Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Wedding Like No Other

 Last Saturday I had the opportunity to attend the wedding of one of our day workers that works in the Hospital Chaplaincy department - counseling and praying for patients and family members through their time with Mercy Ships.  This department has the responsibility of being there to break bad news (when we are unable to operate, when the tumors are malignant, when their blood tests come back with results that don't provide options on the ship) but also to comfort, rejoice and lift up all those other types of moments - the ones where vision is restored, when the casts are taken off and the straight legs are seen for the first time, and when a new life experiences the unconditional love of Jesus for the first time. 

Marc invited us to be his V.I.P. guests at the wedding.  Dan had a prior commitment (involving some fishing line, a boat, and an ambassador), but I accepted the invitation gladly.

Three other Mercy Shippers at the church sign

Over 20 guests from Mercy Ships attended the wedding.  The invitation stated that wedding would start at 10:00am.  A mutual friend and dayworker, Dissibardy, had asked me earlier in the week if I wanted to have something made with the wedding fabric.  I have mentioned before (see Birthday Dance Party blog from last June) that this is a common occurence at special events in West Africa.  The organizer acquires a large amount of material and those who want can purchase the yardage they need and have something tailored for the day.  Everyone has a different style, but the fabric is the same.  In this amazing network of our 200+ day workers that lead full lives outside from the work they do with the ship, we also employed another dayworker who is a tailor to create shirts for Dan and I.  He took our measurements in the dining room one day at lunch (Tuesday it was), and would have them ready for the wedding Saturday. 

Dissibardy was going to escort me to the wedding and he told me he would bring me the shirts at 6:00am on Saturday morning and pick me up for the wedding.  I told him there was no need to arrive that early, he could come later in the morning and call me when he was at the ship.  He said, "No problem.  I will come at 7:00.  Or 8:00 or maybe 9:00."  I set the alarm for 8:30 and got ready.  Hmmmm.  What do you wear with a shirt that you have never seen and have no idea what it will look like? 

I went with the safest plan I had:  black skirt, and gold sandals.

9:00 came and went and still no sign of Dissibardy.  Had this been America I would have been a little concerned.  But, this is not America.  I continued to read my book and wait.  Around 9:30 I saw a huge group of nurses and other volunteers walking down the dock in formal attire.  I assumed they were heading to the wedding.  At this point, I contemplated joining them, but I have had many appointments with Dissibardy and I knew that he might be late, but he would come eventually.  Plus, he had my shirt to wear for the wedding.  So I kept reading.

9:45 came and went.  10:00... (the start time of the wedding, as it read on the invitation)... 10:15.... 10:30....
10:40am and I peeked out the window thinking, "Oh well!  Maybe I will finish this book today instead," but there I see Dissibardy headed toward the ship with the black plastic sack in his hand that contains Dan's and my shirt. 

I run down to the gangway to meet him and bring the bag back up to my room to see what elaborate top I will be wearing.  The fabrics and patterns are wild here - many brilliant colors and patterns unlike anything I've seen before.  Not just polka dots, stripes, checks and floral print.  Here you can get a fabric with designs of cell phones plugged into chargers, living rooms with overstuffed armchairs next to plates of cookies on side tables, or maybe chickens with eggs and baskets. 

I was envisioning an elaborate, embroidered top - maybe puffy sleeves, maybe crocheted embellishments.  But, what I pulled out of the bag was: a man's short-sleeved button down shirt.  And the pattern?  Road traffic arrows redirecting the flow from one lane to the next.  I'm not sure who chose this as the wedding fabric, but it is definitely an interesting choice! 

I still have no idea why my shirt was in the style of a men's shirt.  Did I somehow communicate this by saying that Dan and I both wanted short sleeves? Or maybe this tailor has only made men's clothing in the past:?  But for sure I was the only one at the wedding wearing a man's shirt.  :)  At this point, what could I do, but put on the shirt with my black skirt and gold sandals and we head out.

We walked to the taxi stand where I knew I stood out with my white face in a sea of ebony, so I offered to hide a bit so Dissibardy could get a regular price on a taxi (white person = quadruple the cost usually).  Our plan worked and quickly I was being beckoned by a street vendor to join my friend Dissibardy in the taxi that had stopped around the curve. We squished into a taxi that already had three people in front and two in back.  (Seven is the standard number of passengers for four door sedan here).   We drove out of the Centre ville (downtown) peninsula, past the market, past the airport and into the area of town where the church was.  We paid a little bit of the fare for the old man that got into our car near the market, because he wasn't really happy with the price (Dissibardy paid 500 guinea francs of the 4,500 franc fare -approximately seven cents out of the $0.63 fare). We arrived at the town of the church, and then walked along a mud/rock path between neighbors hanging up their laundry and sweeping their front porches.  About 1/3 of a mile up the road we arrived at the church.  It was now around 11:30 and there were people there, but the church was maybe only one fourth full.
me in my wedding attire when we arrived at the church!

The satin ribbons adorning the front of the church. 
The choir started things off at about 12:00.

Now, come to find out, there would be FOUR couples getting married at this ceremony. 
This helped to explain the list of nine or 10 family names that were requesting our presence at this wedding on the invitation.  
Each couple would have their own "loveseat" at the front- a piece of satin draped over two chairs and adorned with silk flowers and Christmas ribbons. This is the way you show honor and recognition here.
The grooms were each assigned a loveseat and they sat here to worship and await their ladies.
This is our friend, Marc, who had invited us to share his special day.

After about 30 minutes of singing worship songs in French and Susu (one of the local languages here) things began for the ceremony.

Each of the four brides had her own bridal party, their own colors, dresses, and style.  Here are two of the brides below.

Another interesting feature of this wedding was that it would be bilingual.  We would have French and English for all parts of the ceremony, so we not only needed a pastor, but also an interpreter for the event. You can never be too overdressed here.  We have learned that the hard way!


Here are the bridesmaids for the couple we were there to support.

As they started to make their way into the church, the crowd started celebrating inside like a Super Bowl Parade.  There is no sacred area in the sanctuary where only the official photographer is allowed.  In an African wedding, anyone with a camera (or cell phone, or yes, even iPad) is allowed to stock the couple like a vulture waiting for fresh kill.  The crowd went wild - the cameras were flashing and the yelling was hysterical.
Even though the grooms had already been inside at the front of the church worshipping, they also had gone outside again and made their way up the aisle.

Next it was the ladies' turn.  The processional just kept coming and coming of bride, followed by her bridesmaids, flower girls, and then the next bride.

and the next.

And my favorite feature of the day was the fake snow in a can that was sprayed at whim when the bridesmaids felt like celebrating some more!  They were flocking the bride and groom periodically throughout the entire service.

Here's the lucky lady for our friend.

And the happy couple.

And here is the third couple of the event.

And the fourth.

Here is my view of the wedding - as we sat in the plastic lawn chairs which represent just about the finest seating that you can have.  If your church doesn't have these, you can rent plastic lawn chairs for all your special events.    I also loved the elaborate hair covers, embroidery and bright fabrics on these lovely ladies that weren't afraid to get up and dance, whoop or holler at any point in the ceremony.

The vows were spoken by the pastor, translated by the interpreter, and then each piece was repeated by all four brides (and then all four grooms) consecutively.  It was very confusing and several times the pastor cut off the fourth bride, leaving her unsure if she should say the vow (and interrupt him), or just hold her peace. 

The couples for the most part were very serious during this entire event.  Later I was told that these marriages were all arranged - if this is true, that could explain why some couples were so serious.

Check out the amazing hair designs.  That is her part! 

Notice the influence that the west has had on these aspects of the wedding - their veils, dresses, suits, gloves, manicured, acrylic nails.  In so many ways it looked like a wedding from at home.  I wonder what a wedding in a village here would look like.  How do you decide what pieces of your culture do you leave behind, and which pieces of a new culture do you latch on to?

A glimpse from the balcony of the sanctuary prior to the start

Marc & Kadi

Kadi repeating part of her vows.

The exchanging of the rings

A prayer before the groom can raise the veil

The first step after raising the veil is to blot away all the sweat that has accumulated in this very warm building with no fans to circulate the air.

If this is an arranged marriage, there does not seem to be any hesitation or regret here!

notice the camera in the foreground, and the man behind is taking pictures as well.  There is a continual stream of people wandering around the front of the church snapping photos at all times.

After all these steps have been completed, the pastor launched into a 45 minute sermon.  With translation, this turns into a 90 minute sermon.

I did the same as this little boy. 

As did most of our group...

After this, the wedding parties, parents, witnesses and half the church disappeared into an adjacent building to sign the marriage licenses.  This is a lengthy process.  25 minutes later we headed outside to think about getting transport to the reception, which would be held at the People's Palace (same site as Screening Day).  Here I am (in my man shirt!) with our buddy Innocent and Julie, another crew member from the eye team. 

Here I am with Dissibardy, in our wedding fabric shirts.  Dan has the same shirt waiting for him on the ship! There were about a dozen people with this pattern- some in a more orange and bright blue design, and some in this same royal blue and maroon.

While we waited for taxis, the wedding parties re-entered the sanctuary and started a dance party at the front of the church.  Dissibardy, who is from Guinea and attends this church regularly, disappeared for a good part of this dance!  Finally, we regrouped and managed to get transport to the reception.  While some jumped in taxis, Innocent found a man who had been an eye patient, who happened to have two cars (again, the disparity here is amazing sometimes!) - he drove us to his second car, and handed over keys and documents to Innocent, telling him to return the car sometime tomorrow.

Riding with Innocent was another adventure, but he did a great job keeping us safe, even if 3rd and 4th gears were hiding from him. :)
We rejoined the group at the reception in the basement of the People's Palace where the speeches, musical presentations, money dances, and explanation of the cake (made from the finest ingredients in Canada) were all a part of the program.
The bride and groom sit at the head table on this elevated platform and the guests sit around the
perimeter of the room.

Here is the cake made from the finest ingredients in Canada.  "Also, this cake represents sweetness.  So, when you partake in this cake, your relationships will get sweeter.  If you are married, your marriage will get sweeter than before.  If you are dating someone, your relationship will become even sweeter, and if you are single, then you will find someone to spend your life with." This sounded a lot like a toast before eating the cake. 

Here's another musical tribute to the couple.  Many come forward to offer some sort of contribution (musical or verbal) for the couple.

Here are the women dishing up the catered food - rice, chicken, spicy sauces all transported in thermos-type containers and large plastic buckets.  Glass bottles of soda accompanied the meal. 

And then it was time to celebrate!

All the ladies had a chance to dance in their beautiful attire - most with their hair covered as a sign of being dressed up for the occasion.

The 10:00 wedding started around 12:30 and the 2:00 reception started around 4:00 and I imagine didn't finish until after 8:00pm.  We left a bit early after giving our regards to the couple. 

We pray for a strong and healthy marriage for Marc & Kadi and the other three couples joined together last weekend.

photo credits to: Dissibardy and to Bram & Tineke for these great shots!

1 comment:

  1. Tiffany,
    Thanks so much for your lovely account of the wedding you attended! It took me right back to West Africa and put a big smile on my face!--Erin