bond even more.

@ Cathy, you are well and truly married with two ceremonies!

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Melissa Papaj Photography August 20, 2010 at 9:10 am

That is great! Thanks for sharing :) Stopping by from BPOTW have a great day!

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BLissed-Out Grandma August 20, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Great story! After being ignored at your own wedding, you’d have been well prepared to shop for a car in the US. Or to present your expert opinion during a business meeting. Or…oh, never mind! I believe most of those things are much-improved these days.

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Karen Z. August 20, 2010 at 2:10 pm

It’s a good thing, I guess, that your daughter didn’t want to get married in her mother’s wedding dress!

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Eva Gallant August 20, 2010 at 7:59 pm

What a story to tell you children and grandchildren! Thanks so much for sharing1

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Meri of Meri's Musings and Playing Along August 21, 2010 at 2:17 pm

I’m so happy to hear your the No. 1-and-only wife. But I have a question, was your presence even required for the civil ceremony, when it seemed to be all about him?

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Tracy August 22, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I loved it… that was a great story

By the way, I nearly burst out laughing at your comment on my blog today about how I colour coordinated my photos. I do that all the time and I often wonder if anyone notices… LOL

Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Happy Sunday to you.

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bettyl August 23, 2010 at 4:15 am

My wedding story isn’t as ‘interesting’ as yours, although the venue was quite impressive–out on the Tasman sea among a few friends, some gulls and a sleepy seal or two!

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Chania August 24, 2010 at 10:46 am

I was married at City Hall in Canada in February, wearing black boots to keep my feet warm. We waited outside the JP’s room where petty criminals were waiting for their hearings that morning. Homeless people were coming in and out looking for cigarettes discarded in the ashtrays as people were either called into their wedding or their hearing.

The assistant told us we needed fifteen dollars-exact change- before we could proceed.

The JP said my name wrong on all tries.

By the way, I was born in Nairobi, named after Chania Falls.

Chania

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Arvind Devalia August 28, 2010 at 4:27 pm

Chania, I was also born in Nairobi!

Aga Khan hospital apparently:-)

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Miss Footloose August 27, 2010 at 4:29 pm

@ Melissa Papaj: Glad you enjoyed my wacky tale. Thanks for stopping by!

@ Blissed Out Grandma: You gave me a laugh. Yes, American males are better these days about not ignoring women in certain situations. Even buying a computer and asking ignorant questions of a young techie I was treated nicely without his making me feel like the ignoranimus I am.

@ Karen Z. Re my wedding dress: Indeed a good thing my daughter didn’t want to get married in my wedding dress. It was a mini and on her it would have been micro-short. And now that you mention it, I don’t even know what happened to my wedding dress. I have no idea! Maybe it is still being sold in used clothing markets in Kenya ;) May every bride who has worn it be happy.

@ Eva Gallant. Yes, a great story for sharing. Check my answer above about what happened to my dress (or not).

@ Meri of Meri’s: I guess my presence was necessary to give that one single response: Yes, I do. I might have been able to use a stand in, but I didn’t know, and actually I sort of wanted to be present at my own wedding. I’m a traditionalist (ha!).

@ Tracy, glad I gave you a laugh! I love colors, and I loved your photos on your post and noticed the color coordination right away.

@ Bettyl: Your wedding sounds very romantic, and having a character of its own!

@ Chania: Habari? Your wedding story is wonderfully funny, something to tell your grandkids about. I could see it in my mind’s eye like a movie. ;) PS. I love your name, Chania.

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Keith Davis August 28, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Hi Missfootloose
Came over from Vitgin Bloggers… that post is going on forever.

Interesting to know that… “under civil law, you can only have one wife?”
Now that would never suite Mr Davalia over at Virgin Bloggers. LOL

Great story well told.

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Arvind Devalia August 28, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Keith, I too came over from Virgin Bloggers – I needed to cool off and lie down for a while!

Now this is the funny part – I was born in Kenya!

So I guess I am covered by Kenyan tribal law – and I can have many, many wives. I am leaving for Kenya soon:-)

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missfootloose August 28, 2010 at 4:55 pm

Thanks, Keith. In traditional societies like many in Africa, multiple wives are the norm, but when the countries westernize their laws they have to make very sure people understand the difference. Of course that is why we got the spiel. Well, my groom did ;) Thanks for dropping by. Arvind is still looking for number one, but who knows, if he wants more he can always move to Kenya!

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mae August 31, 2010 at 2:39 am

Love your stories. They always make me laugh out loud then go awwww…

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Karen August 31, 2010 at 11:13 am

What a wonderful wedding story! As someone who just got married herself, it’s always amusing to see how weddings are done in other countries.

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missfootloose September 2, 2010 at 7:19 am

@ mae, Thanks for the compliment. I’m happy you enjoy my stories!

@ Karen, yes, I love reading about how weddings are performed the world over. Some last for days! Mine took 10 minutes ;)

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readlearnwrite February 5, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Enjoyed the story, thank you.

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Chania April 25, 2011 at 8:46 pm

I found your blog by Googling my first name, although I can’t find where it relates to your blog. I find this such an interesting blog….I am glad Google led me here…..

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missfootloose April 26, 2011 at 3:04 am

Google is a treasure chest. You never know what you’ll find. Sometimes not what you’re looking for. I’m glad you like my blog. I’ll check out yours.

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Cecilia June 9, 2011 at 6:52 pm

I love your story! We wed in Las Vegas. We both have divorced parents who hate one another. Eloping was the right thing to do.

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Reinhardt December 27, 2011 at 12:50 am

Excellent read, so well written! Makes me wish I was there in my best jeans to witness the event! :)

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Wedding Services Kenya March 6, 2014 at 12:13 pm

This post is hilarious. Coming from Kenya, i know how it feels when your husband brings home a second wife and there’s nothing you(as the first wife) can do. Many people do not believe in divorce and that’s just it in this part of our world. I enjoyed this post so much. Thanks

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missfootloose March 13, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Thanks for stopping by! Being in the wedding business, you must have a fun career!

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missfootloose September 30, 2010 at 9:05 am

Talepeddler, I agree with you about having a personally designed ;) wedding. Yours sounds great and when a wedding has a unique, personal flavor, it gives you a story to tell and perhaps more interesting memories. Cheers, and may you have a long and happy life together!

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