The Love Lives of Somalis in America: Hefty Dowries, Jilted Lovers, Abandonment and Obsession
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part story of unusual marriage incidents from Somali communities in America. Read part 1: Somali diaspora stories of marriages gone wrong
The stories below, of a husband who suddenly abandoned his family, another whose marriage came to an end because he run out of stories, and a woman who decided not tell the man she was supposedly dating of her impending marriage to another man, are few examples of how prevalent aborted or short term marriages are in the Somali communities in the U.S.
The common denominator in these odd and short-lived marriage stories is that greed, infidelity, self-absorption and mistrust do not mix with a healthy marriage.
These are true stories, of neither friends nor foes, relayed to me by people I’ve met in the course of my everyday life. Names and locations have been changed to protect individual privacy of the people involved.
* * *
The $20,000 Dowry That Never Was
“Guled” is one of many elderly people who are still mystified by the Americanized young Somalis. He laughed when he said that back home, marriage ceremonies were simple and less complicated.
Here in America, he has heard of some newly-weds even renting helicopters. “Where are they flying to?” he mused. Furthermore, there are raucous festivities, bridal showers and endless fun gatherings associated with these weddings.
Guled was once a witness to the marriage ceremony of a young couple. The cleric asked the groom if the $20,000 proposed dowry was acceptable. The groom was unfazed and nodded in approval. However, the cleric and the father of the bride were alarmed at the astronomical sum.
“This is not good,” the cleric declared timidly.
“I agree with you,” replied the father, with implacable honesty.
The father of the bride begged her to lower her dowry amount, but she refused. The cleric warned about the futility of putting an undue financial burden on the groom. To the chagrin of some of those present, Guled said, the bride reminded her father about a young lady who had gotten married a week earlier.
“What does that marriage have to do with yours?” The father asked in annoyance.
“Well, if that girl’s dowry was $15,000, then mine has to be $20, 000,” the bride said. “She is no better than I am.”
Guled couldn’t believe what was happening before his eyes. “The good thing about that marriage ceremony,” he said, “is that it was completed successfully, albeit with a price tag of $20,000.”
That, however, was just a warm-up for what came next.
After three years of what Guled termed a ‘happy’ marriage, the couple separated. Divorce papers were officially filed.
Did the husband pay the dowry?
“A young man once told me that the majority of those getting married never bother to pay their dowries,” Guled said. “Many times, it is just for show.”
The $20,000 groom was not the exception. But then, this is the type of unpaid bill that never goes to a collection agency or ruins your credit worthiness in this world. However, in the Hereafter, as Guled cautioned, it is a different story.
* * *
Marry me Pronto or Adios!
“Salaad” is an educated man in his early forties. He was once married to a non-Somali woman who obsessed with Googling him.
“I would go home and my wife would say, ‘So, you gave a speech at the [so-and-so] company function,’” he said. He shared with her many things about his job, news of his relatives and his friends.
Of course, occasionally, he would forget — not out of malice — to tell her other things. When that happened, she would get upset and accused him of hiding part of his life from her. Today, many corporations put their activities online. His wife feasted on that pool of information and used it negatively, he said. The couple eventually ended up getting divorced.
Four months after the divorce, Salaad met a Somali woman. She was smart, funny, vivacious and a dazzling beauty with an exceptional work ethic. For a month, that wonderful woman brought dinner to his office every day.
“I shoveled down more fish in that short period,” he said, “than a seal can consume in an entire month.” She made Salaad appreciate fish, chicken and vegetables to the point that his friends teased him, saying he was a traitor to that carnivorous species called Somali men.
However, two problems appeared in their relationship. She wanted to get married within a month of their meeting. No, that couldn’t happen, he thought. He was practically on the rebound. It was too soon for him. She said he was just Americanized.
The other problem was that she would constantly call him, like twice every hour, simply to check on him. She wanted to know where he was and who he was meeting. If another woman asked him a question, she would get upset. “That woman is interested in you,” she would say to him. “Look at the way she is staring at you. You are naïve.”
One Tuesday night, she called Salaad and they talked like any couple engaged in shukaansi, flirtation.
Four days later, he went to the store where her brother worked. The brother did not know that Salaad was talking to his only sister. He seemed jovial and chatty, so Salaad asked him what was new.
“My sister is getting married today!” the brother said, beaming with a big smile.
“Your sister is getting married?” Salaad asked, hoping this news was some kind of joke.
“Yes, she is.”
Salaad was dumbfounded. Was her brother serious?
“Am I the first Somali man who was getting married and not even invited to his own wedding?” Salaad asked himself.
Salaad was speechless. Then, he composed himself and sheepishly asked who was the lucky man.
“It is Omar Shiino,” the brother said. “They have known each other for two years.”
Salaad was still in a state of shock, but now he was also incensed about his friend’s elaborate and duplicitous actions. How come she never told him about her other man? Then, Salaad became petty and jealous. This Omar Shiino guy was a truck driver and Salaad was a nurse. “This shouldn’t happen,” he said.
Salaad’s friend got married that night, exactly four nights after their memorable banter. “It was the biggest Somali wedding in the history of Nashville or maybe even in the state of Tennessee,” Salaad lamented.
Two years later, Salaad saw his friend in a cafe. He curiously asked her why she had done what she did to him.
“You were my first choice to marry,” she said, “but you were not ready.”
A year later, her marriage with the truck driver came to an end.
* * *
The Husband Who Mysteriously Disappeared
“Anab” was once married to a man who was a great father but a lousy husband. She tolerated him because he doted on their seven children. One day, Anab and her children woke up and found her husband inexplicably gone.
He had abandoned her and the children. Her father-in-law called and told her that her husband had gone to Nairobi. “He got tired of you,” he added.
Anab was hurt and became bitter. What kind of man, she wondered, would abandon his own family? Her husband had no relatives in Kenya. In Nairobi, he stayed in a hotel, ate, prayed, slept and consumed large quantities of khat, a mild stimulant plant. His large family in America sent him several hundred dollars every month, but they did not support Anab and her children.
“My husband led an idyllic life,” she said. “He did not work, support us or even check on us.” Anab knew her husband had an appetite for the finer things in life, but she never thought he would be so callous and irresponsible.
“I believe his emotional development was arrested at a young age because, at times, he acted like a nine-year-old boy, not a grown man,” she said.
She waited for him to return or contact her but nothing happened. After three years, she decided to move on and annulled their marriage on the grounds of neglect, abandonment and a lack of financial support.
Several months later, Anab met another Somali man. Her parents were not happy that she was getting married again so soon. They pleaded with her to wait another year. “It is not good for the children to have in their midst a man who has never married before,” her mother warned her. She got married anyway.
Her new husband was madly in love with her; she felt the same way toward him. Everything seemed to be falling into place. She felt happy and her children began to adjust to their stepfather.
However, trouble always begins when things are unusually calm.
Her ex-husband immediately returned to the U.S. when he heard that Anab had married again and launched into a threatening tirade. “How dare you bring another man to my house?” he screamed at her. His family also threw gasoline on the fire. They heaped indignities on Anab and called her every name in the book.
No one asked her former husband what he had been doing in Kenya for three years. What had he done for his family during that period? Anab was painted as an irresponsible spouse, a loose woman who couldn’t even wait for her husband.
Her ex went into battle and waged an all-out campaign to ruin her new marriage. He used their children and instilled in them hatred toward their step-father. The campaign was successful. Her new husband left her. The poor man couldn’t take it anymore.
“In essence, I went through two divorces in a span of six months,” she said.
That was many years ago.
“Did I tell you that I am back with my first husband?” she said as though she were a broadcaster delivering breaking news. Her parents pressured her to take him back. This time, she listened to them and remarried him.
“We have been happily married ever since,” Anab said triumphantly.
Then, she was quiet a moment and then said reluctantly, “Strike that last sentence. We are still married.”
* * *
The Man Who Ran Out of Stories
When “Abdiqani” was courting his ex-wife, he was full of life. He remembered talking to her over the phone for hours. One Saturday, the two broke the record and talked for nine straight hours. They got married and had two children.
Then, Abdiqani ran out of conversation.
“I would come home from work, eat and relax in the living room. I found myself never talking to her,” he said.
Before, he was the one who initiated most of their talks and she was the great listener. He asked her why they were not talking the way they had before. His wife had a terse reply for him. “You are a man incapable of self-insight,” she told him. She also accused him of being self-absorbed and very high maintenance.
Their searing family drama came to an end. The couple got divorced.
But Abdiqani believes he made a big mistake. Suddenly, he became a single man, a status the loquacious man was not used to. “Now, I am lonely, as I do not have anyone to talk to anymore,” he said.
Like a student who did not learn from his past mistakes, Abdiqani asked rhetorically, “Am I egotistical?” Then he floated an odd idea that, perhaps, he should check the Guinness Book of Records. “I think I am, maybe, the first man who was divorced because he ran out of conversation,” he declared.
Hassan M. Abukar is a writer and political analyst. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org