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“She left out the ladel! We’re sending her back and getting a new wife.”

February 4, 2009

One of my Rwandan friends is getting married soon, and it turns out that getting married here requires a lot of stuff. The wife, my friends explained, brings a whole bunch of things collectively called ibishyingiranwa. What sort of things? Oh, you know, woman-things.

Like pots and pans and spoons and forks, “all the things you use in the kitchen.” Also, food: rice, banana, beans, flour–the key ingredients for a stocked kitchen in Rwanda. She also brings the things you clean with.

And, my favorite: she brings the mattress. And the sheets.

The Rwandan men in the room were quick to counter that the man brings things, too. The living room furniture, for example. And, in a point for gender equality, he brings the marriage bed. He also has to procure the house, which, it was pointed out to me, is no small investment of time or money.

It quickly dawned on the women in the room that the deal is still pretty raw for us. The men may find a house, bring the furniture, and support our marriage mattress with the loveliest of frames, but those are low-maintanence contributions with no expectations. The women have to bring the stuff their husbands will expect them to use every day: the broom, the pots and pans, the flour. The women will have to wash those damn sheets once a week (or month, if you’re like me). It’s all in service of the family (the more jaded of us might say “the men”), and it’s all laid out right at the beginning–literally, in front of the husband’s family, who you show the stuff to.

At least, I suppose, you know what you’re getting into.

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