Personal Goals Vs Social Pressure
RACHAEL: "Did you attend the wedding on Saturday?"
IRENE: "No, she did not invite me; but someone told me it was a cheap wedding."
RACHAEL: "I hear so. Why does she embarrass herself like that?"
IRENE: "I wonder. If what I hear is true, then it's such a pity."
RACHAEL: "If I were the one, I would not have agreed. If I cannot have a stylish wedding, I would rather remain single."
They were discussing Beatrice, one of their colleagues.
Her wedding did not have cakes, flowers, photographs, white dress, or ceremonies. It was just a simple exchange of vows between two people who had lived together for four years.
On the morning of their wedding, Beatrice and Ken travelled by public transport from their rented one-bedroomed apartment in Umoja to Nairobi's City Centre. They were accompanied by Kathy, their four-year-old daughter, and Rossana, their house help. Kathy sat on her mum's laps, and she slept most of the way.
Along the way, Beatrice and Ken exchanged notes in low tones, to ensure everything was proceeding according to plan. Once in a while, they picked phone calls - from relatives asking for directions, colleagues announcing they had arrived at church, or friends asking if they could help.
Occasionally, they reached out to each other and hugged gently, careful not to wake up Kathy or offend other passengers.
Beatrice and Ken first met when they interned in my firm six years ago. They had graduated from different universities, and they were looking for someone or company to help them take their first steps in their professional lives. They stayed for only three months, but we have remained in touch over the years. They are some of the most brilliant interns I have ever coached. Both graduated with First Class Honors, and they are now pursuing their PhDs.
The wedding ceremony was presided by a middle-aged priest who said he was also a lecturer and chaplain at a public university. Before inviting the couple to take their vows, he gave a 10-minute sermon entitled "Dying to Impress".
"As a university lecturer and chaplain," he said, "I deal with thousands of young people; and I want to tell you about a disease that is wreaking havoc in our community."
"It is most common among young people," he continued, "but it is also prevalent among their parents and grandparents."
He said the disease is called showiness, and its victims seek social acceptance by living beyond their means. Among its symptoms, he added, is a strong desire to conform to popular social norms.
"Many of the students I teach and counsel are under pressure to look a certain way, dress a certain way, or own certain things; but, since they don't have the means, they take shortcuts that leave them broke, sick, dead, or in jail," he explained.
"Unfortunately, showiness is not only confined to colleges and universities," he continued. "It has infiltrated the church, especially during weddings. I have wed couples in this church that split after a few weeks because of money problems. One young couple took a loan of 2 million, hosted a large reception in a 5-star hotel, but the bride and groom realized the didn't have food in the house when they came back from honeymoon."
"Many of you," he said, "might find this couple's wedding too simple or unusual. It is not what we are used to, or it might not have many of the things you see in weddings; but, if the couple is happy, why should we complain?"
He revealed that the bride and groom were his PhD students, and they had discussed the arrangement.
"When they approached me and told me they wanted to wed, but they didn't have a big budget, my advice to them was: 'Don't do things to impress others. Do what makes you happy, and do it within your means.'"
The couple exchanged vows, and we went to the church hall for a simple reception.
We were a group of about 50: Family members and close friends only; and the only items on the menu were tea, mandazis, and fruits.
Two ladies at our table grumbled that the event was boring.
"Harusi ni chakula," one of them said. "How can they give us tea and mandazi?"
"Yes," her colleague added. "If I knew I was coming here to take tea and mandazi, I would have stayed at home."
An elderly lady asked them if they had listened to the pastor's message, and they said they were not in church. They came straight to the reception.
"Then I understand," she responded. "If you were in church, then you probably would not have spoken like that."
A few friends and relatives spoke, and the common theme was how unique the wedding was. The couple was the last to speak.
Ken was the first to speak. He thanked us for attending their wedding, and he said Beatrice would speak on their behalf.
Beatrice also thanked us for coming, and she said if there is something about the wedding ceremony we didn't like, she takes responsibility. It was her idea.
"Please accept us we are," she said. "What we have given you is all we could afford."
"We didn't want to bother people or take loans for a wedding."
"Ken and I had some little savings we could have used to do a bigger and more colourful wedding, but we used it to buy a house. We'll move in on Tuesday," she explained.