That was my response to being told by my Rwandan big sister that I was going to attend the wedding of her cousin, and that I was invited to take part in the entire celebration, which meant I had to wear a mushanana for the Introduction Ceremony (see photo to the left). A mushanana is the traditional wedding attire for women, both in attendance and in the bridal party, but only for the Introduction Ceremony. It is generally made of a silky and flowing fabric, which looks beautiful in the breeze. At the time, I had no idea truly what I was in for, or what the day would entail. 13 1/2 hours after I stepped foot in the saloon (what is known as a salon in America), I would be told that there were still 2 more ceremonies to attend! That's one heck of a wedding day!
Coming into this experience, I really wanted to immerse myself in the culture of Rwanda, and to embrace every opportunity I had to get a view of life in my new country. I had heard stories of Rwandan weddings, and each time I am in Kigali, I see many processionals of cars either heading to or from weddings, so when I was asked to attend a wedding, there was no decision to be made - I was in!
The Introduction was the first event, not counting the hair and nails getting done by those in the wedding party at the aforementioned saloon. Some Rwandan weddings have the Introduction Ceremony several weeks, and even months before the actual wedding, but on this day, everything was wrapped into one long day. It was held at the home of a relative of the bride, and the setting was quite idyllic (see photo to the right). The bride's family and guests sat on one side of the yard under a tent, and the groom's family and guests sat across the way. There was a third tent in the middle, intended for the bride and groom and the wedding party. The Introduction consisted of many long speeches from both sides, essentially extolling the virtues of both the bride-to-be and groom-to-be. After the speeches, the discussion about the dowry began and essentially the groom's family and cow caretaker conveyed the "value" of the bride and listed what would be given to the bride's family in exchange for her. That's a crude way of explaining a dowry, but essentially when it comes down to it, that's what a dowry is. The cow caretaker's speech was my favorite, as he explained how many cows the bride's family would get, the health of the cows, the amount of milk the cows produce, etc. and after each sentence, a mooing soundbite was played by the DJ. It was entertaining if nothing else! After the dowry discussion, giant bottles of Coca-Cola and Fanta were exchanged by the fathers of the bride and groom, toasts were made, hugs were given, and the bride was officially presented to the groom and each met each other's families (I am still not certain if this was their first meeting or not). The whole ceremony took a little over 2 hours, and I was not even half-way through the day.
Next stop - the church!
I changed out of my mushanana and into a dress (which was chosen because it covers my knees), and headed across town to a church. It was an exceptionally hot day in Kigali, and the heat only intensified as I entered the non-air conditioned church which didn't have any windows that opened. Throughout the hour and a half ceremony, I think I faded in and out of either sleep or consciousness on several occassions...I'm still not certain. Imagine sitting in a sauna while a wedding ceremony took place in a different language, and you can begin to understand how I felt. The most amusing part was that on top of the natural heat, the photographer was running around with a mega-watt spotlight, taking pictures of anything and everything, which always seemed to circle back to me because I was one of two token Mzungas at the wedding. The ceremony eventually ended and everyone raced to the doors to get a breath of fresh air. Next stop - the reception!
The reception surprised me, to say the least. It surprised me on several fronts, the first being that it was set up very much like a Western-world wedding reception with tables and chairs and decorations and a dance floor. It was also huge! (see photo to the right) Based on the limited number of people at the Introduction Ceremony, and even fewer people at the Church, I assumed the reception would be a small affair. Shortly after arriving and mingling with guests, I soon learned that most Rwandans know better than to go to EVERY event on a wedding day, but choose wisely and only attend the reception. Like I said, it's not so different from the Western world :)
Instead of a bar, there were bottled drinks on each table (Fanta, Coca-Cola, local beer, water), and everyone sat wherever they desired. My friend and I sat at an empty table that quickly filled up with Ugandan men. My friend and I soon became aware of the difference between men who were born and raised in Rwanda, the Congo, Burundi, and Uganda. The men at our table spoke at us in a rather assertive way, and what began as an enjoyable event quickly made my friend and me want to run for the hills and put our pjs on and call it a night. But, being a feisty girl who grew up with 3 older brothers who taught me how to stand up for myself and speak my mind, I began to battle back during the discussions, and began asserting my opinion and asking questions. My friend joined in and what started as a one-sided, male-dominated conversation quickly transformed into a discussion about cultures, beliefs, morals, and worldly events. In other words, it became interesting. I don't think the Ugandan men knew what they were in for when they rushed over to sit at my table :)
Several hours passed, and several things became crystal clear: 1) The only dancing that would happen would be performed by traditional dancers, 2) Each person who brought a wedding gift would go up and present their gift to the bride and groom one-by-one (yes, it took FOREVER), and 3) Worst of all, the 15 wedding cakes on display (complete with mosquito netting to keep the flies and moths away) were not for us to enjoy, but rather were gifts for key people in attendance who had played a role in the wedding preparation. Being somewhat of a cake fanatic, and not having access to any cake in Rwanda, I was beyond disappointed at that revelation!
After the reception, there were two additional phases of the wedding - 1) going to the bride's home (women generally live with their parents until they marry), collecting her belongings, and assisting with the "move" to the groom's house, which the bride and groom will now share. Traditionally the bride also chooses a close friend or relative to live with her and the groom for the first few weeks of marriage to cook, clean, and tend to the house while the bride settles into her new routine as wife. 2) a celebration at a local nightclub or hotel, where dancing commences until the wee hours.