kenya and wedding 343

It had been a crazy few days. I am on my way back to Kibaale…. I just returned from a vacation to Zanzibar hoping I could get a three months visitor’s visa which was denied because Immigration found the still valid special pass. My focus has been on my work permit; I have wondered why, pondered why and pray for it. So, I have to say I was surprised when I arrived at the gate and security told me Namuliika, the clinic’s comprehensive nurse was getting married. Her Introduction was going to be on April 5 and the wedding on April 6. That was just over 4 weeks away. In the meantime, I was going to be traveling to Kenya to visit an organization called “Free the Children”. If anyone had told me that my life in Africa was going to be busy and not slow, quiet and peaceful, I would not have believed them. It takes time, lots of time to resolve issues or to solve problems. It has all has to do with relationships. You build relationship; you solve problems.
So, who was Namuliika getting married to? I had not heard about nor meet any significant person in her life. I had however suspected that there was someone special. Each time I entered her office she would be on her cell phone and say something like… “I will call you later” in a very sweet and caring voice.
Samalie stopped me a few meters after I had entered the compound. She provided me with all the details…. Namuliika was getting married to a Kibaale Primary teacher, named Nicholas. She met him at the clinic in June 2012 when he had Malaria. He thought he was cared for by an angel. It seemed that the only question she did not have the answer for was which side was I going to be on? Samalie suggested I would be on Namuliika’s side. I had no idea what that meant and knew the answer would present itself very soon.
Later that afternoon, I went to the clinic to see how things were going and was introduced to Nicholas. He was not from the local Buganda tribe but from a tribe in the far north. Nevertheless, the Introduction was going to be in Masaka at the home of the bride. The wedding was not going to be in Nicholas’ village but rather in Kibaale. Pastor Eric, Kibaale Community Centre chaplain was going to marry them. The reception was going to be on the compound in the building called the Community Centre just across the field from my house.
Over the next few days, numerous friends came to ask me if I had been informed as to which side I would attend the Introduction and wedding on. Since I did not understand what they were asking, I responded by saying I am on either side but here to support both of them. Finally, I asked Namuliika about this and she told me that I would be on her side. Problem solved or so I thought.
An Introduction is a challenge to explain. It is just as important as the wedding. In fact, no Introduction equals no wedding. It is like the bride having a family wedding with all her family present. The wedding is for the groom to have all his family present. She plans the Introduction and he plans the wedding. Since travel and accommodation is expensive… I wonder if the reason for the two ceremonies is so that all family members on both sides can be present to see the happy couple and be part of the event.
I have been two Introductions and no weddings. At both of the Introductions no English was spoken……. I watched and observed. It was like going to a three, four or five act play. Everyone knows the story line but the number of acts and persons participating change depending on what the bride’s family can afford.
I came to realize that which side I would be on makes a difference as to what I was expected to do, contribute and wear. I reminded everyone that I was a Canadian first and not a Ugandan. Ellen came to my rescue, she came with me to Masaka, helped me pick out the material and find a seamstress to sew the outfit in time for the wedding. As for the Introduction, I was still unsure what I was expected to wear.
With less than two weeks to the Introduction and a few days before I departed to Kenya, Nicholas arrived at my house to request that I be on his side. There was no time left to have another outfit made. He allowed me to wear one of the dresses I brought out from Canada. Now, I could relax…..
Now, that I was on Nicholas’ side…. I had the opportunity to transport Nicholas and friends to Namuliika’s church in Masaka. They have a very interesting custom regarding how they let the members of the bride’s church know about the upcoming wedding. Nicholas and his best man in a very slow processional walk in time to the music move up and down the church aisles as if looking for Namuliika. Nicholas is carrying some bright red plastic flowers. When he finally stands in front of Namuliika and hands her the flowers, the church erupted in screams and cheers.
In Uganda, the bride’s family pays for the Introduction. The wedding is paid for by the groom’s family along with friends of the bride and groom. A comprehensive list is created for a wedding with proposed costs…. 10 cases of soda at 18,000 shillings, cakes at 300,000 shillings, two wedding rings at 80,000 shilling, rental of groom’s clothes at 100,000 shillings and decorations at 200,000 shillings and the list goes on. In Uganda nurses and teachers makes a fair salary of between $150 and $250 per month. A wedding can cost between 10 and 20 million shillings or $4,000 to $8,000. In the past year, I have been given many wedding list. I am always shocked at the total expected cost.… I wonder why they have to spend massive amounts of money on a single event and go into debt to accomplish their “perfect” wedding day. Does this sound familiar!!!!!!
The Introduction was to start at 2 pm on April 5. I arrived back into Masaka late the evening of April 4th. I was tired but excited about the events of the next two days. Since I was part of Nicholas’ side….I had to wait for them to arrive from Kibaale. Once everyone was present we were paraded into the center of Namuliika’s family front yard which was covered with three large white tents. One tent was for her family, one of her guests and one for the family and friends of Nicholas. I was given a front row seat.…… Margaret, our Ugandan accountant moved from Namuliika’s side to sit beside me and support me. She told me what was going on, translated some of the dialogue, told me what to do and when. I wish I was capable of giving you every detail of each different set of costumes. They were very elaborate and looked like something you might see at an India wedding. It was exciting. I was part of a real live play. I was part of the first chapters of Namuliika and Nicholas life together.
I had met Namuliika’s grandmother a few times and we connected in spite of the language barrier. She was seated in the tent opposite to the one I was seated in. I kept thinking that I should stand up, walk over and greet her….but I did not know if my actions would be appropriate. Just a few minutes after these thoughts, Namuliika’s grandmother stood up, walked over to me and gave me a great big hug. It was clear that we both we very happy over this event and the wedding the next day. We both love Namuliika.
One of the final activities at an Introduction is the presenting of gifts to the bride and her family from the groom’s side. The men get to bring in the chicken, the cow, the suitcases, and bags of rice, maize and flour. The women (me included) get to transport the various gifts of fruits and vegetables wrapped up in small baskets. These are ceremonially paraded in atop our heads. Yes, I carried a basket on top of my head holding on it with both my hands. I followed the other women and we walked in rhythm to the music. It was great fun and I was cheered on by Namuliika’s family. The Introduction lasted over 6 hours…. It was a long day for me and I was exhausted. And now we all had to travel to Kibaale for the wedding the next day at noon.
Early the next morning…. I picked up Namuliika’s aunts, her grandmother and 11 wedding cakes and transported them to Kibaale. This was going to be there first time in Kibaale.
The wedding was supposed to take place at noon….. like most things in Africa or like most weddings, the bride arrived one hour late. Namuliika arrived in a drop dead beautiful white laced wedding dress with a four foot train. It was the most beautiful wedding dress I have ever seen. It could have come off the cover of a bridal magazine. The church is very simple with dirt floors, old wooden benches, and windows with no glass. I could not help but be confused at the stark contrast between the simple church and this modern wedding dress. The ceremony was in many ways similar to those I have attended in Canada. There was the giving and receiving of rings, and the exchange of vows included the familiar words “for better or worse and until death do us part.”
As the wedding was going on my vehicle was being decorated…. I was told just before the happy couple left the church that I was to drive them back to the reception. But first, I was to follow the other vehicles down the main dirt road of Kibaale honking my horn and driving in a zigzag formation back and forth from one side of the road to the other. You try doing that…..honk the horn in a certain rhythm while turning the wheel at the same time!!!!!!! I was challenged.
The community centre would not be my first choice for a reception. It is great for school events. However, my friend David has an ability to turn something ugly into something warm, inviting and beautiful. He took the bridal colours of white and hot pink and dramatically draped them in such a way that the community centre was completely transformed. He was a miracle worker.
The reception in many ways was similar to those in Canada but the order was different. The guests and family of Namuliika and Nicholas were feed separately prior to the start of the reception. The first order of business was the cutting of the cake. Once the cake is cut…. Then there is the acknowledgement of individuals the bride and groom which to honour. A cake is given out to these individuals; one cake at a time. The person who receives a cake can take then stand up and give a speech. Namuliika’s sister and her grandmother, Nicholas’ sister and brother, Pastor Eric each received a cake and each of them had something encouraging and supportive to say. The music started and the bride and groom along with the various members of the wedding party got up and danced. It was a lovely evening.
I was very proud to be part of a Ugandan wedding; to celebrate the union of two special people. I pray that theirs will be an everlasting marriage built upon respect and love for each other.