My cousin (name withheld) recently decided that he had had enough of this bachelor life. So he and his fiancée sat down over a candlelit dinner in some exotic restaurant to chart their life together.
He was dressed in a white African dashiki shirt, black khaki trousers and matching Clarks shoes. She was in a long flowing red dress and matching heels. She looked stunning. Effortlessly stunning.
The atmosphere was chilled and serene. Wine poured seductively into wine glasses. Their arms were clasped together in a knot that we hope will last a lifetime. They couldn’t stop gazing into each others eyes, or holding each other in a tight embrace as if they belonged to each other (as if they don’t). You know, it takes courage for true Africans to publicly display the affection for each other. It’s a rare occasion.
At sunset, as the fiery sun was turning into a bright yellow glow, my cousin went down on one knee and with a diamond ring in his hand asked the fiancée ‘Will you marry me’. She smiled and said yes. The sun smiled too and disappeared beyond the hills for the night.
For the record, my cousin is Kisii. Fiancée comes from the lakeside. That evening, two different cultures merged together. Hope for humanity was restored for a bit.
I bet it was as romantic as it sounds now. I wasn’t there. I just like to imagine that is how it happened.
Several events transpired after that candlelit dinner at sunset. Relatives and friends were called and informed of the proceedings. Plans for negotiations for bride price commenced.
And finally, on Sunday, the two families decided to meet up and talk about the marriage of these two lovebirds. It had become that serious, folks. It still is. The guests were indiscriminate, a blend of different tribes. People with social ties stronger than some people’s relationships nowadays. Food was in plenty, a wide variety of mostly African dishes. A buffet of fish, chicken, beef, traditional vegetables and Ugali. And yes, there was dessert.
As culture dictates, the teams leading negotiations from both sides were mainly elders. People with stripped suits and greying hair, and experience. The rest of us young folk were locked out of that high level meeting, perhaps because we still follow our hearts more than our heads.
I don’t know why, but I kept getting the feeling that they probably were just chilling, drinking wine and telling nostalgic stories of how different the situation would have been if it were in their days.
Anyway, they came out, finally, and with good news. The ‘negotiations’ were successful.
Hopefully then, very soon, I will be invited to a wedding of these two. I look forward to the buffet service again. In the meantime, I think it’s only fair we wish them all the luck there is. And give them space too.
African culture is rich and dynamic. It lives through each one of us. It expresses itself in the way we walk, in the stories we tell, in how we do what we do. It expresses itself through the fabric of society. Even through the very breath of life.
Everything has a downside though; our differences have always been a rich breeding ground for stereotypes. There was this one time I was at some event, chilling and mingling, when one of the people I was talking to suddenly turns to me with genuine concern written all over her face and asks ‘So is is true what I hear about Kisiis?
‘What have you been hearing about Kisiis?’
‘I hear many stories from those sides. Mostly about sorcery. And sijui people running at night. Is that true?’
I pause for a while, because in that question I see an opportunity to squash all the stereotypes unfairly meted out against our kind. An opportunity to set the record straight. A simple ‘No’ would have sufficed, but then I could feel the story teller in me yearning to speak on my behalf. On behalf of the tribe. Besides, the unspoken rule in storytelling is that you never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
So I say ‘Yeah. I know people with dominant genes for night running. When dusk sets in they become restless and just want to take off’.
‘Are you for real? Are any of your family members like that?’
‘No. We are cool peeps. We love our sleep. It runs in the family.’
‘Oh. Okay then.’
I’m not sure if she was convinced.
Funny enough, I have been asked similar questions before, been on the receiving end of tribal stereotypes, sometimes from people I least expected.
I now realize that although we live and mingle with each other and outwards we are all cool and stuff, deep inside we harbor irrational stereotypes about ourselves that just won’t go away. We attend the same learning institutions, work in the same offices, go to the same churches, drink in bars together, support the same football teams, but the ghosts of our tribal stereotypes still haunt us.
Even when we are alone in our beds at night staring at our ceilings because we have had too much coffee and sleep has then become elusive, we effortlessly entertain the thought that maybe, at that very moment, some guy called Chinkororo is doing his midnight run in the heart of Kisii land.
Is that fair?
It pains me to see people, even friends, drowning in a sea of cultural ignorance. Heck, it’s not even a sea, it’s a swamp. And we need to drain that swamp. Cultural awareness. Challenge yourself today to go out there and learn about a culture different from the one you are used to. You might just discover that we are way more alike than we are unlike.
On a lighter note, before you accuse anyone of night running, remember, it takes one to know one. That is all.
Photo Credits: Picassocreations