Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a match

Here is another update from Dr. Honora Englander, providing service on assignment in Uganda. We pause with a break from medicine and express some concern that our doctor is delving into dangerous territory!

It is a beautiful morning here after a deluge of rain last night and the sky is particularly magnificent.

This past weekend was a welcome break from the wards. My friend, Joseph, who I met in Kampala last year and who is an intern in Gulu (in the far northern region of Uganda that has been plagued by years of violence from the LRA but is now relatively stable) made the 12-hour bus trip to Mbarara for a weekend visit. It was wonderful to see him. We ate leisurely meals and took a walk through the dusty roads on the outskirts of town. Our conversation wandered from the excitement and challenges of internship (he assured me that if I ruptured my spleen he could operate with confidence all on his own) to news of his brother's recent wedding to a discussion about the traditions and rituals of marriage. He explained the build-up to the wedding – the negotiation of an appropriate bride-price, in which his brother needed to acquire 6 cows, several goats, a spear, a sizable sum of money, and a number of other traditional items. This list was decided upon through negotiations between his brother's team (friends, uncles, siblings) and his now sister-in-law's team.

Joseph explained that in the past, this ritual was more feasible, when cows were abundant (they have since been stolen by nomadic tribesmen) and when gifts were a gesture of respect to the bride's family. Now, with such expensive demands and money changing hands, to Joseph, it feels too much like the family is selling the woman. He explained that he doesn't want to receive a bride price if he has daughters, but suspects that he too will go through this ritual of negotiation, bargaining, debt acquisition, and expense for a bride. At the end of the weekend, I couldn't help but introduce Joseph to one of my favorite students who is also from the North, and who might someday make a lovely bride for him. (The matchmaker in me just couldn't resist, and the romantic in me has a good feeling about their future!)

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