Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fireside Chat - Street Boys, Marriage Negotiations - Traveling With Kids In Kenya

Every week at IU house they have a fireside chat where they discuss different issues cultural/political/medical/social.  Last week they talked about the status of woman around the world and watched the preview to Half the Sky.  Who hasn't watched that yet?  If you haven't you need to get on it!  In my church currently their happens to be a small feminist movement.  As a whole it is not widely accepted and I will hear people say really negative things about feminist.  I understand that sometimes feminist can ruffle some feathers and maybe I don't agree with all their goals or tactics but in general there is so much work to be done that when I hear people make blanket statements against feminist it just makes me nuts.  I'm not going to lie, sometimes I just want to grab people and shake them hard and say, "Watch this movie and don't talk to me again until you have."  Anyway I missed last weeks chat so I don't know why I got off on that tangent, but this week I got the kids completely ready for bed, set them up with a movie, and then was able to sneak over for about 45 minutes of the presentation.  For those of you worried about my kids, it just happened to be in another house the kids no very well of the eight houses in the gated and locked compound in which we live.  They knew where to find me if they needed help but when I came back 45 minutes later they were still engrossed.

Anyway tonight's topic was on street kids in Eldoret.  The guy Francis who gave the presentation was the 9th child of 13.  His father was an alcoholic who either wasn't able to/or didn't care to spend much of his money on educating or feeding his children but the situation got worse when both of Francis' parents died when he was 12.  Francis then left for the streets where he joined other boys who spent their time sniffing glue or petrol stolen on rags out of people's gas tanks.  Francis says that when you are drunk on glue you can sleep anywhere and it reminded me of a documentary I watched years ago about Romanian orphans who were addicted to glue who said that when you were high off huffing you didn't need to eat.  Anyway Francis story has a happy ending.  There was a German missionary in Nairobi who one day was attacked by some street boys.  While he was there God told him that these were the people that he needed to help.  So he was able to get some land and start a school and a mission to help the street boys of Eldoret.  Since that time he moved to Nakuru where he could get permanent land to build a permanent mission to serve the street boys, but twenty years ago he was in Eldoret and some of the first boys he came across were Francis and his friends.  Francis says that because he was drunk on glue that when the German Missionary asked him if he wanted to go to school he said yes, but then when he sobered up he ran away from school.  He did this three times before he finally committed to stay.  He was able to get eight years of school and then some mechanically training.  Since that time he got a job working for AMPATH and on the side he is still helping with street boys, sometimes taking them into his home, sometimes sending them off to Nakuru to be with the German Missionary, sometimes just trying to give them a little hope and help on the street.  He had a really touching story and I really appreciated how you could send the hand of God working in his life.  I also found the story of how he met and married his wife particularly interesting.  

When he first met his wife he said that he had love for her at first site but that she told him there was no way that they could ever be together.  One, they were from different tribes, two, Francis was an orphan and had no one to speak for him, three, Francis had grown up very poor and with a very rough background and Rebecca had grown up stable and much better off, but Francis was persistent and after some time Rebecca finally agreed to pray about it and see what God said.  It took several weeks but then she told him that God had given her her answer and that she would open her heart to him.  At the time Rebecca was living with a married sister and when her sister found out she immediately sent her home to live with her parents.  Francis followed her there to meet her parents.  At the time her father asked him what he was doing and he told him he was just a friend who was stopping through and Rebecca had said that if he was ever in town he should stay at his house.  Everything was fine and the next morning Francis left.  But he didn't want to stay away too long so he returned again and this time he told Rebecca's father that he was actually her boyfriend and that he wanted to marry her.  This caused a huge problem.  As Francis explains it this is not the way things work in Kenya.  If you want to marry someone first you send your elders to talk with their elders and this is where the story kind of left "social conscious interesting" and got "anthropological interesting" .  Rebecca's father insisted that Francis have elders come and speak to him.  In Kenya a young man doesn't just come out and ask to date or marry a girl, instead he has his family come and even then they are not direct.  Francis had no elders left in his family but he was able to get some older friends to go to Rebecca's town and do this for him.  This is how Francis describes it:

Your elders come and they tell a little parable.  There was a calf that got lost and it came to your home.  And then the girls elders will say.  "What color is the calf?"  And then your elders will say, "bring out all the calfs and we will show you which one it is."  So the family will bring out all the daughters and they will point out which daughter is your girlfriend.  And then the girl's elders will say.  "How did the calf get lost."  And then your elder's will say something to the effect of, "well she was being watched by one of us but she must have been raised here because she recognized the scent and followed it home."  And then her elders will say, "who was watching her."  And then you will get to step forward.  Then a price is decided on for dowry.  Her elders will say, "that little calf is worth a lot to us.  She will bring us many other calfs into the herd.  If you'd like to take her, we will need ___ cows."  In Francis' case Rebecca's family asked for 5 cows, 1/2 of which must be paid before you can get married.

So Francis had to go back to his town and get together the money to pay for two cows.  In this case it wads 40,000 shillings he needed in order to buy two cows in her town, about $500.  Francis didn't have the money so friends rallied around him and helped him raise it and he was able to gather it so he could marry his Rebecca.

One of the sort of interesting things about this system is that it keeps more girls off the street as opposed to girls, because to every family a girl has the extra worth as she can bring in a dowry price.  Francis said that a lot of the kids that end up on the street are the sons of the very poor, single mom's, orphans, or widows.  In the case of a girl if your mother is single and wants to get remarried she can be easily accepted into another man's family because she will not have any claim to inheritance and can actually bring in opposed to a son who you would be financially responsible for and no man would want to give inheritance to a child that was not his own.

It sort of reminded me of something that Josie told me earlier about how when you get married as a woman you leave your family and become the responsibility of your husbands family for the rest of your life, I guess the price you gain with paying that dowry.  Jill has mentioned that this has some interesting effects when it comes to marriages here.  A lot of parents will not accept a daughter back if she no longer wants to be with her husband because after marriage she no longer belongs to them.  It is the super progressive parent who will say, "Ok, you can come home."  It probably keeps the divorce rates down here.  One of the guys we meet at the friend chicken place told me that in Kenya, marriages are forever.  That being said, in Kenya you can also legally take other wives, and if your other wife doesn't like it she may separate from you and just stay separated from you for years as opposed to actually divorcing you.

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