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

by missfootloose on August 14, 2010 · 37 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!

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Leave a Reply

37 Comments on "EXPAT WEDDING: HOW (NOT) TO GET MARRIED IN KENYA"

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Gerald Njuguna
Guest

funny post. You have a way with words.

Wedding Services Kenya
Guest

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

Reinhardt
Guest

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

Cecilia
Guest

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.

Chania
Guest

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…..

readlearnwrite
Guest

Enjoyed the story, thank you.

Karen
Guest

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.

mae
Guest

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

Keith Davis
Guest

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.

Arvind Devalia
Guest

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:-)

Chania
Guest

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

Arvind Devalia
Guest

Chania, I was also born in Nairobi!

Aga Khan hospital apparently:-)

bettyl
Guest

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!

Tracy
Guest

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.

Meri of Meri's Musings and Playing Along
Guest

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?

Eva Gallant
Guest

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

Karen Z.
Guest

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

BLissed-Out Grandma
Guest

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.

Melissa Papaj Photography
Guest

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

Cathy
Guest

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.

Doris
Guest
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… Read more »
Mary
Guest

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.

Very Bored in Catalunya
Guest

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

Barbara
Guest

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.

GutsyWriter
Guest

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.

Mara
Guest

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).

Souldose
Guest

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

Lady Fi
Guest

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

Boonsong
Guest

Very amusing, as always. Thanks for this.

All the best, Boonsong

Previous post:

Next post: