In Kazakhstan everywhere John and I went the subject of how much John paid for me came up. We’d be sitting around a table at mealtime and without a doubt, someone would ask. “How much did you pay for Elizabetta?”
Since a woman’s status there was often directly related to the dowry–the more money, the more respect–John used to delight in telling them I was free. (He also once jokingly “sold me” to a train conductor for $1,000 USD, but that’s another blog post, and perhaps, another marriage.)
Rwandan culture is much less aggressive than Kazakhstan’s, so despite everyone’s unrelenting curiosity about the strange ways of white people, I was hopeful that questions about dowries were a thing of the past.
As is often the case, I was wrong.
It wasn’t that surprising the other night when our neighbor shyly made his way to our porch and asked me about American girls. He is, after all, a young man in his early twenties and some things, no matter how remote your corner of the world, never change. Girls captivate imaginations everywhere.
Looking at photos from our wedding, he insisted I tell him which of the bridesmaids were single and which were married. It was then the truth came out: “I want to marry an ‘umazungu,’” he giggled. “Your sister. She single? How much?”
I attempted to explain that American men usually don’t “pay” for their wives, yet my neighbor seem puzzled. “So,” he continued slowly. “I just need love her and she need love me.”
“Yes,” I replied. “That’s all.”
“I think it very good,” he continued in broken English. “But, I must give 10 cows for her.”
“Ten cows!” I replied. This time I was the one giggling. In broken Kinyarwanda I responded, “That be many cows. I think she like you more now.”
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