Wedding in a Time of Corona: “My Parents Negotiated Bride Price Through a conference Call”

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In the first week of April 2020, Kevin Aura Sanya and his would be wife, Susan Nakami Walunywa were supposed to be in Zanzibar for their honeymoon. The wedding was supposed to be on March 28.  They had pushed it from Friday, January 23rd in a selfless act of giving friends a chance to recover from the bad financial decisions that come with every December.

Instead, they wedded on Friday, May 8, and nearly spent their honeymoon in one of the quarantine facilities in the Rift Valley.


“Coronavirus is a Chinese Problem”

By March 10th, the venue for the wedding had been booked and paid for. Sound system, check. Cake, check. Photography, check. Guests, all 100 of them, check.  Accommodation, check. Transport, check. All that was remaining was serving the 21-day notice at the Attorney General’s office in Kakamega that was supposed to elapse on March 23rd followed by a wedding on March 28. This was to be proceeded by dowry negotiations. It was all systems go.

By March 10th, Covid-19 was becoming a global existential problem, but only a niggling problem far away from Kenya. True, there were concerns about the escalating situation in Iran, Italy, and Spain. True, flights were landing and taking off from JKIA, against better judgment.  True, to the chagrin of Kenyans, most recently, a flight from China had landed with 200-odd passengers that were advised by the government to self-quarantine.

People went on with their plans. We attended funerals in the village. Night clubs and restaurants were still operating. And for Kevin, it was time to formalize his marriage, traditionally, at the bride’s home in Kakamega, with an official from the Attorney General’s office on site at their garden wedding.

And then, the tragic week begun.

First was the inevitable discovery of the first coronavirus case in the country on March 12, then the climbing numbers. Then, slowly, blanket decisions started dealing blows to their plans. At first, slow, then with a sweeping presidential decree, banning all night travel changed the plot.

Kevin’s parents live and work in Mombasa. On March 20, they were supposed to travel westwards to Kakamega for the bride price negotiations.  Banning night travel and the subsequent suspension of movement out of Nairobi deal their plans a heavy blow.

In the original plan, 30 people were supposed to participate in the bride price negotiations, 15 drawn from each side. Since the negotiators were all spreads different parts of the country, most of them could not travel for the occasion that is of the rare encounters of in-laws in any marriage set-up.

“We had decided to proceed with our plans, against all odds,” says Kevin, the 31-year-old graduate of Economics and Statistics from the University of Nairobi’s School of Economics, who currently works with Fusion Capital. Susan, 29, too was at the School of Economics with Kevin, but studied Pure Economics and now works in Financial Consulting.

“We were not very close in our school days, we only ignited the spark in our alumni group,” he says. This started two years ago, when he slid into her DM. He proposed to her early in the year while they were swimming, and had planned to expedite their wedding and formalise their union.


Since what was important was the blessings of the parents at this critical time, they opted for a conference call, with his parents holed in Mombasa and her Parents in Kakamega.

Now, if you have ever attended a bride price negotiation, things can get thick. Heated. And you need professional dowry negotiators, most of the time, not your parents. Mostly, the nosy, noisy uncle, who sniffs some powdery stuff before sneezing his liver out, with a thing or two for drama. They have to be tough, know how to bang tables, get angry, even if it is play-acting, until a settlement is reached.

Robbed off these pivotal stakeholders on both sides, parents had to face each other.  But will the parents of the man do when angry or dissatisfied with a proposal, from the woman’s side?

“My parents could hang up and consult with the relevant dowry negotiators on phone and let things cool out before they went back for the call,” says Kevin, who was relieved that after negotiating on phone an entire afternoon, almost running into the night, they settled on the bill. Except that among the Luhya traditions, one has to deliver physical cows to cement the marriage. They agreed to deliver the cow after the current pandemic.

And then another blow: The Attorney General office suspended all operations, indefinitely. And travel out of Nairobi was banned, throwing their plans into a limbo since most of their friends are based in Nairobo. Kevin and Susan had been living in Nairobi up last year when Kevin was transferred to Nakuru. If it were a church wedding, they would have proceeded and make do with the church wedding certificate. But theirs was a garden wedding.

When the best laid plans fail, always have a backup. With the best couple locked in Nairobi, Kevin picked a friend from Nakuru and Susan, her brother to witness their big day. Photo:Ranjiv Singh Photography, Kakamega.

What God has Joined Together, Let Coronavirus not Put Asunder

With everything in a disarray, they decided to sit and wait like every Kenya.

On April 21st, the government sent a circular that the Attorney General will be clearing marriages that were due before the closure of their offices.

With the blessings of the parents, they decided to carry on. But now, with no movement out of Nairobi, they needed a backup of the best couple, because they were stuck in Nairobi.

“I have a friend in Nakuru, John Bwoma, but my wife is new in Nakuru and has no friend, so we had to think quickly,” and just like that she had to settle for her brother in Kakamega to be the witness.

With the parents at a great risk of catching coronavirus, they decided not to involve them and said, it will be a private affair.

On Friday, May 8, they left Nakuru at 5 a.m. with John driving, and arrived in Kakamega at 10.00 a.m. and drove straight to the AG’s office, where they met the wife’s brother.

“The wife applied her make up outside the AG’s office, and at 10.45 a.m. we were ushered into the chambers and in a record 15 minutes we were done…”

Signing the dotted line.
Photo:Ranjiv Singh Photography, Kakamega.

At 2 p.m. they hit the road back to Nakuru. It would be a journey beset with heavy rainfall at Kapsabet, accompanied a torrent of hailstones, forcing them to drive at 30 km/h. At Burnt Forest, there was a check point where travelers’ temperatures were checked as well random questions about where they were coming from.

“A cop wondered if we were not afraid of the curfew, given dusk was setting very fast,” Kevin says, that he was resigned to fate in either case.

“If it came down to it, we will show our marriage certificate indicating that we were from a wedding, and hope that they will excuse us,” he says, unafraid that in the hands of an unruly unreasonable police office, they would have easily spent two weeks in a high school boarding school, at their cost.

They managed to beat the curfew by 15 minutes.

No Honeymoon

The beauty of a wedding is a honeymoon, preferably in the whitest sandy beaches possible. And that was the plan.

Kevin had booked and paid a flight and accommodation in Zanzibar. Thankfully, when coronavirus forced travel cancellations, the hotel refunded him (in full), having booked with a booking platform. For the flight, no refunds, but the ticket is open for three months after which, it is unclear, if they will get their money back.

What of the other monies paid to service providers? He had paid for catering, entertainment, tents, and décor as well the cake. The ladies who were to deliver the cake and take care of the tents and décor have already refunded. And the hotel in Kakamega where they were to spend their night after the wedding, just refunded their money, after nearly two months.

However, other service providers they had committed cash to are yet to refund and may take a while or may never.

“They say, they had used the money, they have to wait until another client pays. Or when we will do the wedding, we can utilize the service paid for,” he says.

Which is unlikely, because the wedding chapter has been closed, “Even though some relatives insist that we owe them a wedding because they have to dance.”

He intends to organize a party, for thanksgiving. And a ceremonial delivery of the cows in the village. So, chances of ever using the services of the Kakamega contractors are minimal.

How does the wife take the whole situation, since weddings are very important for women?

“She knows we had no choice, and besides, we had to move on, because we live in uncertain times, this can go on up to December, or 2022, you can’t put on hold your plans, says Kevin, who is relieved, though disappointed that his wedding dream nearly never happened.

Kevin and Susan pose in one of the gardens in Kakamega after their wedding at the AG office in Kakamega. Photo:Ranjiv Singh Photography, Kakamega.

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