My in-law is selling wine but never owned a brewery

Insp Tembo wants the best for his daughter but can't define it

In Summary

• Bride price negotiations lead to a stalemate over the demands


The deeper we get into bride price negotiations with my boss and future father-in-law Inspector Tembo, I can’t help but think of a category of people our neighbours in the northern hemisphere call ‘snake oil salesmen’.

This is a person who peddles either fake goods or what he doesn’t have. The moniker comes from 19th century America, when snake oil was touted as a cure-all, and was supposedly made by boiling rattlesnakes and skimming off the oil that rose to the top.

How anyone would believe this could cure every disease is beyond me, but then again, some of our ancestors used to think hanging meat on a Mugumo tree would bring rain. But I digress.

Back to my chief and people who sell ice to Eskimos.

“So,” Tembo goes, “you say you want to marry my daughter because you love her.”

“I do,” I say. “Very, very much.”

“And how will loving her very, very much put food on the table, huh?”


“But, sir… I have a job. You’re my boss.”

“Oh, yes. Right.” He rubs his chin. “Which begs the question, how will you take care of my daughter on a policeman’s salary?”

Are you serious right now? Sir?

“I mean,” I stammer, “this is a new millennium. With us both working…”

“With you both working?” Tembo looks ready to strangle me. “Do you even know my daughter? Her idea of marriage is not ‘new millennium.’ She has old-school thoughts of marriage. A nice house somewhere cool, kids playing around in the compound. And a chicken coop. Yeah, definitely, a chicken coop. And a dog.”

“A dog?” I almost jump off my seat. “With all due respect sir, how well do you know Sophia?”

“What are you talking about? She’s my daughter.”

“Yeah, but not for too long, right? You only learned of her existence two years ago. No offence, sir.”

“So what? She’s still my daughter.”

“Again, sir, no offence, but maybe you should get to know her a little more.”

“Yeah? You keep saying ‘No offence’ then following it up with… offence.”

“Sophia will never stoop to being a stay-at-home wife.”

He beats his chest. “Well, tough luck. She comes from a long line of Tembos and us Tembos take care of our women.”

“That may be so, but…”

“Which brings another thing to mind. Us Tembos are a clan of strong men, a tradition that my daughter should strive to keep up. Now, if she gets married to you…”

I shake my head. “If Sophia wanted a strong man, whatever that means, she’d have married the dude who offered her a Jaguar and a house in some place called Karen in Nairobi.”

Inspector Tembo’s eyes bulge in surprise. (Or excitement. I can’t tell which.) “Someone offered my daughter an exotic pet and a house in Karen and she turned them down?”

“Not a jaguar as in the animal. A car.”

“Blech! No wonder she turned it down. Us Tembos are Land Rover people.”

“The point is, sir…”

“The point is,” he cuts me off, standing up. “The point is, two years long or not, I am her father and I want the best for her.”

“I don’t doubt that for one minute, sir.” I too get to my feet. “But if you want to sell something, at least first make sure it’s not snake oil.”

“Snake… What in all that’s Holy are you jawing about now, boy?”

“When Sophia comes home, ask her what dog breed she’d like in her compound somewhere warm.”

“I know that. Us Tembos are partial to…”

“None, sir. Sophia doesn’t like dogs.”

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