x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Marshalling family forces

One trip home highlights the need to synchronise the actions of the single males still left in the family.

All the excitement of a recent trip home to Melbourne was dashed by one act of near unforgivable selfishness from a family member.

It was my cousin Omer, and it seemed that he couldn't hold his heart together and instead blurted out to the whole family that he was getting engaged - just three days into my visit, no less!

Now, I understand if you think I am being a diva and was chastising Omer for stealing some of my heroic welcome-home thunder.

But in a large Eritrean family, where cultures and family customs intertwine, such unilateral actions have repercussions.

Making matters worse, Omer is younger than I.

His jumping the queue has put an uncomfortable spotlight on the remaining bachelors - including myself.

Still reeling from jet lag, I had to not only coordinate his mandatory celebratory dinner, but like a skilled politician, politely rebuff questions about my presently non-existent marriage prospects.

Some of my responses to questions included: when the global financial crisis stops; when the fixed price of dowries is readjusted to reflect the rising Australian dollar; I am too cynical; when my older cousin gets married.

But all of those failed to register because the system was broken. Instead of viewing Omer as a rogue agent, a form of Arab Spring descended on the family. The impossible seemed not only achievable, but became the new standard.

Suddenly names of girls I have never met before were thrown at me, complete with myriad reasons why she would be the perfect first lady.

Most focused on what the contender is not: she is not crazy. Not disorganised. Not from a difficult family. Not demanding. Not averse and oh, yes... not bad looking.

When I asked those caring relatives whether they also spent time finding out some of the positive character traits of the girl in question, I was met with blank stares.

"Well it's your job to meet her and find that out," one aunt said, sternly. "We can't do everything for you."

That is true, so I started focusing on things that I can do today. A meeting was held among the remaining single cousins about how to avoid such a crisis being repeated.

We walked away with promises of solidarity and to initiate a joint response when anyone decides to take the plunge.

And they promised no more surprises shall occur when I return home for holidays.