Handling potential in-laws

Good news! Glad tidings! There is a potential Mr Right in the picture! There is a twist though – he is from a different ethnic community and is from the rural areas. But he is a solid man; a true son of the soil.

I am feeling a little anxious about meeting my future in-laws because traditions vary from community to community. Considering I need to put my best foot forward and create a lasting impression, I cannot afford to mess things up. As I try come to terms with the cultural differences, I have a few issues that are making me scratch my head.

For instance, it is said the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. To ascertain my suitability as a life partner for their son, his people might ask me to prepare a meal. There is one major problem: I come from a community that believes in the ‘mix-them-gather-them’ recipe.

Imagine this: fry some onions, add meat and cook until brown, then add carrots, cabbage, peas, rice, water and salt to taste; bring it to a boil then stir gently, lower the heat and wait till it is cooked. That recipe is known as ‘mashakura edition’ and has been passed down for generations.

And woe unto me if I am tasked with cooking ugali made from millet flour over a wood fire while sitting on a three-legged stool! The issue is where I come from, cooked ugali is measured by scooping a little from the pot onto the palm, making a small ball and throwing it against the wall – if it sticks, it needs more time on the fire; if it falls to the ground, it is good to go. Imagine carrying that practice to someone else’s kitchen! No way.

I accept that I’m deficient when it comes to other cuisines, which is why I am currently busy sharpening my culinary skills and detaching myself from the generational recipe that is known and accepted only among my people.

I am too afraid to ask about dining etiquette. I expect that all eyes will be on me so the urge to serve bones with the meat will have to be supressed. And I will need to show some finesse in the portions I serve and the way I chew my food! It makes sense to start with small portions for the first serving, then help myself to a second if they insist. I think declining an offer to eat more would be dishonouring to their kindness.

Africans identify with joint responsibility and effort. News of my visit will travel far and wide, and the villagers are sure to pool their efforts and resources to support the occasion of their son finding love. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the women came in their numbers mainly to check out this urban woman who is marrying a rural son. I can just imagine the stares and the low-toned gossip!

I dread the possibility of the in-laws insisting on being part of naming our children. I understand that families want to keep the memories of their ancestors alive through the naming of descendants, but this practice of naming can sometimes go to extremes. For instance, in my community we have names such as Gikonyo (which means umbilical cord), Nyaguthie (one who never settles and is always on the move) and Kanyonga (one who strangles) to mention a few. I believe we should give our children names that carry life in them, like Neema (grace) or Jatelo (leader).

Another tricky issue revolves around greetings. I think I will need to contain my excitement and avoid running to hug his parents, especially his father. Africans believe in a firm handshake that can go on for a few minutes. As my potential father-in-law maintains a firm grip on my hand, he might enquire about my journey, what measures Nairobi is putting in place to curb Covid-19, and whether my local chief sent me any help. The tricky part will be remembering to grasp my right wrist with the left hand as a sign of respect.

One thing I have already figured out is the gifts. Thankfully, since it is a rural setting, I will not need to buy champagne (which is not cheap!). They are more likely to welcome pastries, bananas, sugar, tea leaves, indigenous chicken and sugarcane.

Meanwhile, I am crossing my fingers that I will not be expected to relocate and live near the in-laws. While I understand and greatly appreciate that the nuclear and extended families are the basis of the African social structure, and that it is important to take care of our parents in their old age, I also fear losing the freedom to be myself.

I may be wrong but I have this idea that living next to the parents-in-law would mean I have to be on my best behaviour all the time. If relocation were to become a necessity, I would need adequate mental preparation well in advance.

I have been told talking loudly is allowed and actually common in the rural areas. I actually look forward to calling out to the livestock from the grazing fields and watching the animals run back to the cowsheds, just like my grandpa did. And although gestures are encouraged to emphasise a point someone is trying to make, I hope I don’t go overboard. I think less talking and more listening is a great strategy since I’ll be in unfamiliar territory.

Well, I can only pray that all goes well. Do stay tuned for the juicy details of the actual visit!