Expat Life: Wife Number One

by Miss Footloose

Crystal BallMarry a foreigner? Leave my cozy Holland? Go to Africa? I was young and innocent when fate offered me these thrillingly risky opportunities. Since I was yearning for adventure the answer was: Sure, why not? I didn’t even check with a fortune teller to see if it was a good idea.

So, what happened? Well, many of you know: I did marry the foreigner, and ever since I’ve led a roaming life with him, living in a number of foreign countries. So here’s the tale of how it all began: My bizarre African wedding (a shorter, edited retelling of an earlier post).

What was I thinking?!

“If you don’t go, you’ll never know,” my mother says. It’s the perfect answer to the question I’ve been struggling with: Should I get on a plane and go to Africa to be with the man I’ve only known for a short time? He’s an American Peace Corps volunteer now in Kenya, East Africa, and I’m a Dutch girl, in love, and dreaming of adventure. But we haven’t seen each other for six months and is he really the one? This is risky business, I’m sure you agree. Maybe I should just stay in Holland and marry a dentist and have a safe and unadventurous life in a nice, clean Dutch suburb.

But, no, I get on a plane to Kenya. Kenya is not Holland and I find it all a great adventure. And I’m in love with my Peace Corps hero. A couple of months after my arrival we decide to get married and purchase two 9-karat gold rings, the cheapest we can find because we are poor.

Wedding band

On a sunny tropical morn, my hero and I walk to the District Commissioner’s office in the town of Nyeri for the joyous event, at least we’re expecting it to be joyous. It turns out to be rather bizarre but we don’t know that yet.

Our wedding party of twelve strong awaits us at the door, a hippie lot consisting of one Swede, one Brit, a couple of Kenyans and several American 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 desk stands the District Commissioner, a Kenyan 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 of no importance apparently. I am not amused.

“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. Is this an omen? Am I making a terrible mistake? They 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, miniskirt and all, 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.)

I’m aquiver with nerves. Should I get out of here, rush back to Holland? Marry a dentist instead? What was I thinking, traveling to Africa, marrying a foreigner?

“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. So far no second wife, tribal or otherwise. No second husband either. We both still wear our 9-karat gold ring. The only diamond I have is my man. (Oh, wow, my fingers just typed that line all by themselves!)

NOTE:  This wedding was not a recent event, and I’m 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.

* * *

Have you ever looked back at your life and wondered how you got to where you are now? Have you ever experienced an unexpected bizarre event? Scroll down, hit that comment button and entertain me!

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What a fabulous story – and extremely well told, Karen. You’ve set an impossibly high standard for wedding stories. I have some tales of travelling with a girl I picked up in a Greek Youth Hostel (“T 2”, at the link below) nearly fifty years ago, but the wedding some years later was unremarkable.

Balanced Melting Pot

Yes! Epecially when old friends start asking me about supposedly exotic and exciting life. I try not stress to much about the past, because eventually the mistakes rear their ugly heads and make me manic. I wrote a similar post once – although I didn’t describe my wedding ;-), and in the end I say wherever I end up is where I’m supposed to be. Don’t know if that makes any sense…

Michelle | The American Resident

Oh wow, I loved this–award goes to you for making me laugh the loudest today! What a fantastic wedding story! How funny about all the tribal stuff and divroce. And about your American husband to be knowing all about divorce (lol!).


Nice story. And what an adventure. We were in Kenya in 1974, just after we got married in the Netherlands. We were not allowed by the company to leave for Kenya as an unmarried couple. So we had to get married, not because we were expecting a baby, but because the company did not let us go. But now, almost 40 years later, we are still a married couple and never regretted our “forced” marriage.


Oh I LOVE this story! What an auspicious beginning 🙂 My life took a left turn when I had twins (who would have thought?) and then ended up taking them to Mauritania, along with their older brother, when they were just-turned-4. But my wedding was boring enough, although there was hidden drama behind the scenes! (won’t go into it now)

And I’ve been meaning to write you congratulations on surviving the US election 😉

Emily McGee

Great story! Although, I must say, I was surprised that Peace Corps didn’t get their panties in a twist over the wedding. I was a Peace Corps volunteer, and they seemed strict about those things. Maybe they’ve gotten more bureaucratic of late… (Wouldn’t surprise me)


It’s lovely to read of other people’s adventures abroad. It certainly sounds interesting, getting married in a Kenyan culture! Would you want a second husband?? And a tribal ceremony could’ve been interesting.
I haven’t met my Mr Right (yet), but my adopted country of Greece never fails to surprise, amaze me and make me love and loath her in equal measures. Choosing to remove oneself from the ‘norm’ of life within your own country takes guts, but I’m sure glad I did it – as I’m sure you are too.

What a nicely written post! Such an “outside the comfort zone” wedding! 🙂

Precious! What a great story. I don’t have anything to equal that. I got married in a civil ceremony in my native Germany, BEFORE setting out to foreign lands. All I remember from THAT day was the clerk going on and on about my future name, and had we really not considered making it a hyphenated name instead. I think I used up all my “I Do’s” to make sure I really did want to use my husband’s name.

So… how many countries have you lived in now Miss Footloose? 🙂

Wow, talk about being footloose! 😉

And there I was considering myself to be a rolling stone — having lived, in addition to my native Malaysia (and there in Penang but also Kuala Lumpur), in Britain (Northamptonshire and London), the US (Wisconsin and Pennsylvania), Tanzania (Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar) and now Hong Kong. 🙂

I have taken some educated chances through the years and I must say: they all worked out perfectly. When I moved to where I live now, I only had a contract for 5 months! Nothing else. That’s over 13 1/2 years ago now, so it worked out. I will now take another educated chance and move to Norway. Hopefully that will work out too!


Beautiful photo, and story, with the gold ring. 🙂

21 years ago, my husband and I ditched our elaborate wedding plans in order to use the money to put a down payment on a 100-year-old house in a small town in Kentucky. We were both expat kids who’d grown up all over the US and the world and had somehow found each other again after attending high schools on different continents and ending up in different parts of the US for University. Thousands of miles away from our nearest relatives, we ended up at ‘Don’s Wedding Chapel,’ where we were married by Don’s stand-in(Don was away on holiday,) who… Read more »


I loved this post.. having spent a little time in Africa.. your descriptions were spot on.. I hope you are beginning to find yourself again in the USA.. it IS sad when we have toleave friends behind.. my maman travelled for most of her life, before the days of cheap telephone calls and e-mails and the letters that she received from friends all over the world were wonderful.. because she wrote telling them what was happening in her life.. always stay in touch.. that is the answer and now at a great age myself, I find propers letters such a… Read more »

So many people here marry foreigners, we’re all mixed in the Caribbean, it seems.


Oh this sounds wilder than my own wedding. On New Year’s Eve long ago, in a 17th century chapel in Normandy, I married a Frenchman uniting my German basketball team, my Norwegian-American family, his French family and a Parisian volleyball team. What a party!

Visit Finland

It is a scary thought As a British Expat of 24 year s in Finland,I had the opportunity to live in Russia;the S oviet Union in 1988 I was married to a Finnish lady. I spoke little Russian so it was put to me by officials in Kharkoz that I marry a Ukrainen women who would gladly buy my food and clean the apartment I naturally said I was married “No Probleem” was the reply from Russian authorities I did scare me as I was not allowed to travel further than 10Km from the city center Also I needed permission… Read more »

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