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Monday, February 28, 2011

An African Wedding or How I Spent My Entire Saturday

We’ve been in Africa long enough to know that some things run on a non-existent time schedule, but we didn’t really know what we were in for the day of the wedding.  We had tried unsuccessfully several times to get directions to the church.  Finally the bride told us she would meet us near the town prison at 9:30 am on the morning of the wedding.  (The starting time of the ceremony printed on the wedding invitations was 9:00 am.)  The bride said she would lead us to the church.

As we were getting ready on the morning of the wedding, we received a phone call from a friend of the bride informing us that the wedding was now delayed until 11:00 am and the friend would meet us near the prison at 10:30 am.  We arrived at the aforementioned meeting place, near this huge pile of trash, which we soon discovered also doubles as a public restroom.


At about 10:40 am Lincoln decided he wanted to call and check to make sure we were at the right place.  The friend of the bride answered and said that she would text us the number of the person who would be meeting us.  Lincoln said that he felt like we were on a treasure hunt, I felt like we were trying to get to some top-secret party. 

Lincoln called the number we were given and there was no answer.  He tried for the next 10 minutes to get a hold of the mystery person we were now meeting.  Finally someone answered and after Lincoln explained who he was and what he wanted and where we were, the person said that he would be there in 10-15 minutes.  By this time, the natives (yes, we had all 4 kids with us) were becoming exceedingly restless and our 4 year old, Kendi, alternated between near-starvation and violence directed toward Kyler’s head.

Over 30 minutes later, after 1 wrestling match, several empty threats, and 1 close brush with death due to lack of food, our mystery person showed up.

Well, we assumed it was the mystery person and not someone who was just trying to lead us to an isolated place to rob us.  As he approached us on the side of the road, he slowed slightly, honked his horn and waved at us.  At that point we were so sick of sitting motionless in the car that we took our chances and followed this gesticulating man.

He turned into a neighborhood, drove around aimlessly, and then pulled over to the side of the road.

We had no idea what was going on and were starting to wonder if we had, in fact, followed the wrong person.  After about 5 minutes, he did a U-turn and went back to almost where we had first met him.  He continued down the road for a few minutes, made a turn and we were at the church.  It turns out that the trash pile meeting place was about 3 minutes and 1 right turn away from the church!  Apparently we couldn’t be trusted with this information.

We were so happy to be able to get out of the car that we didn’t stop to wonder why everyone at the church was still sitting in their cars in the parking lot.  Our mystery escort had disappeared and we didn’t see anyone we recognized.  We entered the tent at about 11:30 am (2 and a half hours after the wedding was scheduled to start) and people were arranging chairs and setting up.

There were a few kids and some young women milling around and after about 10 minutes we began to think that we had actually missed the wedding.  Slowly, over the next 30 minutes or so, people began to trickle in.  (People arrived all through the entire ceremony, and with much shifting of the audience, everyone was given a seat.) As the tent became more occupied, it became more stifling hot!

At 12:19 pm  (I know because I kept looking at Lincoln’s watch), people started to hoot their hooters,  (American English translation – honk their horns) which apparently signaled the beginning of the wedding.  A cavalcade of cars arrived and the wedding party emerged.

The musicians started playing, the audience started singing, cheering and dancing and the wedding party danced down the isle.  It kind of reminded me of that Youtube video of the wedding party dancing down the aisle, but much more exciting.  And louder.

Here is some video we took.  If the video below won't play, you can watch it on youtube with this link.

The bride and groom were led to a table at the front of the tent and were seated, the rest of the wedding party joined the audience.  I realized that we were probably going to be there for a very long time if the bride and groom sat through the ceremony!

The bride and groom were very serious throughout the entire ceremony.
The ceremony started out with the pastor’s wife announcing that this would be a short service and giving a blessing and prayer and a song.  Then several other people and married couples came to the front and gave blessings or advice and more songs.  Most of the speeches and songs were in Tswana, the local tribal language spoken.

Following a few more songs the pastor and his translator arrived at the podium.  At various times the ceremony was translated from English to Tswana, from Tswana to English, from Tswana to Tswana, from English to English, and from some other language to Tswana.   The pastor took some liberties with his very lively and lengthy retelling of the story of Abraham’s servant searching for a wife for Isaac, in which the pastor highlighted the importance of a wife being a servant to her husband.

By this time Isabel was almost in full meltdown mode.  Lincoln took Isabel, along with his watch, and fled the area.  So, the rest of the time-line is a little fuzzy and possibly altered by the heat stroke I was experiencing.

After the animated and loud story of the servant Rebecca, the pastor launched into a 21-point sermon.  I wish I were joking about that.  Although, I’m certain he skipped point number 19 and I never heard point number 8.  That may have been because of the heat stroke, or maybe he didn’t say any of point 8 in English, or possibly point 8 was also skipped.  So, technically it was a 20 or maybe even 19-point sermon.  Nonetheless, it was long.  Probably about 4 hours long.  And loud. 

In this sermon he gave a list of highly important questions to ask a potential mate.  Here are some of the questions that I can remember.  I can only assume that they were in order of importance.

-Do you want to have kids?  If so, how many?
-Do you enjoy smoking?
-Do you drink or do you not drink?
-If we buy a house where do you want to live? In the city? In a gated golf community?
-Do you know Jesus and go to church?
-Which side of the bed do you sleep on?
-Do you like the air conditioner on or off in the car? (At this my 10 year old, Madison, leaned over and said, “I don’t see why some of these things really matter.”)
-Who will control the finances?  (During this point he announced to the audience, and most of the surrounding community, that he and his wife use the same 4-digit pin code for everything including their bank accounts, their cell phones and all things that need any sort of password.  This is to “Make things easier” and he recommended that the new husband and wife and the audience do the same.  They obviously have no concern of fraud or identity theft!)
-Does the husband expect the wife to quit her job and become a housewife?
-What kind of furniture do you like?  Old style, Italian Style or reclining furniture?
-What do you wear to bed at night?  Do you sleep naked or completely clothed?
-After marriage, where do you want to spend your holidays and vacations?
-Who does what chores around the house?
-How do you want to raise the kids in regards to schooling and religion?

He said some other stuff too, but I can’t remember any of it.  I do remember that it was long.  And loud.

My 2 middle children were in and out of the tent.   My 4 year old knocked over a chair while complaining loudly that she was bored and hungry, rolled around on the dirty floor in her white dress, and tried to lift up my dress with her foot. It was fun. I pretended that she wasn’t my child, which was completely unconvincing since we were the only white people within a 5-mile radius.

On the bridal table was a pitcher of water and 3 glasses with a “waitress” standing nearby.  At various points throughout the sermon, people in the wedding party and audience would signal the “waitress” and she would bring them a glass of water and stand next them while they gulped down the entire thing.  The “waitress” would then take the glass back to the front table and refill it for the next person to gulp down.

The groom also had a manager (I assume that’s what the guy was).  The manager tended to the groom, wiping sweat from his face, getting numerous glasses of water from the waitress and rubbing the groom’s shoulders to loosen him up.  During all of this, the groom looked like a boxer, wearing a suit, sitting in the corner of a ring between rounds.

After the sermon the pastor had the bride and groom rise and come to the center of the tent.   The photographer and videographer stood in the center isle, about 5 feet from the bride and groom, effectively blocking everyone’s view of the proceedings.  From this point on everything was conducted in Tswana.  Not being able to see anything but the backs of 2 large men, not understanding anything that was going on and suffering from hyperthermia (google it), I drifted in and out of consciousness for the next 6 or 8 hours.  In retrospect I should have asked the waitress for a drink from the communal glass.

This is the only unobstructed picture I got of the bride and groom.

Through the fog I suddenly heard loud music, loud cheering and saw everyone in the audience rise to their feet.  The wedding party then danced down the isle and the wedding was over.

I grabbed my children and exited through the side of the tent.

To my great surprise, when I looked at Lincoln’s watch it was only 2:30 pm, only 2 hours had elapsed since the beginning of the wedding.  Because it was also about 1 hour after Isabels’ naptime and we were all hot, tired and cranky, and the wedding party still needed to pose for wedding photos, we decided to forgo the reception that was supposed to start at noon.

It was actually a great experience, it just would have been much more fun without our little ones.  Now we know to arrive at a wedding 3-4 hours after the scheduled staring time and either leave the kids behind or bring several meals, plenty of snacks, a cooler filled with cold drinks, a myriad of activities, and at least 2 changes of clothes per child.  And earplugs.



  1. I've shared this experience..minus having children. I can imagine the added stress. You did an excellent job of sharing the true african experience.

  2. I, too, have been there, done that--only in Ukraine and minus the dancing. :) Closed canvas tents, or closed up rooms, stuffed with hot dressed-up bodies (don't want a draft or breeze that would make you catch your death of a cold), hungry, tired children, and the sermons all about the wife's do's & don'ts. :P Then, if the service was long, the reception afterwards is e.v.e.r.l.a.s.t.i.n.g. :D
    Fun post! Oh the memories made and the cultural insights gained!

  3. Laughed my way through this whole post and the kiddos loved the dancing arrival of the wedding party. I'm glad the wedding we were at yesterday was shorter and cooler. :)

  4. Corbin matter-of-factly stated, "There is a lot of brown skin. Aren't there any lighter skin anywhere?" Thanks for sharing the video!!! We very much enjoyed the whole post! Madison is very astute. :)

  5. This was so funny, Jenny! I love hearing about these cultural experiences.

  6. you made my night with that amazingly vivid mental picture! I smiled, I laughed, I groaned with sympathy and then I laughed all over again! Thanks for sharing :)

  7. LOVED this post!! Thanks for the glimpse into your life in Africa... it was educational on cultural differences, AND stinking hilarious!! :-)

  8. Loved seeing the wedding party dance.
    Jenny: you totally cracked me up.

    Poor you!!!!!!!!!
    Poor kids!!!!!!!!

    Amazing preacher, huh?

  9. Hi, Jenny. I'm the wife of one of Lincoln's old friends, Eric Boehmer. OOHHH! I know those weddings! I once participated in about half of a 5 couple wedding in Mozambique. 5 hours on a backless wooden bench--then I left. May your water bottle always be full, GORP be plentiful, and earplugs effective.