It started with a knock on the door. I had to answer it. A knock on the door has to be answered, doesn’t it? Remember the movie Phone Booth? Do you recall these words at the end of the movie: “Isn’t it funny; you hear a phone ringing and it could be anybody. But a ringing phone has to be answered. Doesn’t it?” – I loved that movie!
Standing outside the door was a man with an envelope in his hand. I recognized him as our next door neighbour. I had seen him around the neighbourhood a couple of times and we had exchanged greetings in passing.
I was just about to go in for a shower when I heard the knock. I had nothing on save for a bathrobe but I chose to open the door anyway. “I will just peep out and get rid of whoever it is”, was my plan. My neighbour stood at my doorstep. He shook my hand to say hi, and held it for a while longer than was necessary. “This might take longer than I anticipated”, I thought. I was nervous being seen like this. Being seen by him like this. If he noticed my disastrous wardrobe choice, he did not show it then. He instead went ahead to ask for directions to a certain building in town. He had to deliver the envelope (raises hand to show me the envelope in question) but he wasn’t sure where the office was located in town, he said.
I knew the building he was asking about and I tried to explain to him how to get there. The thing he did not know about me then is that I am poor at giving directions. Scratch that, I am hopeless at giving directions. Nervous at my outfit (or lack thereof), I ended up not giving him much information. I was like “Go this way, then go that way, you’ll come across such and such a road, ashana nayo. Take the other road instead then go left, turn right, ignore this building, pass through the other road…” I was terrible. Still am. I believe the first lesson he learnt was; never ask Renee for directions unless you fancy getting lost.
He was kind though. He pretended to get what I was saying. He smiled at my nervousness and thanked me for my precious time. He even apologized for, wait for it … waking me up! He had noticed my wardrobe mess all right! I chose not to correct the wrong assumption. I figured telling him that I had not been sleeping would mean having to explain further the reason why I was not fully dressed – not a conversation I was keen on pursuing at the time. Plus, it was mid morning! I should have been offended that he thought I sleep in that late!
I wasn’t offended though. Au contraire. I had a smile on my face when he left. A smile that lasted a long time after he was gone. I knew exactly why he had stopped by, and it had nothing to do with directions to some office in town.
Fast forward twelve years later…
Koito is a Kalenjin word which roughly translates to ‘To give away’. It consists of the actual ceremony of giving away a girl to the man who comes with his people to ask for her hand in marriage. The man pays dowry to the bride’s family and there are celebrations thereafter where the two families socialize and get to know each other. Food and refreshments, not forgetting ‘mursik’ – sour milk – are served as they exchange gifts and make merry.
The members of the extended family – uncles, aunts, grandparents – are gifted as well. The women sing and dance with the bride as they bid her farewell. There is counselling too, of sorts, where the couple is advised about marriage life by the ‘veterans’.
My grandmother (bless her soul) enjoyed telling us about her unique betrothal to my late grandfather. She narrated repeatedly, with a hint of nostalgia and a fondness that was almost tangible, about ‘Mwalimu’ – my grandfather’s nickname – a young respectable man (her words for; an eligible bachelor)
What my ingenious grandfather ‘Mwalimu’ did was, instead of going to ask for my grandmother’s hand in marriage, he waited till the dead of night, and stealthily went into my young grandma’s home. He already knew where she and her siblings slept and so he, together with his ‘hommies’, went for her when everyone else was asleep. I forget whether they knocked on the door, introduced themselves and asked my grandma to go with them, or whether they yanked the door open, picked her up amid her protests, hoisted her up their strong muscled shoulders and off they went. All I know is that they ‘stole’ her (as they called it then) in the middle of the night only to send some elders a few days later to come and inform her parents of their intentions to marry their daughter and to agree on the dowry. That is how my paternal gramps and grandma ‘hooked up’.
What would have happened if the parents of the girl refused to give away their daughter to that particular man? Would he have to bring her back? I forgot to ask that. Anyone?
Twelve years after the ill-timed knock on the door, I too was given away to none other than MD formerly known as my-next-door-neighbour-with-an-envelope-in-his-hand. And that, ladies and gentlemen is how my neighbour transitioned into being my husband.
Merry Christmas everyone. Draw your family closer this festive season.
P.S: I dedicate this post to my cousin who was called to glory just five days to my koito. He passed on at the prime of life – a call has to be answered, doesn’t it?. Fred, I think of your smile each time I think of you. Rest in Peace dear cousin.