Sunday, March 6, 2011

Second Rwandan Wedding

I am highly suspicious/skeptical/scared of most all things Rwandan;
from some reason, the country as a whole just doesn't have my full
trust that every person is not actively trying to rip me off or trick
me into marriage. This fear was exacerbated after reading "The Blue
Sweater" where the author was told that it was traditional in Tanzania
to have sex with a man after writing his name in the sand -- after she
was asked to write her moto driver's name in the sand. As an
embodiment of this fear, I often qualify acceptances to invitations
(say, to dinner) with a "only if by doing so, he won't assume that I
am consenting to marriage." (Yes, I wrote that sentence properly…I
often make my plans through others.)
Needless to say, wedding invitations heighten this fear. I mean, given
my knowledge of Kinyrwanda, how am I to guarantee that it's not a
wedding for me?
Sure enough, the day before Jeanne d'Arc's dauther's wedding, we three
girls were informed that we would be "in" the ceremony…and then not
given much more detail. Jeanne d'Arc's son was sent over to the CCHIPs
house with traditional outfits for all of us. While the opportunity to
wear a beautiful Rwandan dress was very exciting, mine curiously did
not match the other two's. This was potentially Jeanne d'Arc's
acknowledgement that a blue dress would bring out the blue in my eyes
– or it was a way of tricking me into wearing a wedding dress, while
providing the other two girls with simple hostess dresses. I was
unsure, and frightened.
I was calmed when I arrived and was given a "Service" nametag to wear
– so I wasn't the bride! (Of note, others were given "Security" and
"Protocol" nametags. As a humorous cultural language translation, it
appeared that "Protocol" guests were what we'd call ushers.) And then,
in classic Rwandan behavior, to "help us navigate the party," each of
us Americans was promptly paired with a similarly aged, single Rwandan
of the opposite sex. I was lucky: my match spoke English, was a nurse
at a health center, and was actually raised at the orphanage that I
visited last weekend!
My job was to serve drinks to the groom's family. I've since heard
that this is a huge honor; at the time it kind of seemed like free
labor. The benefits of this job were that I didn't actually have much
to do and, when all the guests felt bad about the muzungu girl serving
them (and after I lost my bottle opener), they just started serving
So, I was at ease to enjoy most of the ceremony, which started with
the traditional "bartering of cow" – the number of cows that the
groom's family will give to the bride's family for the marriage.
(Although cows were traditionally used, now money is given. I'm a huge
fan of reverse dowries.) Apparently, in the bartering, the groom's
family will play down the groom's interest, or pretend that the bride
has been a dishonest woman – to decrease her "worth" – while the
bride's family will boast about the woman's accomplishments, to
increase her "worth" – all in a very joking manner. This is all
apparently very entertaining, if you know Kinyrwanda well – as in, if
you know Kinyrwanda better than Consolate. (The families actually hire
professionals to do this bartering.)
As Consolate was whispering very simplified translations into my ear,
which included conversations about how well the theoretical were cared
for, Celestin suddenly whipped around and stared at the two of us. "Oh
that's us!" Consolate exclaimed.
"Umm…what do you mean?"
"Step forward! Step forward" Celestin pushed.
I timidly followed Consolate's step to the front of the group. We were
apparently being offered as replacements for the bride. I clutched
BOTTLED UP INTO ONE! Not only was I being offered up as a bride at a
Rwandan wedding, but I was at a wedding and hadn't yet had a sip of
beer, and it looked like they might run out of food before I got
served. So many fears!
"CONSO…WHAT DO I DO!?!" I hissed.
I knew that the whole bartering thing was mostly just for show: a fun
custom that is done more for entertainment than for serious…but I was
more than a little worried that all decorum would be thrown out the
window when it was suddenly a muzungu girl and access to a Green Card
that were up for bidding.
"I don't know. Just smile." Consolate was not helpful. She also
appeared to be very comfortable being offered for marriage.
As we stood, a cadre of cameramen, including a videographer, appeared
in front of us, flashing away. (Paparazzi much?) For all y'all's
benefit, I will try to get my hands at least on one of the pictures…I
can only imagine how awkward and frightened I look.
The two men continued arguing and pointing at us. The guests continued
I tried to catch Jeanne d'Arc's eye to let her know that I did not
consent to marriage. Not today. Not to her daughter's fiancé.
And then, finally, miraculously, Consolate whispered to me, "they are
saying that we are too young. The groom does not want somebody so
"So…what do we do?"
But before Consolate had a chance to answer, I was being grabbed and
pulled back to the safe insignificance of the large group of servers.
I happily picked up my bottle-opener, very content to serve if it
ensured that I made it through another day in Rwanda without becoming
a bride.

No comments: