I spotted his red blanket before I could see his face; someone was waiting outside our door. I do not know how long he had been there, as the Maasai do not knock or come into a home. They stand outside and wait to be noticed. When I saw our visitor was a young man named Karimus, I was glad; that meant he did not need my husband and me but wanted to visit our sons. Or so I thought.
Karimus was my son’s friend; they were the same age, 17, and had known each other for years. However, on this day, with a smile of pride and happiness, he stood in front of us all with a request. Karimus had chosen a bride. He needed us to help him with the bride-price set by his fiancé’s family—thirty blankets.
Being the skeptic that I am, my first thought was for his bride. I wondered what bragging rights thirty blankets would give her at the water hole. I wondered about the young girl. Was she happy? I put myself in her place. Bad idea! It did not take long for me to get depressed, thinking of her life. Married at 16, moved from her home, with full responsibility of a new home on her. She was to build the home, take care of it, haul water and fire wood, and wash the clothing. She was looking at a life without her mother, the little girls she grew up with, a college education, and certainly any lucrative career. Yes, I had angst.
Three months later, we went to visit Karimus and his bride. I prepared myself for the pity I would feel, the sadness, but that never happened. We got to the village and the entire children’s population surged out of the thorn gates, taking our hands and leading us in with the welcoming chatter only children have.
Karimus’ wife stood beaming! She was young, yes, but so proud of herself. She showed us her home, which she had made from a stick frame plastered with cow dung and mud. She showed us her wedding gifts: new cups, blankets, pots, and buckets. She smiled and giggled as she and her new mother-in-law welcomed us to have tea. Happiness was in that home. Karimus’ wife had done well. She loved her mother- in-law (culturally very important). Her husband was a good man who was young and did not drink. She was satisfied.
When I left there, I was happy too. I was glad to be wrong about how I thought I would find her. How many times do I just assume that what I want is what others want? How many times do I fail by running off to do what I think someone needs me to do, instead of asking what exactly it is that they need? Why do I assume they want what I want from my cultural world-view? Where did I even learn that?
Why was it so surprising to me that Karimus’ wife was happy? She did not have what I would have wanted! Yet she had everything her culture had brought her up to expect, and she got it. It was right and good in her eyes. When I agonize over how I would have done something different on this great Kenyan plain I now call my home, I am reminded of Karimus’ wife. Our expectations and wants may not always be what are wanted by someone else. Thirty blankets is a good bride-price when it comes with such a happy ending.