Aidan Hartley Aidan Hartley

Wild life | 23 April 2011

Aidan Hartley's Wild life

Kenya

Marriage can be hard for all of us. A friend of mine, we’ll call him Charles, works far away from home. One day he told me his wife had left him. ‘She has gone back to her mother. What’s worse, she left the children behind and there is nobody taking care of them.’ I felt terrible when he said they were having to cook, clean and get themselves to school. I asked, ‘How can I help?’

He asked me to mediate. I soon discovered the problem came down to the bride price. When Charles had married some years before, he had agreed to pay a dowry of three cows to the woman’s family. The debt had not been settled. When I visited the father-in-law he complained, ‘I’ve never had even a goat or a sheep from him — and he’s got three kids out of her!’

‘Surely, a man must be given time after he marries to pay the bride price,’ I argued. ‘A few years is nothing.’ The reason is that when a man ties the knot he is still too young to have accumulated wealth. And everybody feels better about paying up after a few children have come into the world.

‘Yes — but she’s my favourite daughter. And, besides, Charles has offended his mother-in-law.’

‘Oh dear, that’s bad,’ I said.

The old man nodded, ‘Yes — things are bad.’

It turned out that the old woman had ordered her daughter home. When I said I thought it was outrageous the children were the victims here, the elder just shrugged.

I took Charles off to one side.

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