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Monday, August 22, 2011

Don’t Have a Cow, Man!

June 5, 2004 was a day that would change my life forever.  I had a blind date at 8 PM at Tommy Bahamas Restaurant in Naples Florida.  I'd like to say that I was on time, but she would tell you that she was just about to leave when I finally arrived.  In my defense I was delayed at work, and I did call to let her know I would be late.  Dinner was great, I begged for a goodnight kiss, and I was hooked. 

About a year later, I finally summoned the courage to mention the “M” word.  I think I knew I wanted to marry her when I met her, but I didn’t want to seem too anxious.  She told me “If you want to marry me, it’s going cost you.”  The first thing that crossed my mind was “Yeah, fifty percent in a divorce court five years from now, right?”  “Not even close,” she said.

You see, she is from Rwanda Africa, and in her culture, I would be responsible for paying a dowry if I had intentions of marrying her.  She explained that I would have to negotiate the price of that dowry with her father, but hinted the amount would be close to two hundred.  I was by no means a rich man, but I usually carried more than two hundred in my pocket at any given time.  I decided that I would offer her father three hundred, so it wouldn’t appear that I was cheap.  That’s when she told me, the dowry was two hundred cows, not dollars!  “African cows with big horns, and not those small inexpensive American cows” she said.  Wow, that wasn’t going to be a cheap dowry after all, but I did love her.  It was time for me to do what any hopeless romantic would do; Google search.  I needed to make sure she wasn’t pulling my leg. 
My search produced instant results, and it turned out this dowry thing was indeed real.  Depending on the culture, dowries can be given by the future groom, bride or their families.  I would have to man-up and pay, unless of course she wasn’t really from Rwanda as she had led me to believe.  Finally, my membership to would pay off.

If I could prove she was from the Sudan, I would save thousands of dollars.  The brutal civil war that has been raging in the Sudan for the past 40 years has so disrupted agriculture that cattle are rarely given any more.  Instead, families pledge to give cattle once the war is over and the way things look, that wouldn’t be anytime soon.  I would just have to adorn a Dinka tribesmen outfit and jump as high as possible during a ceremonial dance.  I’m not quite sure her dad would be impressed with my twelve inch vertical leap, but it would gain me his daughter’s hand in marriage.  However, the thought of a torn ACL left me looking for another solution.

If she was Ethiopian, once we were married she would get paid housekeeper's wages, and would not be eligible for any inheritance. Our children however would legally qualify for an inheritance, but if I had a vasectomy, my bank account would be safe.  Nah, I really want children and my ancestry search verified she was Rwandese.  I needed another solution.

I could take the intellectual route, and argue the exorbitant dowries requested by African families for their daughters were creating a social, cultural and health crisis.  It might be a tough sell to her dad though.  I could also seek a simple reduction in the dowry by questioning her parent’s social standing or even her virginity.  That plan wasn’t going to work because her parents had a royal bloodline, and at age 32 I was certain she was still a virgin. 

It was then I read an old African proverb that said “A man without a wife is like a vase without flowers.”  Enough was enough; I didn’t want to be an empty vase for the rest of my life.  It was time to sit down with her and work this out.  I loved her and needed to do the right thing here; I needed to negotiate and make a counter offer.  I had once negotiated a great price on my home, so how hard could this be?  My strategy was to start low and stay there.  

My starting offer was three cows, a pig and four chickens.  Her father was not amused and firmly said “two hundred cows.”  I decided to “sweeten the pot” by adding two goats and a bag of feed.  Again, his response was “two hundred cows.”  As he walked out of the room I said, “Did I mention they were female goats?”  I followed him to the living room and made a solid final offer of ten cows.  This sixty five year old man then turned to me and threw a left cross that knocked me to the floor.  

As I wiped the blood from my lip, I wasn’t sure he had refused my final offer until he put what appeared to be a curse on me, slammed the front door as went out for his pre-nap walk.  As I stumbled to stand up, I had an Oprah AHA moment.  I had made a decision, and would marry her twin sister and screw the dowry.  She had several moles on her face and a small mustache, but the savings were hard to pass up.  

I know what you’re thinking and I can tell you, she was undoubtedly a virgin too.  On April 21, 2011 we celebrated five years of marital bliss.  Thank God for facial waxing.
Brian Silveira is a comedian, restaurateur and food lover from Fort Myers, Florida.

Don't have a cow, man! I didn’t marry the twin sister, but I still haven’t paid the dowry and that’s no bull!  My wife Angelica and I are still together, until she reads this story.