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.
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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!