Friday, 10 December 2010

An Idiot's Guide to an Afrikan Wedding

What do you call an ex-arms smuggler, a self-proclaimed Prophet, a former Soviet-trained Tanzanian Communist and three constantly bemused Brits? The guest list to an Afrikan wedding, thats what.
When the weekend began with a ‘Tusker Party’, getting kicked out of a bar and a German throwing up in our house, we should have guessed things were going to slide into the farcical. We had two pressing engagements on the following Saturday, firstly a meeting with a local Pastor (called a Prophet by his following), and then a wedding of a couple of young things we had never met. I’ll deal with the Prophet first.
Dreadfully hungover and smelling like a Konyagi bottle we headed off to the Pastor’s church up in the hills, as we arrived we were greeted by the entirety of his congregation (over sixty) singing, dancing and chanting local Chagga dances, we returned a mixture of confused smiles and a fair amount of head scratching. After a meeting with the Pastor/Prophet and a few other religious blokes, we made it quite clear that we had no money to give them (which dampened the mood somewhat) but that we would help them draw up project proposals to get international donors, (which triggered more hangover-unfriendly chanting). It was around this point when I saw the stage.

As soon as I saw it I knew they would want us on it. White folks are rare round these parts so when they do arrive, there tends to be a big hoo-haa about it (can’t imagine why, we’ve caused nothing but trouble since we’ve got here). Sure enough as more of the congregation filed into the ‘church’ (about 100 or so plastic chairs under a piece of tarpaulin), we were ushered like the prize goats at auction up onto the stage and provided with a microphone to address our waiting public. They spoke very little English, I wasn’t ordering a beer, so was fresh out of Swahili, so our three separate (but very similar) speeches comprised of rudimentary Swahili, slow-pronounced English and a lot of smiling and waving. To be honest I don’t think it would’ve mattered if we had been reading from Mein Kampf, we went down a storm regardless. The Pastor/Prophet loved it, the crowd chanted (again) and we were pretty much sober, we thanked them for their hospitality (we got fed, like the racial novelty we are) and proceeded down the mountain to the wedding.
I should point out we had a legitimate invite to the wedding. This isn’t Wedding Crashes, my nose is more normal than Owen Wilson’s and none of us are as fat as Vince Vaughen. The groom (mr Shein I think, Mr Shen possibly, defiantly not Martin Sheen) is the brother of the headmistress/head nun at our school, so we managed to weasel an invite out of her, but unlike Wedding Crashers our aim was to keep things civil, get into no family disputes and go nowhere near the bridesmaids. We were told it was traditional to give the married couple a gift, being three thoughtful and selfless guys we were all over this like a Njiapanda trucker. We knew a guy who wanted to sell a goat, and we were willing to lay down some serious dollar to get that goat. Our original plan was to present the goat (named Matty) to the couple at the reception, sobriety and the logistical nightmare of transporting the beast to the church put paid to this plan, so we had to limit ourselves to handing Matty over a couple of days later. Much to our disappointment and the relief of whichever bloke who cleans the church.

We arrived at the church at ten past two. The wedding was due to start at two. The wedding didn’t start until about four, the excuse given was ‘Afrika Time’ which apparently allows three hours leeway when it comes to the starting of social events.  I will refrain from voicing my opinions on ‘Afrika time’ at this point as they might land me in trouble, but lets just say they are not complimentary but might explain why some things in Afrika are like they are. Moving swiftly on, as soon as we arrived we were introduced to all the heavy hitters of the ceremony (father of the groom, rest of the grooms extended family etc), again conversation was limited but (as always) there was an active interest in what a gaggle of white boys were doing there.
The ceremony was subdued (it was catholic after all, they are a subdued bunch), neither bride nor groom looked happy to be there, which was surprising as the bride looked pretty fit. There was the obligatory chanting and a kick-ass brass band, but the main talking point was the fact that we (and our German friends) had mistakenly taken the front rows of seats clearly meant for someone slightly more related to the affected parties, and were oblivious to everything Swahili-related going on around us. My own highlight of the ceremony was one of the teachers stumbling into the church about two-thirds through the ceremony, and then slumping into the seat next to us stinking of gin, his motorbike was parked outside, apparently drink driving is not an issue out here.

After communion (I got my bread, long ceremony and wanted a snack) we trotted over to a local bar/restaurant/venue for the reception and was introduced to Mr British, an ex-arms and ivory smuggler, but now apparently a decent car mechanic. I asked him why he was called ‘British’ and we replied ‘Because I like the British.’ Fine answer. We have commissioned him to make a bbq for us, but I’m secretly hoping for a couple of AK’s and a chunk of elephant. As with the ceremony, we occupied the front seats for the reception as well, right in front of the quite frankly miserable looking bride and groom. Apparently, (according to a very unreliable source) a length of rope should be presented to the couple as a symbol that a goat is in the offing as a gift, and apparently (this source was frightfully unreliable) it is traditional (terrible word, lets them get away with anything) for the givers of the gift to dance up to the couple to present it. So there we were, three bemused Brits dancing through an African wedding giving a length of rope to a couple who we’d never met, needless to say, the crowd loved it and even the bride cracked a smile. After that incident we kept a pretty low profile eat our free food and drank our free booze, had a little dance (during which I managed to exchange numbers with the hammered MC, not sure what he had in mind, but I am yet to answer his calls), and went home in the back of a converted ambulance.

I apologise for the length of this post, I wasn’t intending to give you a blow by blow account of our weekend, but I am currently sat in our house in the dark (electricity’s gone) its pissing it down outside, and as I’ve mentioned before our house is less than waterproof so unfortunately my bed is soaked through. Obviously I’m delighted its raining because it means that stuff will grow for the farmers and reminds me of home, but what isn’t so delightful is the fact that I’m having to wait for my bed to dry before I can go to sleep. What a farce. On a separate note, we have been invited to a Christening just before Christmas, will keep you posted about that social event.

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