Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Polygamy in Africa




Dubai, UAE: Winter 2008

The other day in Dubai, I had been invited to the marriage of the son of a rich client. The celebrations spread over three days were in different big hotels in the city. The boy was a Sindhi and the girl was a Jain. Obviously it was a love marriage and the couple had started a web site too which I found very amusing. Therein the groom expresses his wishes for fulfilling the career aspirations of the girl and the bride wants to be part of the empire building of the boy.

This reminded me of a friend in Africa who despite being rich enough might be struggling hard to tread on the difficult road of matrimony.

Malawi, Southern Africa: Summer 2003


I and my colleague Mark were at ‘Greens’, an exclusive dining place in the evening. There was a crowd of Europeans, Asians and some natives in the Restaurant.We settled for some South African beer waiting for the guest.

We had invited a client for dinner by name Douglas (His surname, I am afraid, I cannot recollect. How will you feel with names like Ndaferankhande?). Douglas, aged about 35, is a Zimbabwean and is the Treasury Manager of a large securities firm. An MBA to boast of, he belonged to the breed of young and upwardly mobile aggressive youths of Africa. He was a teetotaller.

He was suave, rather refined and well informed in matters of treasury and investments. He spoke of President Robert Mugabe and of the economy of Zimbabwe where one US Dollar at that time was going upwards of 6000 Zimbabwe dollars, even though the official exchange rate was 825 Z.Dollars.So. (By the way, the present rates in grey market is an astounding 1.5 to 2 million Z Dollar per AED.This is another story altogether) He told of sending money through unofficial channels for maximizing his returns. With one years’ salary, he had already bought two big bungalows in Harare. – As you guessed, the exodus of the rich white farmers had left behind beautiful homes-

My friend Mark, a native Malawian, asked the guest about his having two wives about which he had heard .Though I felt delicate about these subjects, they didn't. Douglas confirmed that he had two wives both living under the same roof. Among his tribe, especially when well employed, having two wives was a minimum acceptable level if he was to be seriously taken. He mentioned of his friends having 3 or more wives too. Douglas had kids from both the wives staying together with him. He also told that the wives were so cooperative that they combed each other’s heads looking for lice.

In that part of Africa since polygamy was allowed, one could travel across countries with all the available wives along with their respective passports– It was indeed revelation to me-

A fortnight later, my colleague from Blantyre told me that he had met Douglas and was shocked to hear that his 5 year old son was dead. The boy was about to go to school, felt uneasy was taken to hospital and he died without any known cause.

In Africa, people accept Death so naturally without too much of a shock or grief. We still ponder over it and add to our woes and discomforts.


Dubai, 13th February 2008.

No comments: