Sunday, June 27, 2010

Two Weddings and a Funeral (Alternate Title: I went to a wedding and all I got was this lousy Fanta!)

So goes the conversation with experienced volunteers:

Them: “Anna, have you ever been to a Rwandan wedding?”

Me: “No, not yet. But I’d like to.”

Them: “Just make sure you eat before you go.”

Friday night was the party for Rema’s sister and we headed to her house at about 9 o’clock. It is near enough my house and when we arrived there was little going on. A tent had been set up in the yard and a bamboo fence erected around the house to prevent visitors from wandering around. Soon enough the music began and so did the dancing. Imagine African pop music with the odd song by Acon (is that his name anyway?). Now imagine Rwandan with rhythm and then, me. I’ve never felt whiter and I don’t love dancing at the bar at the best of times but when in Rome….or in Kibungo. At 12:30 the DJ unplugged the plug. Quite literally. In the middle of the song but then again, people needed to get home and sleep to be prepared for the wedding. We headed home and late to bed, early to rise the next morning meant that Saturday was going to be a long, long day.

The invitation said 10 o’clock for the following morning. We were told we should be there by 11. Of course, as in true fashion, Christine and I had a long breakfast with good fruit and great coffee and time got away from us. At 10:45, Rema called us and said we should be there now. So we quickly showered and arrived by 11:30. The wedding still hadn’t started but unfortunately all the seats in the shade had been taken and me, with a combination of doxycyline and Irish genetics running through my system, my SPF 30 wasn’t enough to prevent the burning process. Thankfully a few people left early and we snuck under the shade so that for the majority of the 3-hour dowry ceremony we were protected from the sun.

Rwandan weddings go like this: Weeks before the ceremony the couple is married in a civil ceremony in the Sector offices where they make promises, not to God, but to the country and Mr. Kagame and all that. Then, weeks later, there is a Friday night party (see above) followed by a dowry ceremony the next morning, followed by a religious ceremony, followed by a religious ceremony, followed by a reception. And if you’re lucky, you’ll drink a few dozen Fantas and eat a piece of meat….or two.

Rema’s sister was having her dowry ceremony in Kibungo with the reception to following in Kigali but we decided to forgo Kigali in favour of attending another wedding of a colleague of Christine’s. Okay…so where were we? Oh…arriving an hour and half late but yet still not being late.

During the dowry ceremony the families sit under tents on each side of the property and the groom’s family offers the father of the bride a number of things from Fanta to beer to cows but when Rema’s dad asked for 8 cows, the grooms family said it was too many. There were cows and they sent a vet and a cowboy to inspect their quality. Of course, this is all for show and it’s as if you’re watching a play, complete with no cow but a CD with the sound of a mooing cow played on the loud speakers. The bride and groom have yet to arrive but when they do, it’s quite traditional. The men are wearing traditional gowns and carry either staffs or spears. The women bring baskets and gifts for the groom. There are jokes and promises – all in Kinyarwanda but we got the point. Eventually the groom must ask permission of the bride’s brothers and they share a kiss on the cheek and Voila! They are married! We were given food – two cubes of a meat, one small potato and some rice – and of course a Fanta. Three hours later, the family was ready to head to Kigali and we were ready to head to wedding number 2. This one begins at 3:00pm and so we’ve got about a half another to walk there.

On the way we stop to visit Jeremy at 3:30 decide we should make our way to the church. But there is no one around and the few women waiting seem to think there is no wedding going on. Maybe we have the wrong church? We walk to another church (Rwanda has as many churches as they have police checks. And they have as many police checks as they have banana trees….). Nope. No wedding there either. But by the time we make it back to check the church again it’s already 4:30 and finally the busses had arrived. So, we were at the right church but just early. Well, we arrived late but still early because the wedding started 1 ½ late. This is a Catholic church a Catholic wedding (dowry ceremony had taken place earlier that day in Christine’s village). The bride wore white – she also was about 6 months pregnant!

It was the first time I’d been in a church since arriving in Rwanda, save for the time we were stuck in Nyarabuye during a rainstorm. I’ve my own reasons for avoiding being in Rwandan churches but I supposed this was a good excuse to take communion for the first time since arriving. And I was looking forward to the predictability of a Catholic Mass where, even if we didn’t understand the language, we could predict the duration based on the staples: first reading, gospel, sign of peace, communion etc. Predictability, though, goes out the window when one hour later we still have changed bread into body. The songs seemed to go on forever, and forever, Amen. Having been raised attending Mass regularly, we were getting it. At least we thought we were getting it all. (Sign of peace – thankfully we can say Peace in Kinyarwanda – amahoro – and look not too out of place). However, when the bride and groom stood with baskets at the front and collected money, we thought this was our opportunity to give the traditional gift of 5000 Francs. Great! We’re prepared. Christine went up and placed the money in the basket. Noticing only 100 Franc coins we didn’t think anything of it until later when we realized that this wasn’t the gift for the couple, it was the collection basket. So, a big muzungu donation to St. Andre’s, I suppose. Eventually we reached transubstantiation and, in my limit Kinyarwanda, I tried to follow. I’m pretty sure there was something said about onions but I can’t really be sure. I did take communion and was surprised to learn that it tastes the same. Like McDonald’s French fries, I suppose, the Vatican has a recipe which all churches must follow. Two and half hours later, the ceremony is over and we head outside to walk over for the reception. We’re hungry (it’s dinner time after all) but going to St. Joseph’s – my local haunt for brochettes and chips – but after two more hours, one Fanta, and a few speeches in Kinyarwanda, we’ve been given a small piece of cake and sent on our way.

Are you disappointed in me that in all this cultural experience, all I can think about is food? You would too. Trust me. I think I’ve had so many Fantas at celebrations, in lieu of food, that I will soon turn into one. (Talking to Peace Corps volunteers, I realize I’m not the only one. We all talk about and think about food. Always.) In reality, the lack of food was worth it. To be part of some of the biggest celebrations that happen in Rwanda, was worth it. We had a great day!

Jason and Jeremy had arrived at St. Joseph’s to watch the USA v. Ghana match and at one point, I sent them an SMS to order us brochette and chips. The wedding finished early enough for us to see the US tie the match, to the disgust of both the Rwandans (who were cheering for Ghana) and the Canadians (who were cheering against the Americans). In the end, it was the Americans funeral. They are out. In extra time, Ghana scored sending the crowd at St. Joseph’s into a frenzy.

FINALLY….after hours and hours…after two weddings and an American funeral….after a few Fanta, a few pieces of meat and a piece of cake….we arrived back at Chez Anna and collapsed into a much needed night of rest.

No comments:

Post a Comment