Sunday, July 6, 2008

Frank & Enellece's Wedding

Yesterday was Frank and Enellece’s wedding – Frank is my housemate and Enellece is my friend from Machinga so it was like a colliding of my two worlds in a wonderful day full of celebration and joy! When Malawians are partying, there is no hiding it! The day was full of dancing and singing and of course, the traditional throwing of money. We had a full house which was a bit overwhelming and at times I didn’t know where to put myself. But everyone was welcoming and happy to have me as part of the festivities.

I awoke the day of the wedding at 4AM to the wonderful sound of women singing happily outside as they sat around the fire in the darkness preparing water for the multitudes of people waiting to bathe and prepare for the ceremony. The wedding ceremony was at the church at 7:30AM so there’s was much to get ready – bathe, eat, dress the children, shine shoes, don hats and colourful head scarves, suits and beautiful dresses. Cars showed up decked out with ribbons and balloons to carry the parents of the bride and groom to the church. In many ways, the ceremony itself was very much like those at home, complete with reciting of vows, exchanging of rings but minus the big kiss at the end. There was none of the seriousness, however, of Bach symphonies and organ music. Instead, there was clapping, dancing, hooting and hollering, women ululating and cheering. Even the priest had the place laughing, his one-liners punctuated with a keyboard that served almost as the drum and symbol combination delivered at the end of a punch line of a good joke.

After the ceremony, there were a few hours of downtime, while people ate lunch and prepared for the reception. Once everyone was gathered together again at the reception hall, the wedding party made their grand entrance complete with choreographed dance for the children, the bridesmaids and groomsman and the bride and groom themselves, again to hosts of clapping, dancing, whistling and singing. At times I was laughing out loud, just to be part of such a rambunctious and rowdy gathering! I was asked by Frank to be a cashier and was honoured to play a special role at the wedding. A role which was a lot harder than I thought! Throughout the reception, groups of people are asked to come up and “greet” the bride and groom. Groups are called including friends of the bride, friends of the groom, coworkers or churchmates of the bride and/or groom, couples who are married, singles who aren’t, etc. Each time a group is called, they dance to the front and throw money, sometimes into a basket that the bride or groom is holding but more often than not they are too busy dancing to be bothered to aim and the money just gets tossed into the air accompanied by some killer dance moves until the floor becomes littered with bills. As cashiers, the six of us were responsible to collect all the money from the basket and the floor and count it after each dance. In addition, we make change for the wedding guests to cash in their big bills for lots of smaller bills so more enjoyment of chucking the money but without spending a fortune. Simple enough but it comes in fast and furious and it’s hard to keep up! It truly was an occasion that I was so happy to be a part of. It was like joy and happiness was oozing out from the tent…
That evening we headed back to the house, happy and exhausted from a day of celebration. There was a bit of confusion where I was going to stay because the previous night I had stayed with a neighbour but her relatives had come so there was no space for me there. It was finally decided that I would stay in my room, but it had been taken over by all the female relatives of the bride and groom – mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and children – my presence in their midst caused a bit of discomfort and upheaval amongst this group of women from villages of Machinga. There was one single bed which would sleep 2 and the rest of the 10 or so women were huddled on the floor, chatting and preparing cloth and blankets to form make-shift beds. I insisted on giving the bed to one of the grandmothers to share with one of the bridesmaids who was not feeling well and take my place on the floor, however, that caused great upset. “You’re a muzungu (white person), you must have the bed” I heard through translation. “I know I am a muzungu but I’ll take the floor. You take the bed” I said to Frank’s grandmother, a wizened old woman with a wonderful toothless smile as I started settling my own chitenge and blanket and nuzzling down. Amazed, but happy, his grandmother smiled and picked her way across the floor littered with bodies and lay down on the edge of the bed. “Zikomo kwambiri. Ndatokoza. (Thank you very much. I appreciate that.)” she said. I lay down my head and smiled, my hip bone sore on the hard floor but happy to be squashed amongst the women and children after a wonderful day.

My roommates

In total, the equivalent of approximately $1,600 was raised at the wedding. While it seems a lot, especially in Malawian terms, it was not enough to make back what they spent on hosting the wedding itself, to pay back debts and loans they have incurred through the wedding planning process. Unfortunately, however, to family and friends, they hear this amount of money and many set out to find ways in which they can share in the fortune. I remember one of my earliest conversations with Frank when I moved into the house early this year. Although he has a very good job and we stay in a nice house provided by his employer, a great proportion of his income is sent home to Machinga to support his family. As the only one in the family with a higher education and steady employment, it is his responsibility to provide money for the daily needs of his family and even extended family back home. This is a significant drain on his financial resources and as a result, money for needs here in Lilongwe, like food, electricity, water and transport is often stretched. Of all his expenses, paying school fees for Grace and her brother is his number one priority. The only way he can reduce this financial burden is to ensure that these two cousins also make their way to higher education and successful employment so they can share this responsibility to the family. Unfortunately, however, it’s sad to see the repercussions. There are bitter rumblings amongst the family that he and Enellece have left for the lake for a few days of a honeymoon, complaining it’s a waste of money and waiting for the money they believe they are owed. There is a common misconception that the family here in Lilongwe are living the “high life” while those at home in the village are struggling. Instead of parents being happy for their children, with the hanging around and side comments, it almost appears that they are jealous. It is a dynamic that I am not familiar with, coming from a family where I was supported by my parents and do not have to worry about financial obligations to family at such a young age. It’s interesting that many here do not see the value of an education, even with the promise of a good job and increased income. For a youngster who works hard and manages to get a good job, it is a huge burden to bear and for some, may even be a disincentive.

All families have their dynamics I guess, across culture or financial status. Despite this struggle, I am very happy for my friends, Frank and Enellece, two people that have accepted me into their lives with open arms, providing for my every need, from food and shelter to love and support. They are true friends I am very lucky to know. Noria, our neighbour said to me after meeting the Kachifumbus, who were here for the wedding, “You are surrounded with wonderful people everywhere you go”. I am. “It starts with you”, she said. “When you are open and friendly with people, they will return those feelings upon you.” I wish Frank and Enellece, two of my wonderful people, every happiness in their lives together and am very happy to share this brief time with them.


Big D said...

What a great experience you seem to be having on the other side of the world Heather, you've written your thoughts and feelings like a pro.

Keep Smiling =)

Big D
Kingston, ON

Melissa said...

I loved reading this story. IT DOES start with you, Heather. You are a beautiful person, inside and out. It is reflected in everything you do. Thanks for sharing your stories!

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