Ok, so it wasn’t really a nice day for a Rwandan wedding. The weather sucked, to be quite honest, but we were able to make the day special regardless. I went to my first Rwandan wedding yesterday- my first wedding as an adult actually- and had a blast! I want to give you all the details, so bear with me (or you may choose to stop reading now). The day started as they usually do around here. It was foggy outside and I took my time getting up and getting ready to greet the day. I had a nice, warm bucket bath then came inside to listen to dance music and do a bit of yoga. My PCV neighbor, Keira stopped in to say hi on her way to Kigali, so I got to chat a bit with her, and our friend Kay (who was visiting from her site in the West) was there as well, so that was a nice little morning visit. They went on their way to the big city and I hung out at home. Did a bit of cleaning, did a bit of dancing around, enjoyed my slow and quiet Saturday morning. Clementine called me and we made plans to go to the wedding. The wedding was due to start at 1pm, and was being held at a church “not too far from here.” Well, this being Rwanda, I didn’t expect anything to be easy or to really go as planned, but I knew that it would all be taken care of and everything would work out wonderfully. The initial plan was for Clementine and myself to go with some of the bride’s family members in a car. Before I continue, I don’t know if I’ve written much about Clem... She’s another teacher at my school, teaching sciences and ICT to the Secondary students. She’s also my closest friend out here. I guess I’ve become really close to a few of my colleagues- Jane, Clementine and Kizito- and I’m at least friendly with the rest of them. I thank the stars almost daily that I have been fortunate enough to end up working with these teachers. We can talk about anything and hang out and have fun, and we can also work really well together and get things done. Back to the event at hand... So, as I “prepared myself,” getting on the closest thing I have to a party dress, putting on some makeup, making my hair big and messy and fun and listening to more dance music, I also made a make-shift wedding gift for the new spouses. I made them a card that was pretty simple (though I wish I had taken a photo of it). It included a little note of congratulations and a photo of a waterfall that I brought with me from America. That last addition to the card felt a little cheesy, but I think it was a good thing to include. I was searching my house for something to give them, and the only things in any condition fit for a gift were photos, so I chose the prettiest one and that was that. I also put a little bit of money into the card and I think it turned into a fine “gift.” I couldn’t really get a straight answer on what an appropriate gift is for a wedding, but as far as I can tell, it’s similar to America. You give household items and the like, or you slip some money into a card. So, I put the card into an envelope, put on my fancy sandals and hit the road. What followed was probably the most awkward walk through my village that I will ever have. Saturday is the big market day, so there were lots of people on the roads and milling about the towns, and here I was, walking the half hour walk into town to meet Clem, in a dress, with silver shoes on my feet and makeup on my face... I just felt a bit out of my element. But, it wasn’t that bad, because (of course) I ran into a student and talked with him and his friends for the duration of the walk. Thank god! The 1/2 hour walk feels like 5 minutes when you have company, and it made me feel better about looking all fancy-like.
I should’ve known that I couldn’t attend this sort of thing and really blend into the crowd, but at least I was met with hugs and smiles and excitement... Upon arriving to town, we walked around, stood around, and waited for the car situation to get figured out. Well, what got figured is that Clem and I would go to the wedding by moto. And it was a fantastic moto ride! By this time, it was full-on overcast outside, and it actually began to sprinkle during our ride. Our destination was a church that sat on top of one of the surrounding hills, about a 30 to 40 minute moto ride from the town center (aka, the market). We rode through the tea fields, through a few small villages, a small forest or two, curving through the valley, then climbed up the final big hill and stopped right at the church entrance. I wish it had been sunny out, but the ride was still amazing nonetheless. This was a Catholic church, and therefore a Catholic ceremony. I didn’t understand any of it because it was all in Kinyarwanda, but I was able to notice a few things. First, the formality of the whole process seemed a bit lax by American standards. The bride and groom arrived in the same car and there was no procession in the church: everyone just kind of came in together and sat where they wanted. The ceremony was led by the priest, but it really felt like more of a sermon than a marriage. I have not attended a Catholic wedding ceremony in the states, so it may very well be the same there, I don’t know. There was a lot of intermittent singing and clapping, and many readings from the bible, and the whole ceremony was about 1 hour. About 2/3 of the way into the ceremony, another wedding party entered the church and sat on the empty benches behind us. I thought this was slightly reminiscent of a Vegas wedding chapel- couples lined up to go through the motion- but apparently it’s quite common to have one ceremony for many couples (up to 10 at times) and that these folks were just late to the party. I guess I was supposed to have seen two couples be wed at once, but I was glad it was only my friends up at the alter. Also, this church was not decorated. Not a single special decoration or rearrangement of chairs- it looked exactly as it would for any other church service. After the ceremony, we all congratulated the newly-weds and took photos and hiked down the the reception.
The bride was the person who invited me. Her name is Elyse and she is a Primary School teacher at my school. Her new husband is the head teacher at a school in the village where the wedding was held. Apparently Elyse will go and join him at his school, so I won’t be seeing her around school anymore. That made me kind of sad, because she was really nice! But, it’s good that she was able to request to be moved to a school closer to her new house. You see, the district office is in charge of placing teachers at schools, and they make all of the staffing decisions- you go work where they tell you- so it’s nice to know that sometimes personal requests are taken into consideration. The groom’s name is Alexis, and while I hadn’t met him until the wedding, he was super nice and happy and welcoming. Another awkward moment in my day was when Clem and I went to look at the pictures being taken of the families and friends and as soon as I walked into view, the whole process stopped. Then they told me to come and get a photo with them. I tried to resist for a split second, but there was no way for me to say “no, this is special for your families! carry on...” so I went along with what they wanted and got a photo with the bride and groom. I was more than happy to do so, but I didn’t like feeling that I was a special guest just because I was the muzungu at the wedding. I suppose it is something “special” in the sense that most folks don’t have foreigners come to their weddings, but being treated as a straight up VIP all day and night was strange.
There were many ways to reach this church at the top of the hill. When I arrived by moto, I took the long way, on the road that winds through the valley and up the hill. When we went by foot, we just walked straight down the mountain. And I swear, living in this country is going to make me fearless. Moto rides? Well, no need to be scared of those, they can be exhilarating and are a great way to see the sights. Walking down a mountain on a steep foot path in fancy sandals? No problem, you just gotta go for it, and it’s a much more efficient way to travel. But, there was a moment during the walk: I was faced with the prospect of walking down a virtually vertical section of the path, when I stopped and laughed and said “you do know that where I come from there are no mountains!!!” Ok, not entirely true. Well, I have plenty of experience climbing around hills and mountains, but I was a little intimidated by this path. I decided to just go for it and hope for the best, and after making that decision, we had a pleasant walk. I like to think of myself as adventurous, but I know I’m also very cautious, so sometimes I have to throw that caution to the wind and do as the locals do. Don’t worry, my judgement is pretty good, and I won’t be haphazardly saying “fuck it, let’s go!” in every situation, but sometimes it’s for my own good.
We arrived at the reception, met up with more friends and found seats inside the make-shift party tent. It began to rain right as we entered the sheltered area, and it continued to rain on and off for the rest of the night. I was actually impressed that everyone carried on and enjoyed themselves, because it is a very rare thing to find Rwandans outside in the rain. Usually when it rains around here, people seek shelter inside (even if it means hiding out in the house of a complete stranger). The “party tent” was made out of wood with various tarps on the top, and it worked really well. Some household furniture was taken into the tent for the wedding party and there were wooden benches for the rest of us. The ceremonial stuff continued during the reception and everyone seemed to have a blast! After the fathers exchanged words and drinks, after the couple said a few words and drank some traditional banana beer, after the champagne was popped (which made me laugh...), after the cake was cut, everyone joined in on the party! The cake was passed around and drinks were dolled out. Kizito was helping run the show, so he made sure I got a beer, and the rest of the evening was spent talking and drinking and celebrating! I gave the new couple my wedding gift, hugging both of them and singing praises and congratulations, and I talked to a few new, friendly faces. Right when I was about to go (in the rain, as it was getting dark), Kizito told me that my presence was requested inside the house. And so I made it to the VIP after party... More beers, more talking done by the fathers, more dancing, more talking... it was wonderful! This was done in the living room of the house next to where the reception was held, and inside were the closest friends and family, who had gathered together to send off the newly-weds and have one last hurrah before the night was through. Clem and I finally made our way out to the road to find a way home. The moto driver we were going to use had disappeared, but we were able to get seats in the taxi-van and made it back home safe and happy. One of the highlights of the van ride: I was seated right next to the door and we had to stop at some point, and open the door and do some rearranging or something, and when we were ready to go again, I slammed to door. And everyone loved it! They all said that I was a star... haha, I guess it’s the little things. I proved to them that muzungus are able to hang out and be social and act like Rwandans, and properly operate car doors and take care of themselves. In all, this was a really great experience. I got invited to come visit many of the families that I met, and I fully intend to do so! I also hope I’m able to attend many more Rwandan weddings.
Rwandan celebrations, the cliff notes:
- drinking together means sharing beers- passing them around and everyone getting included in the fun
- it is possible to fit a dozen people AND party goods (food and the like) in the smallest pick-up truck ever made
- the folks at the church still ask for money for the church during a wedding ceremony
- people don’t really smile... not during the more official parts of the ceremony at least. it had me wondering if these folks wanted to get married in the first place.
- ALL cake is made with corn flour. why?
- the most important thing is celebration- having a good time and sharing the fun with everyone around you (some of these folks may not have much, but they know how to have a good time)
- everyone sings and claps and dances (I need to learn these songs!)
- you WILL find a way home, or a place to stay... it’s the welcoming, supportive sort of culture here... there’s always room for one more person in the car.
Thanks for sticking with me- I’m sure this isn’t my best writing (more of a stream of consciousness mess). It’s early on Sunday morning, but I wanted to give you a full recap before I forgot all the fun details. Also, be glad, I’m sure I left out many things... Today I fully intend to make Valentines for my favorite fellow teachers... I’ll surely end up having a fun Valentine’s Day story for you, so stay posted. Happy Sunday. xoxoxo