We had already been in Zambia for two years when we got married, and as soon as our zam-tastic wedding was over, we were anxious to get back. Being the first foreigners to ever live in the Fimpulu, everything we did was intriguing to our neighbors. They loved to watch the way I braided my hair and washed my dishes and piddled around in my garden and so when we returned to the village as newlyweds, it was no surprise that everyone was waiting to watch and see how we’d "do" marriage.
My neighbors were worried that I’d do it wrong, so they promptly pulled me aside for training. They taught me how to sweep my home and cook his food and make him ***real*** happy.
After a few months of blatant failure in the wife department, my teachers pulled me aside again and told me to step up my game. Their first threat was: “We taught you better than this. Get your act together or we’ll beat you.” Why yes they did. Greater love has no Zam-Mama than this, that she will slap the white off your face if you don’t get your crap together. And their second threat was, “Because if you don’t do it right, he will find someone who does.”
In self defense, let me say that "bad wife" is a relative concept. If you were supposed to rise before dawn to sweep the house and scrub your floors and thrice daily cook elaborate meals for your husband while you ate leftovers in the other room, and kneel before him and never look him in the eye... you might be a failure too.
I should also mention the added concern of my elders that we had been married for three whole months and I wasn’t pregnant yet, which meant, clearly, that I was either not doing my marital duty at all, or that I was doing something to hinder conception against my husbands obvious wishes - both of which are cardinal sins.
But the real disappointment, and the reason why the mamas were ready to slap me back to the cold land, was because not only was I failing at my obvious duties, but I was also letting JEREMY do them.
They watched in horror as they saw him sweeping the house at all hours of the day! They saw him stoking the fire and putting pots on it! They saw him scrubbing my underwear! Good heavens woman, have you no shame?!?! One woman asked what kind of juju I was slipping into his porridge to get him to behave like that. Theological underpinnings of the question aside, I explained to that woman and others who were genuinely concerned for our marriage that I had in fact not witched my husband, and that he was doing these things of his own volition. I tried to explained the counter-cultural concept that my husband serves me simply because he loves me.
They still told me he’d leave me within six months. I relayed that message to Jeremy who, being quite offended, retaliated by making out with me on the front porch.
Six months later, Jeremy was still sharing the work load and I still hadn’t born him a child and we were still sleeping with each other and no one else… and all the elders just sort of raised eyebrows and kept watching. Fascinating, they said.
Two years later, Jeremy hadn’t returned me to my parents or asked for his dowry back and our circle of gawkers grew larger still. I think most women accepted that I wasn’t slipping magical herbs into his porridge, but they still weren’t entirely sure what the X factor in this relationship was. At least I was finally pregnant and giving him his first child, so I wasn’t a complete waste of womanhood.
Turns out the baby was just a whole other realm of radical for my husband. If they thought kissing on the front porch was bold, nothing could prepare them for diaper changes. The reaction to that stunt was so addictive, Jeremy took the show on the road. We had gone to town together and I had entered the market to get some vegetables during which time Jeremy changed Bronwyn’s diaper on the hood of the Land Rover. The next week, there in the market again, I walked across the dusty selling space and noticed an above average number of people staring and pointing at me. (I mean, a handful is normal, a crowd is a little curious.) Finally one of the onlookers approached and all she said was, “You’re the woman who is married to the man who changes diapers!” Umm… yes! Yes I am! Were you wanting an autograph?
Jeremy’s fame rapidly spread from there. We were hard pressed to go anywhere in a 25 mile radius where we didn’t hear “Jeremy! Jeremy!” being called out by various members of his unofficial fan club. And as for me? I was just “Mrs. Jeremy,” the lucky lady connected to this beast of wonder, who would sweep and cook and change diapers and remain faithful without needing to be bewitched and was still manly enough to build things and drive a tank of a vehicle and kill things… and other such measures of manhood.
|manhood - like caring for your infant while slaying cobras. no big deal.|
Now jealous though they might be, it's not like any of these ladies are coming after my man. Feelings about Jeremy waver between admiration and sheer terror. He is, after all, a bit of a powerful mystery which keeps most ladies from coming too close. Any woman in the village will still insist on talking to me even if they really have a question for him.
But truly, my husband's acclaim – the stares and pointing and side comments about how lucky I am – these are treasures I store up in my heart. I adore that in a context where we work tirelessly to fit in, that for the handful of ways we actually work to stand out, we do it for love. Jealousy can be healthy if it stirs up motivation to step out and try something new. We feel not at all guilty for the ways this crazy idea of serving your spouse has caught on with a precious handful of men whose end game is happiness and have observed this as a good way to get there. The women on the receiving end know who they have to thank for that novel idea.
I had no clue, really, that I was stepping into something so rare and compelling, making every woman in a 25 mile radius jealous of me, just be simply saying "I DO." And yet, nine years later, as I reflect on the significance of this marriage, I’m thankful all the more for my maven man – the one who turns heads with his flip of pancake and stops traffic with his road side diaper changes. You’re what every woman wants, babe - especially me.