Though English is considered a foreign language, shipped over to Kenya during colonial times long gone, I consider myself fluent in it. In all its syntax, synonyms and sentences, English rolls off my tongue with ease. Not just any English; rather prim, proper and perfectly crisp Queen’s english..the kind of english that authorizes one to be an eagle-eyed, sharp-eared grammar nazi.
Being in dala however is a challenge. Hardly any english is spoken in the deep recesses of the village. Instead, weighty dholuo is hurled about in decibels loud enough to sound like they are communicating with someone in Nairobi, or England for that matter. My comprehension of the language is perfect, my speech not so much. I have to admit, as articulate as I deem myself to be, this is the one place I feel reduced to a bumbling idiot. Anytime I am addressed, there will be a long pause, then a response as my brain rapidly tries to conduct a search from memory. I will mutter a a few words, throw in nods here and there, lapse into a mixture of swa-luo followed by inane grinning, amusing gesticulation and an audience bursting out into guffaws of laughter.
My relatives are crazy.
Just as they said circa 20 years ago, they are repeating now, “You must learn dholuo.” Two decades is enough to have polished my paltry dholuo and I’m feeling like I’ve come full circle, to a place of realization that it is possible; what with time spent in Europe, and my nasal cavity subjected to thrusting dutch words rather than romantically singing them in speech as the french would. If I can grapple with dutch, my child ever diligent to correct my vocabulary, then I can refine my knowledge of dholuo.
When not amused by my broken dholuo, my relatives have an unusual focus on my marital status or lack thereof. It’s pretty much the elephant in the room, and its so huge that it is stepping on toes, and stifling the air. My aunties sagely remind me, ‘to settle down,’ taking the presumptive tone of those believing that I am solely responsible for warding off innumerable knights lined up in shining armor. Problem is, no knights are lined up and we are in the 21st century, a time when women being able to stand on their own have no stomach for the bad behaviour that past generations endured; with hubbies that either battered them black and blue, offered their salaries to the local shebeens on payday or cheated on them by cavorting with one concubine after another. I digress, but that generation feared being labeled a divorcee far more than ill treatment from their better halves.
The topic of marriage makes my relatives chill to silent mode, and they gaze at me like I have just stepped into the universe, casting very much the same looks they would give an oval-shaped, purple bodied alien.
Maybe I am alien, for tradition has had a place for everyone else except a single Luo mother of a daughter.
The Luo tribe is deeply patriarchal, patrilineal and patrilocal. Inheritance and residence are centered on the male lineage; men make the major decisions, men control property and wealth. It is assumed that girls will grow up and leave the home as they join themselves to a new home and family, essentially becoming strangers to their own families and being jural minors under the control of males, unable to act legally on their own account. When husbands are deceased, the widows place is to be inherited, absorbed yet again by the husbands family. For some sadly, this absorption requires a series of shocking rituals.
Tradition seems not to have room for girls who have aged gracefully yet stayed single. Even after they die, they cannot be buried in the homestead because her spirit will supposedly lure other girls not to wed. Like really?
I have placed my relatives in a strange position. They feel I’m jostling for land, goats, chicken, cows and perhaps a burial place. They are emphatic that I should be bringing in wealth, instead of ‘trying to take it away.’ This despite the fact that I am no spring chicken but rather an old girl.
Personally, I have little desire to take anything away. Unbeknownst to my relatives, I have in the past, had very lofty ideals of how I would get married. Those ideals included little about how being a bride would benefit my community and more about the Vera Wang lace wedding gown I would slide into, the Swarovski diamond ring that would gingerly be slipped on my finger, the train long enough to fill a stadium and years of happily wedded bliss with a gentleman hubby.
Bride price is costly business.
For now I’ve moved on to a place of contentment. Wouldn’t you be content if you were courting new countries as you trot the globe?