Dowries are alive and well in the Rwandan culture. Well, technically it would be the "bride price" according to Wikipedia because Gasore, the groom in this case, forked over a $700 cow to the uncle of a young woman named Marceline.
According to Wikipedia: Bride price, also known as bride wealth, is an amount of money or property or wealth paid by the groom or his family to the parents of a woman upon the marriage of their daughter to the groom. (Compare dowry, which is paid to the groom, or used by the bride to help establish the new household, and dower,
which is property settled on the bride herself by the groom at the time
of marriage.) The agreed bride price is generally intended to reflect
the perceived value of the girl or young woman.
Either way, Gasore is getting married and none of us knew about it. So begins the untangling of misinformation, lack of information and withholding of information and Gasore admitting to the truth, a very painful and embarrassing experience for Gasore and his new bride to be.
A few weeks ago we heard that Gasore had bought a new house. The reason, we found out, is that Gasore and Janvier asked for an advance on their January salary because they had spent all their money on a house and didn't have anything left for food. Forward thinking is not their strong suite. However, we were happy they had taken their race winnings from the Tour of Rwanda and put it towards a house. We also believed they bought the house together.
A few days after giving them an advance, a group of us rode up to Sashwara, Gasore and Janvier's home town, to see their purchase. Gasore took us to his new house where the current owner was still living. He told us they were moving in the next day.
Last week Jock was talking with Felix Sempoma, Gasore's cycling club president, and he asked if we were coming to the "cow giving ceremony". What? That's when Felix filled us in on the real story. Gasore and Janvier bought separate houses and Gasore was getting married. Felix had found out through the grapevine about this "marriage". Gasore had told no one from the team, not coach, not even Kiki. When we asked Felix why he was getting married he told us Gasore said when he travels his stuff gets stolen and he needs someone to look after things while he is gone. (Gasore is an orphan) True love, Rwandan style. He most likely was afraid to say anything because we are always talking to the boys about working hard, saving your money and not having children out of wedlock and not getting married until the end of their careers. Family drama is the worst thing for a cyclist and family drama in Rwanda rivals the lives of Jerry Springer guests, especially when it comes to money.
I saw Kiki lose a year in his short cycling career dealing with his 16 year old girlfriend who he truly loved and adored and who was the mother of his child Jonathan. Kiki wanted to get married and have a happily ever after family. Instead, Kiki's girlfriend took the baby and essentially exhorted money from Kiki using the child as the pawn. Team Rwanda riders make over ten times the national salary of an average Rwandan. In the eyes of the local girls the riders are their ticket out of the field and into a better life. Kiki was a mess for such a long time we thought he might never find his way back. Today he has full custody of his son and is a good father. The girl, paid off.
Adrien says his girlfriend is his bike.
Gasore knows how we feel about this subject. To think, however, that he could hide this ended up costing him weeks of agony.
We didn't attend the cow giving ceremony as we were not invited. Instead we set a time this past Friday to meet with Gasore, his bride to be, and Felix, who also has a vested interest in Gasore's career. Here's the brutal honest part, I did not want to like her. I figured she would be like all the other girls who are rider groupies. I understand these girls have few options, however, snatching on to a rider and popping out babies is an option that I will stop at nothing to squash.
Gasore most likely had the worst week of his life waiting for our "meeting".
The afternoon before we went up to Sashwara I simply said a prayer asking for calm, patience, understanding and an open mind.
We met Gasore at his old place (we found out the other owners hadn't moved out yet) and there was Marceline. She was an attractive young woman who impressed me from the first hello....she looked me in the eye, that rarely happens with women in Rwanda. The conversation was all in French and Kinyarwanda which isn't necessarily a bad thing for me speaking neither language. I'm able to tune in much more intently to body language and Gasore's spoke volumes. He was embarrassed he didn't tell us and the guilt he was feeling was evident in his downward gaze and hunched shoulders.
Marceline is 22 and is also an orphan, that is why the cow went to her uncle. She works for the government and speaks French. She is an Adventist, same as Gasore, and she has been to secondary school, a feat for a girl in Rwanda, especially an orphan. She essentially was interrogated by Jock and Felix with questions such as:
Do you know what a professional cyclists life is like?
Do you know he will travel for months?
Do you plan on continuing working?
When are you getting married?
What do you plan to do for Gasore to help him?
How many children and when?
Again, since I could only understand body language I was impressed by the way she answered every question, looking the men in the eye and also asking for help. She said she would like to learn how to help Gasore with his nutrition and I offered to have her come to a training camp and work with one of our cooks to learn the best meals for Gasore. She asked when she could come. She admitted what she did not know and she showed initiative in learning more.
Through translation I learned she was unaware Gasore had spent all his money including his monthly living money, which bought food, in order to buy the house and cow. She also had no idea Gasore did not invite us and she was embarrassed and a bit upset with Gasore. She understood the Team is Gasore's family and that she was essentially marrying into this melting pot of people. She invited us to the wedding....sometime later this year. I think she might be just what Gasore needs!
In the end, Gasore looked over at her and she smiled. Her smile is radiant. Without understanding any of the language I understood one thing. It's more than just someone to watch his "stuff". He really cares for her, his smile and the way he looked at her said all I needed to hear.
Meanwhile, Janvier was sitting behind us the entire time and I'm sure he learned a very valuable lesson, best never to hide anything from us. We will always find out.
When we were leaving, Gasore was back to his normal self. The stress of lies and omission had taken their toll these past couple of weeks. He pounded on his chest and said he could breathe again.
As we were leaving we headed up to see Janvier's new house.
This house sits up on a hill as you head down out of Sashwara. The view is gorgeous and when it is finished he will move into this house with seven of his family members. It is not more than 500 square feet, no running water but it does have electricity. Janvier appeared a bit embarrassed that it was such a small house with so many people. He has nothing to be embarrassed about, this is a culture that for better or worse, takes care of family.