The leader of Kenyan Moslem women was telling an all-woman luncheon table at the Hilton here that she "wouldn't object to my husband having a second wife" were she unable or unwilling to bear more children or meet other wifely responsibilities.
Across the table the guest of honor, Effi Barry, didn't blink.
"Interesting cultures," she said before turning back to her coffee cup.
The wife of the visiting mayor of Washington, D.C., was fulfilling her role with the reserve and diplomacy she has displayed consistently on this tour of Africa, now in its third country and second week.
As her husband, Major Marion Barry, lunched in the adjoining dining room with the local chamber of commerce, Effi Barry retained her poise as the luncheon rhetoric continued.
The kenyans were wrought up about the marriage bill, an aging piece of legislation that would legalize polygamy and outlaw wife-beating.
In parliamentary debate last week, a member told the House that a man has to slap his wife occasionally to shows that he loves her.
The legislator, Wafula Wabage, said that when a woman marries, she automatically becomes her husband's property.
Although polygamy is still widely praticed in Kenya, a man has no obligation to consult the first wife before bringing home the second or third. The marriage bill would require a wife's consent to multiple spouses and that is what the nearly all-male legislature finds objectionale.
Last week, one of the four women legislators among 170, Dr. Julia Ojiambo, reminded her male colleagues that the issue of consent is "not strange since most [male] members have thought it a waste to educate girl children beyond about 9 or 10.
"And those who got in school were limited to teaching or nursing."
Barry said that she has "ambivalent feelings" about being sent to meet with all-women's groups while the major talks with financial, political and other all-men gatherings.
But "on a personal level," she said, "the sessions are enlightenings because the dialogue is very important. I believe in a universality of womanhood and a common kind of concerns among women."
She smiles often and speaks rarely. Her replies are thoughful, deliberate and noncommittal, as though she had been waiting to be asked just that question. Her delivery is that of a person giving a well-studied lesson, and, at this very talkative table, the mayor's wife is the least talkative of the women.
For Effi Barry, this group of women so concerned with social issues was quite a contrast to the government ministers, businesswomen and politicians she met in Senegal earlier on this trip.
"In Darkar they asked me about the violence of the civil rigths movements, the mistreatment of native Americans, ERA [the Equal Rights Amendment]. They used the term 'revolution' quite frequently," she said.
Although she was comfortable in Kenya and Liberia, Barry said, she said she finds the Senegalese women more "intriguing."
She still speaks of the thrill of having a Senegalese rural health clinic named after her last week. And she repeats her pledge to "do something constructive to meet the obligation that honor carries with it."
Although she has kept the schedule of ladies' luncheons and maintained her position at the major's side for most of his busy schedule in Senegal, Liberia and now Kenya. Effi Barry has actually been working, she said today.
Recently promoted to assistant vice president for marketing with Pacific Consulting, her Washington employer, Barry said the firm sponsored her trip to Africa and that she has made contacts for future business in each of the three countries.
The company contracts with the U.S. Agency for International Development for planning and analysis of rural, health and other development projects, mainly in Africa and the Caribbean. Barry said she plans a return visit to Africa this fall.
Described by one member of the major's group as "completely apolitical," Barry nonetheless seems at ease with the role of politician's wife while carrying on her career unobtrusively in the background. The full-time working wife of an elected official, she said, "has to become accustomed to playing both roles."