Aunty Halima’s Place: Men, Marriage and Corona

“So, when will we know that we’re ready for marriage?”

We all cowered around him in anticipation, looking at him intently as he wistfully stared beyond our heads. Then he broke into a definitive smile.

“When you’re ready to take orders from someone else.”

He pursed his lips, bobbing his head with a slow intermittence, scanning the faces in the room.

“Yes, when you’re ready to take orders from someone else.”

* * *

It was almost 6:30 on that 27th or 28th of Ramadhan depending on the sighting you went by and we were pacing ahead of the pack, AbdulQadir and I, past citizens rushing to reach home before the recently imposed 7 O’clock curfew. We were headed to aunty Halima’s for iftar. With a bend right before the main Ganjoni roundabout, we walked into her compound.

The door to aunty Halima’s opened to whirlwinds of activities erupting wherever a person stood. There were 15 people and almost 10 on the way to be clustered into that homely apartment. Some still had their masks on, passing plates here and there and we made our way in throwing a smile here, an elbow bump there and to others a wave from a distance. This was the first time this many GYP volunteers were congregated under one roof since the pandemic happened.

As courtesy demanded, we searched for aunty Halima who we found in the kitchen with the girls, working on the food presentation. We said our salaams before walking back to her living room to a welcome surprise.

At the edge of the sofa, seated like he couldn’t wait to get away was Said. Said was one of those acquaintances you deeply respected despite being about the same age. There was that air about his demeanor. That respect grew even more for me when he jumped into marriage 2 years ago. This was, as a matter of fact, the 2nd time I was seeing him since after his wedding.

After we exchanged pleasantries and did some catching up, he saw it fit to point out that his wife had given him 45 minutes to eat and leave and time was running out. The three of us chuckled before Said turned to Abdulqadir who was seated under him to do their catching up from their days in the same university.

***

In a short span of us seated side by side and nodding courteously at all those arriving, I whipped my phone out before I remembered something and immediately pocketed it and turned to Said.

“So, Said,” I said, “I remember sometime back, I was watching this stand-up comedy and something the guy said stuck with me.”

Naam,” he goes.

“It wasn’t profound or anything but it did. The guy was saying: When I was single, I saw that I had nothing in common with my married friends. But when I got married, I had nothing in common with my unmarried friends. What do you make of that?”

There were now three people, Abduladir included, seated on the floor and they all turned to listen to what was going on.

I didn’t know Said as one for straight answers. His choice of words always seemed rehearsed and he was always giving more than what you had asked of him ma shaa’Allah.

“So, a Greek philosopher was once asked about the topic of marriage,” he began. “He said: If you marry, you’ll regret. If you don’t marry, you’ll also regret it. Whether you marry or you don’t marry either way you’ll still regret.”

He shrugged a bit, the circle slightly increasing under us, all chuckling like any audience at a late-night talk show, fanboying at each sentence he utters. He then pointed at me, “I know that was ultimately what you’d build up to. What I just said is something I learned from our high school principal. He told us a lot of things but that’s the one we all never forgot. One thing I must say though, don’t be in a hurry. We have this habit of saying you’re next after a peer gets married. If honestly, you have some things to take care of before marriage, I recommend you do that or it will become an inconvenience to your partner. When you ask me whether I relate much to my unmarried friends, it’s true wallahi, I do see a difference in me now. When stepping into this totally different world, the shift in your focus changes. Now you have a wife and kids and responsibilities and those are the first things in your circle of concern. To not make them that and juggle them with other affairs would be unfair. So, I say, better finish everything you need to before you get in. But all in all, just make sure you’re ready.”

Abdulqadir who was a wallflower at this point, with his back nailed to the wall, raised his hand slightly and asked, “So, when will we know that we’re ready for marriage?”

Four seconds of graveyard silence predominantly overtook the room, shy of the murmurs of girls in the kitchen. A smile then slowly crept on his face in a lightbulb moment.

“When you’re ready to take orders from someone else.” He said, enveloping the room in another wave of silence. And he repeated it for a second time before the room broke off into unabated WOWs, and stares exchanged between everyone, totally mind blown.

That was when Haitham, aunty Halima’s son walked into the room and announced that food was ready to be served.

A minor argument arose, to pray or to eat first and the majority saw it more befitting to have our maghrib swalah led by our brother Abdulqadir.

Sometimes you rule yourself self-sufficient. That you don’t need anyone and for all you know, you could do without human contact, the social distancing put in place and the quarantine could go on forever for all you care but it’s on nights like this one that serve as a reminder so befitting on how improbable that ideal of living is. The people in our lives are what spice-up our bleak every day. Out of the days that Corona had flatlined, when we were unlikely to differentiate a Saturday from a Wednesday, we had this one day. We sat in circles and shared a meal. We laughed and shared stories and even aunty Halima joined us after to offer us some guidance to this band of misfits transitioning into the real world.

I realise I haven’t said anything about aunty Halima. Aunty Halima wasn’t any of our aunts but we all called her aunty Halima. She was a businesswoman and a great supporter of youth activities. She ran a counselling community-based organization by the name Taalluful quluub and what stood out to me about it was that they had this matchmaking service. You fill out a form I think, I’m not sure how it works, and they facilitate the rest. Her lifelong dream was to have us all married and of the people in the room, 2: Said and Yasin had preceded us. We met Said but more about Yasin in a bit.

When the meal was done and the dishes were back to the kitchen, a question was raised whether anyone had washed their hands and we all erupted into laughter on the realisation that none of us did before the meal. Anyways, aunty Halima, our host was called on by Hussein, the guy without whom, this wouldn’t have been possible. She pulled out a chair and in her usually calm and wise demeanor, welcomed us to her place, dropped some wisdom here and there and commended us more on the work that shouldn’t stop and that is the continuously working to make things better for our community. She wasn’t the type of lady with many words. With those few remarks, she stopped. That was when Hussein cajoled, “Tell them about the match-making service. There are so many bachelors here.”

Aunty Halima couldn’t help but blush and look away as the guys watched bated-breath for an expounding of this seemingly interesting development. Mukhtar registering more shock than anyone else in the room.

“Matchmaking?” Mukhtar leaped to the edge of his seat, adjusting his glasses and moved to uncuff the buttons to his long-sleeved turquoise shirt.

“Yes,” Hussein says with an emphasis on the Y, making it clear that the night had been building up to that instance.

By that instance, I noticed that Said and Yasin were silent. The murmurs were from the bachelors. Those unaware of aunty Halima’s trade jumping with excitement.

“Well, we also do marriage counselling.” Aunty Halima takes the wheel. “Before and after the wedding because you all need that. Most of you are young and don’t know this, and those who know easily forget but it’s the little happiness that makes a marriage. It won’t always be 100% happiness, but as long as it’s achieved. Whether it’s 70 or 50 or 30, as long as there’s always that spark to get you two going. All these years, counselling new couples we always have them focus on these. And alhamdulillah, we have beautiful success stories of the few who’ve gone through here.”

Kidogo aunty Halima,” Mukhtar jumps in, his thumbnail digging into the fore of his index finger like an Italian. “So, I’ve noticed a huge problem with our girls and society at large that become huge hindrances for a guy like me when they propose for marriage. First of all, in finances, no one is ready to invest in a guy who is starting and that’s a fact. The societal pressure on me as a man is far too much. Let’s say I earn a salary of 20K at the moment aside from my side-hustles. No one will see that potential and industriousness if I don’t at the moment own stuff. I’m expected to have a house with that and a car probably. And just imagine, most of the time the girls have no say in things. It’s the families. Take our homes, for example, you walk to a girl’s family and the first thing the girl is asked is “Who’s he? where’s he from, Bin man” et cetera.” He turns and lands his gaze on Waliid who’s smiling at this point and says, “yeah? Now these are things we battle on the daily and it always ends with la, we don’t want those people. Now how do you guys handle that aunty?”

Before aunty Halima could say anything, Yasin, who had all along been listening slowly shot up in that room enraptured by Mukhtar’s passionate monologue and said, “I decided to just listen today but I must say one thing. The thing I can tell you all about marriage, as cliché as this sounds is it’s all about Subra, like extremely. Patience before you meet your potential spouse, patience when knocking on her family’s door, and even more so, in the marriage itself. Take heart. And if it’s about families not wanting you, wachana nao, si lazima, Wanawake ni wingi. Move on to someplace else.”

“I know but…” Mukhtar goes again and, in that instance, I whipped my phone out and drifted away from the conversation. I’d engaged in a hundred variations of this same conversation. I mumbled to myself, “Hatumalizi leo.”

I was seated next to Waliid who heard me and said, “Talks of marriage will never end, will they?”

I pursed my lips in an affirmative nod before slowly looking away at my phone. I wondered if the ladies in the kitchen were listening or if they ever did bicker about this topic the way we did. Weighing in their opinions on a subject they hadn’t ventured into while those who did remain silent.

My thoughts were interrupted by Hussein, who shot up and acknowledged that the topic would never end and people need to get back to their homes. He delivered a vote of thanks and then went on recounting a thing he had said to me the night before.

To paraphrase: Get your act together. We’re always complaining about being discriminated on basis of this or that when in reality it’s mostly because we haven’t proven ourselves worthy of anything. Women will forever want a man who’s going somewhere, knows what he wants any other day. Someone with drive, a sense of purpose and a vision so big that to anyone else would look impossible but not him. One thing I always advise the people around me is to move out of your comfort zones. By that I mean, move out of your parents’ house if possible and be your own man. Make things happen. I promise you, if you go out into the world by yourself, you’ll stop having the victim mentality. You no longer will complain that there are no jobs and out there and you’ll constantly be seeing opportunities and finding ways to make things work for you. At the end of the day, you’ll have bills to pay and will have to figure out a way how to plan for yourself. If you can do that, women will no longer see the baby they have to adopt and take care of and call it a marriage, but someone who is their own man. And that will always be attractive.”

Just to put it out there, Hussein is not married and I do not know from what experience he scraped that from. He however is a professional public speaker. Something you could’ve guessed from his word choice. I can’t fully account for the manner of truth to what he said but he said what he said. And he believed it. So did a huge portion of the room who were nodding in agreement and deep contemplation. Did I solemnly believe in that? I’m not sure. I weigh things a lot before letting them sink in. And they’re still sinking in.

The people started to leave in 6s, the right amount for the 2 vehicles with the clearance to maneuver us past the curfew while still maintaining social-distancing. As we said goodbye, Said mentioned to me how aunty Halima reminded him of his mother. Ladies and young men would buzz in and out of their house in Malindi to talk through things with her and he found that as something amiss in our current society. Women or even people like that were few and far between and weren’t we glad for aunty Halima.

Little by little, everyone left and I was left alone. To be picked last since I lived close by.  It’s a different kind of loneliness, being alone in a place that was just buzzing with people. But a welcome one. I was kept company by aunty Halima’s 5-year-old son who had been ill and for the first time that evening, displayed friendliness to someone. He talked about his 2 phones that his mom had confiscated, how he missed going to school at Al-Baseerah and made it clear to me how the most superior phone will always be the Kabambe. And for a moment I was glad, I wasn’t gazing into the tight gaping eye of adulthood, my expectations were compartmentalized at the back of my head. For a moment I also was this little kid. Then Hussein called and said space had been found in the vehicle. I was also to leave.

Advice from peers, Community, Corona, Counselling, Creative non-fiction, marriage, Men, Youth


Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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Hassan Kassim is a Kenyan-based Creative non-fiction writer, blogger and translator of Kiswahili works with over 2 years of experience. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa, and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management.

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