Twenty-year-old Issiatu is the stepdaughter of the man who brings our water and watches our property when we are away. We have known Issiatu for about five years, and her sweet spirit and gentle ways have always made her a pleasure to be around.
During the time we have known Issiatu, she has given birth to two children. The birth of her first child, a girl, unfortunately caused a great family uproar. At the time of the pregnancy, Issiatu was engaged to a man who was not the baby’s father. Her family was shamed, so they banished her to her mother’s village. After her daughter was born, Issiatu lived in the village for the next two years.
However, the family of Issiatu’s fiancé still wanted the marriage to take place. This was good news to Issiatu’s family, but I don’t think she was happy about it. However, she did as she was told. She stayed in her mother’s village until her little girl was old enough to be weaned, and then she left her with the family of the girl’s father and went to live in Kangaba in the family courtyard of her husband-to-be.
Unlike Western weddings, here in Mali, marriages are less about the bride and the groom and more about the joining of the two families. The first stage is the giving of the first cola nuts to the bride’s family. The bride’s family can either refuse the cola nuts, indicating they don’t approve of the match, or they can accept them, showing that they are willing to enter into a dialogue. If the cola nuts are accepted, the bride can leave her family and go to live in the groom’s courtyard. However, the wedding is far from finished. The groom’s family is required to pay a bride price to compensate the bride’s family for the loss of a valuable worker. Unless the groom’s family is wealthy and can afford to pay for all the parts of the wedding at once, the wedding take place in stages over time—sometimes a number of years.
During this phase of the wedding, while Issiatu was living in her husband’s courtyard, she had another baby, this time a boy named Moktar. By this time she was out of disgrace and was able to come back and visit her mother and step-father from time to time, who loved to spoil their grandson. Issiatu stayed in her husband’s courtyard for the next two years. Then, about four months ago, I was surprised to see her and little Moktar move back into her stepfather’s house. Her family had decided it was time for the groom’s family to finish the wedding, so they “repossessed” Issiatu pending final payment of various promised items, including a cow. Cows are very expensive, and when I talked to Issiatu and her mother about it, I could see the worry in Issiatu’s eyes. Would her wedding ever be concluded, or would she continue living in limbo indefinitely?
Issiatu’s husband’s family liked her and wanted her back in their courtyard. Several months later, the cow appeared, transported from Bamako to Kangaba in the back of a taxi! It survived the journey, but the taxi’s interior looked pretty bad.
Now the preparations for the culmination of Issiatu’s wedding shifted into high gear. Issiatu’s mother bought household items Issiatu would need after the wedding. I’m not sure what Issiatu had done for the previous two years when she was living at her husband’s courtyard, but now she would be going back with what she needed. Big calabash bowls, sheets, metal pans, dishes, pots and many other items went out to Issiatu’s mother’s village. Issiatu and her younger sister carried most of them on their heads the five miles to the village, making several trips.
Finally the long-awaited wedding weekend arrived. Issiatu spent most of Friday and Saturday in town getting her feet and hands hennaed and her hair done. Then she was taken out to her mother’s village where her family’s part of the wedding would take place. After a public showing of the wedding gifts and a lunch for the wedding party, they would eat with the bride’s family; men and women separated, of course. Then they would bundle Issiatu and all her things into whatever vehicle they could find and drive to a house in Kangaba where she would stay until after 8 p.m. Then she would be taken to her husband’s courtyard, and the wedding would be complete.
Our family was looking forward to attending the village portion of Issiatu’s wedding on Sunday. We were planning to ride our motorcycles. It had rained heavily the day before, and Neil was worried our pickup truck might not make it through the mud.
Those plans changed, however, when Issiatu’s husband showed up at our house Sunday morning. He had not been able to find a vehicle to transport Issiatu and her things, and he was wondering if Neil would drive the wedding party. Neil said he would be glad to. At 11 a.m., they were off with an escort of about 10 motorcycles.
The pickup truck was able to make it through the mud. When they arrived at the village, they waited and waited. After everyone had eaten lunch, and Issiatu’s things had been piled high in the bed of the pickup, Issiatu herself had still not appeared. She was being kept in a village hut, and the door was guarded by her female family members. Negotiations were still going on between the families. Finally everything was settled, and Issiatu made her appearance. Everyone who could crowded into the pickup, and the rest hopped onto motorcycles to escort the truck back to Kangaba.
Later that night as I thought about Issiatu’s wedding, I hoped she was happy to finally be fully married. Several days later, I walked to Issiatu’s courtyard to see how she was doing and to take her a gift of some cloth. I found her all dressed up in nice clothes, happily performing her daughter-in-law jobs once again. She said her husband had returned to Bamako that morning. Her mother-in-law looked happy to have her back to resume her workload.
Please pray for Issiatu and her family. We hope our relationship with her and her husband’s family will continue to be strong and will yield redemptive opportunities.