Tag: love

99 problems but love ain’t one of them

I moved with a spring in my step, a bunch of fresh red roses in my hand from the city market, and a heart-shaped chocolate bar. It was Valentine’s Day and I had the proverbial 99 problems but the lack of someone special to spend it with was not one of them. I passed a few women in flowery red dresses on the city streets, but in my neighbourhood – Tena estate, Nairobi – it was only the employees at a hairdressing salon who were dressed for the occasion. For most, it was just another humdrum day.

There’s an increasing cynicism about relationships among young men and women in the city. Women are sick of the traditional role society has expected them to play over the ages, and they’re fighting back by becoming more independent. It’s unsettling to some men, who feel threatened by their partners’ careers and independence. A common, blunt refrain among women is: “All men are players” while men retort: “A girl is yours only when you are with her.”

If love is in the air in Nairobi, it’s a very suspicious kind of love.

On Valentine’s evening, my girlfriend Karen and I joined my buddy and his girlfriend at Tribeka, a popular club in the city. The atmosphere was romantic and electric; everyone here had come to celebrate. Across the table, a guy had swept his girlfriend off her feet and they were kissing like there was no one else was in the room. Another guy near our table wasn’t so lucky – all he got on this special night was a thunderous slap from his partner.  She probably found out that the rose he’d given her wasn’t really from him.

You see, it’s silly season in Kenya: election time. The front-running Jubilee party took the opportunity to hand out free roses to Nairobi residents – which guys readily passed on to the girls they had their sights set on, relieved that they didn’t have to fork out for them. Most people are still recovering from the Christmas shopping sprees that have left holes in their wallets.

Meanwhile, women expect men to woo them on Valentine’s Day – and every other day. My male friends blame the barrage of Mexican soap operas on our television screens for creating unrealistic expectations of them and their budgets. We would never be caught dead watching The Power of Destiny with our girlfriends, so we’re totally clueless about how to be a knight in shining armour, Don Juan and Bill Gates all rolled into one.

Businesses in Nairobi are quick to capitalise on Valentine’s Day with promotions and gifts galore. (sxc.hu)

Earlier that day I stopped at the supermarket for ice cream. The store was draped in red, and two women in red T-shirts were managing a stall at the entrance, selling teddy bears, chardonnay, whisky, cards and chocolates. I bought chocolates – but they told me I was only the second guy to have purchased something from them that day. They’d received most of their support from women.

I learnt that some women had a trick up their sleeves for this day. They run to the shops before work to purchase expensive flowers and fine wines. At noon, the delivery man arrives at their offices to deliver a “surprise”, while their colleagues ooh and aah at their treats. These women are paying for their own gifts if only to keep up appearances.

The night before Valentine’s, I went to the local pub to watch the Real Madrid and Manchester United game. One guy left early, saying he promised his partner he’d be home by 7pm. Another lamented having to budget for school fees and a special gift for his wife. An older guy said his wife of nine years, who’d never demanded gifts or expressed interest in celebrating Valentine’s before, was now expecting him to come home with something big.

I consider myself lucky then, to have a girlfriend who was sincerely happy to receive just a bunch of red roses and chocolates on February 14. In return, she gave me a single red rose and a big smile. No matter how cynical I am about love, I think I may have found the rare woman most of my friends are searching for.

Munene Kilongi is a freelance writer and videographer. He blogs at  thepeculiarkenyan.wordpress.com

Wed for bed: Underground marriages in Egypt

Khalid and Egan (not their real names) are undergraduate students at the American University in Cairo who are “deeply in love” in every sense of the fairy-tale phrase. They are desperate to marry but cannot afford it. So they turn to a solution that is popularly referred to in Egypt as “underground tube marriages”.

These secret unions, also called urfi marriages, have exploded in colleges throughout Egypt. Despite officially being banned, they have an established Facebook presence and are spawning new entrepreneurs. Weddings and dowry payments typically cost thousands of dollars in Egypt and even if a marriage is concluded to the satisfaction of the bride and groom’s families, city apartments are way beyond the means of many newlyweds.

To make matters worse, in predominantly Islamic Egypt, sex before marriage is fiercely discouraged and engaging in premarital sex can have dire social consequences. Many families in Egypt are ready to disown their children if they live as partners without official marriage. It is this pressure and the urge to engage in premarital sex that drive many students into urfi marriages.

What is required for the secret unions to take effect is simply consent between boy and girl. Usually two witnesses, often friends, sign the secret marriage agreement. After this, the consenting boy and girl are legally married. This union is halfway between the official Egyptian legal system recognition and traditional family understanding of marriage. That’s why the couples who partake in these ceremonies consider themselves “married”.

In some colleges the urfi marriages take place in abandoned lecture theatres or in secluded accommodation hostels. These are as cordial as conventional receptions. If the urfi marriage was conducted in, say, an abandoned science lab, a feast of drink and food will follow at the same venue after the conclusion of the vows. Noisy conversation and jive music in any college dormitory on a weekend is a sure sign of the celebration of an urfi union, said one elated new bride, proudly showing me an ivory-coated ring that she deftly hides from her family and outsiders.

The need for secrecy does not just apply to the couple. The witnesses, though they may welcome an invitation to officiate, also want to be secret — it is a social embarrassment to be labelled a conveyer of secret marriages.

But a girl who engages in secret marriage faces the possibility of never marrying formally if the outside world manages to unlock her secret past. If an urfi marriage does not work out, and a prospective suitor hears about her past, he could spurn her.

Urfi marriages are more about chemistry than money, even if they are not always about falling in love forever. As Egan admitted: “I could not wait for us to finish our four-year degrees and then marry. Even if that was the case, he could never afford the $7 000 and the Toyota Prius that my family demanded in order to give their consent.”

The proliferation of underground marriages has turned some enterprising students into semi-successful businessmen. Some students advertise their services on university notice boards and others offer “marriage witnesses” services on Facebook and other social networking sites.

One third-year physiology student, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, said: “I usually charge fellow students $50 if they want me to be a secret marriage witness. I’m never short of customers — every two weeks on average — and I’m paid more thereafter to make sure I lock my mouth once outside the ‘underground’.”

It is not all merry sailing for the lovers. There is no legal status awarded to these marriages if the relationship turns sour.

The courts do not place any paternity burden on the man if these marriages end in divorce and the belligerent parties emerge from the underground to take their custody battles into the legal courts above. But Egan, who was well through her first urfi marriage, summed it up: “Urfi marriage gives me a feel-good feeling and erases my guilt whenever I want to indulge in pre-marital sex.”

Hadid Beduwi is a Chadian journalist married to a New Zealand diplomat in Alexandria, Egypt. This post was first published in the M&G newspaper.