Last month, my buddy decided it was time to pop the question to his girlfriend. Little did I know that here in Burkina Faso it’s not as easy as just buying a ring, getting down on one knee and asking. Instead, a long series of events must take place, starting with some negotiations between the two families. Negotiations, that I was somewhat inexplicably asked to attend.
My friend’s family lives mostly in Niger, so he instead gathered up his cousin, two older gentlemen he called “uncles” and me (Burkinabé often call what we would call cousins “brother” and family friends “uncle”). We headed over not to the girl’s parent’s house, but instead to her grandparent’s house instead. Age carries a lot of weight here, and it is the family elders who decide such matters. In fact, at 28, I was at least ten years younger than anyone else at the meeting. Those who were only middle-aged mostly kept quiet, and I sat solemnly in place until told to take photos (maybe this is why I was asked to come?).
So what was being discussed? I’m not entirely sure actually since it was all done in local language, but thankfully they threw a few French words in here and there, and eventually numbers. Numbers, that I induced (and later confirmed) were in regards to the amount my friend should pay for a dowry. Unbeknownst to me until an hour into our discussion, at the other end of the family courtyard, a circle of women were having the same conversation. A male representative went over to solicit input at one point.
The conversation seemed serious, but was never contentious. I did my best to stifle a chuckle when one of the family members pulled out his cell phone to do some dowry-related calculations. It just so seemed out of place in what otherwise had a very old and traditional feel.
After another hour or so, an agreement was reached, and a huge bag of kola nuts and a few large denomination bills were slid over to the girl’s family. Success!