Monday, July 20, 2015

My Big Fat African Wedding!

By now everyone knows that I have met the man I was destined to spend my life with, traveling and exploring this planet and it's people together, until the end of time. ;) And I had to go to Africa to meet my match in an American, something I never thought would happen. But like all great love stories... it happened. 

Steve started his service in Zambia as a Rural Education Development volunteer 6 months before my Health group went to Zambia. I met him at my second site visit during my second month of service, and we immediately connected and our personalities meshed. However, we were both dating other people, and had absolutely no interest in each other. I ended up being placed in the same District that Steve lived, Lundazi, and all of the volunteers were really close. There were about 24 of us in Lundazi, and we were pretty far away from our office at the time- there was no road so it took about 6 hours to get to our capital where the Peace Corps house was. Due to this, we all pitched in and rented out a house in Lundazi town, where we could all store our things (packages, bikes, extra supplies) when we were traveling, and we used it as a crash pad when we got into town too late to make it back to our rural sites. Having this house brought us all together as a family, and we would often bike in on the weekends or holidays and have feasts and celebrations together. 

I think the best relationships start off as platonic friendships. I was able to get to know Steve for who he really was, without him trying to impress me. I knew that he was a nice guy and a wonderful person- I saw how he treated his girlfriend, his friends, Zambians, and strangers he met. I knew that he was trustworthy, and that I could trust him with anything. I knew who he was, because we spent countless hours hitchhiking together, getting lunch, and navigating Zambia together, face-to-face, side-by-side, and never with a computer or phone screen between us portraying something different than who we were. I saw him in stressful situations, in uncomfortable situations, and when he was absolutely plastered. We were immediate friends; our personalities were compatible. Steve became like a brother to me, my confidant, and my best friend there. I saw him as such, and he saw me as just another one of the guys- someone that could hang. Cuz lets face it, I'm pretty cool, and can kick it with the dudes ;) . After both of our relationships ended, I spent months convincing myself and him that I would never date him; that I just wasn't attracted to him in that way, and never would be... and then I eventually grew to be attracted to him.

Steve and I would visit each others villages, about a 4 hour bike ride and many hills away, and stay for extended periods of time in one another's villages to run health and education programs together, meshing our two fields. In the culture of the tribe that we lived it, it is shameful to entertain someone at your house when you are not married. As Peace Corps Volunteers, we would all travel to each others sites and stay with friends in their huts, and we used this as a teaching moment of cultural exchange- that we could stay together without it meaning that we were all sleeping together. For Steve, his village was a bit more open to people coming and staying in his hut, and even if they weren't, his host family were polygamists, and his host father had about 5 different wives, so he was probably high-fiving Steve every time a different girl came to visit. In my village, being a female, this was a whole different story and they probably thought I was entertaining all the men, and that I was a prostitute. No matter how many times I would try to explain otherwise, it was embedded in them because of their cultural beliefs. 

So when Steve's service ended 6 months before I would be done, I made a proposal to my host father, Prince. I wanted to have a village wedding ceremony, in which everyone that I had grown to work with, know, and love over the last 2 years would be invited to witness, so that it would be deemed appropriate for Steve to come and stay in my hut with me while I finished my service (and possibly to help deter from all of the daily marriage proposals.. maybe). I started off by inviting Prince and my Amama into my hut one night, sat them down, and said "Adada, I wanted to tell you that... Steve and I are courting." To which he replied with a big laugh and said everyone already knew :O So I told him that Steve and I would like to have a village wedding ceremony, but I wanted it to be completely traditional: "before the white men brought Jesus to Africa," before their wedding ceremonies became Westernized. I didn't want a Western wedding, I didn't want a church wedding, I didn't want it to be religious. I wanted the traditional African ceremony that their people had practiced for hundreds of years, the raw, original, tribal ritual...

....So Prince hired a Bishop from Living Fountains Ministry. After telling him what I wanted, he did the opposite, because thats what he thought I wanted and what would be appropriate for a "white wedding". Over the next few days, Prince became my frenzied wedding planner. I told him that I would pay for everything, but needed help planning and organizing, because I had no idea what went into a traditional ceremony behind the scenes. I knew a few of the things that would be expected of me, but not who to talk to and how to get the resources. Every evening, Prince would show up at my hut with another list of things to do, what I needed to give money to him for, and who needs to be added to the guest list. Sometimes he would get so outrageous that I would need to put my foot down and tell him, no, we didn't need 10 goats and 500 guests and to rent speakers and a generator and fuel for the generator, but his excitement was inexorable. He was precious. 

One day I biked into town, rented a computer for 30 minutes (about 10 cents), typed up some wedding invitations, and printed out 200 of them (about $5). 
The typical gifts that people would bring to a Zambian wedding are all kitchen supplies: pots, pans, plates, stir sticks, buckets, storage containers, etc. Since we were about to move out of my hut in a month and travel, I asked that people bring a monetary donation instead. I felt that this was wrong to do, since people in the village don't have much money, but I figured they'd be spending money on a gift anyways, so they might as well contribute towards food. Prince told me this was going against the tradition, but I didn't want to end up with a bunch of kitchen supplies and then give them away to other people when we moved out. 5 kwacha is equivalent to a little less than $1, so I was only asking for $1-2, that we put towards food and renting a stereo system and generator.
Steve and I ended up going around to peoples villages and buying chickens to slaughter for the wedding. I had to send Prince to find some goats, because no one wanted to sell me their goats. We slaughtered 10 chickens and 2 goats for the feast, as well as bough 50kg of cabbage, a few baskets of onions, and a few baskets of tomatoes. My host family and my village people donated some of their millie meal (maize powder) to make nsima (the staple food). I also used my 100L bucket and endless supply of Crystal Lights sent from the States to make some flavored sugar water for everyone to drink. In my hut for my guests, I brewed some wine out of local fruits, made some mead, and rum cake.

Leading up to the wedding was stressful. I planned it during my last two months in the village, because Steve was home in the States and would be coming back about a month before the end of my service. During that time, I had visitors, I had projects going and programs to run at my clinic and school, I was raising money and trying to get the Health Office to come and help build our health clinic, I had end of service trainings and medical checks, I was recovering from a chopped off toe, and I was trying to finish up all of my reports and end of service documents, as well as organize to travel around Africa then move back to the States. I was a bit overwhelmed, so it was nice that Prince was working so hard for me.

During my End-of-Service Conference, I got back together with everyone that I had flown into country with 2 years prior. One of my friends brought a bunch of jewelry to our conference, that she had helped her Girls Empowerment Club make. They lived in North Western Province of Zambia, which is near the Copperbelt, where a majority of the copper mines are. The girls made copper jewelry, and then would sell it in order to afford school fees and continue going to school, so as not to fall into the disturbing cultural reality of having sugar daddies, sleeping with their teacher attend school, or getting pregnant and dropping out. So to support them, a lot of us volunteers bought a bunch of jewelry from these girls. As girls empowerment is something that both Steve and I worked really hard to promote while in Zambia, I thought it would be fitting if the rings that we exchanged during the ceremony were reflective upon our time in Zambia. Also fitting is that Zambia's largest/main export is copper.  So, I bought our "his and hers" rings: ($5).

In the days leading up to the ceremony I was running (biking) all over the place. I went to the excitingly brand new baker in town and placed an order for 2 cakes, telling him that my dress colors had reds and blues and purples and gold, and to decorate the cakes accordingly, based on what he had access to. (I wish I had a close up picture of the cakes so you could all see the magnificence that he created, but you'll get a side view further down.) I traveled the 12 hours to the capital to pick up Steve from the airport, but one of the bags didn't make the flight so we stayed in the city an extra day, as we were told that the bag would be there the next day. Which it wasn't. Apparently it forgot to get off the plane in Zambia and was now in Zimbabwe, so they said that we could stay an extra day again, and get it then, but at this point our wedding was in 2 days and we needed to get back to the village and get stuff done! So we hitched back up, got into town, picked up the outfits that I had made for us at a local tailor, checked in on the progress of the cakes, and went to a bottle depot and grabbed 4 crates of soda pops for the "guests of honor" at our wedding. These wouldn't be for the common-folk, but the headmen, chief, and clinic doctors. We got back to my village late, the night before the wedding ceremony.

Because of our delayed arrival to my village, I didn't get to partake in the traditional pre-ceremony rituals that I was supposed to take part in. So I'll tell you a little about what is supposed to happen: I was to go out into the bush with the village women and my elders (acting grandmothers) the night before, and spend hours being taught the "bedroom dances" and being instructed on how to keep my man happy and take care of him. At this time, they would also test my cooking skills, as well as have me shimmy up a tree in the nude (what this proves? I don't know). Then they would return me to the hut, with my head and face covered under a chitenge. They would knock on the door, and when Steve answers, would present me to him and ask him how much he is willing to pay. After negotiating with him for a price, they would lead us both into the bedroom. They would talk to us about 'doing the deed', and how it will be our first night together and I am to preform what I have learned. They would then exit my hut and surround it, all with pots and pans and sticks and drums, and dance and sing through the night, creating a lot of noise so that no noise would be heard from inside of my hut. In the morning, if Steve was... "satisfied".. he was to leave some money between to bedsheets as a payment to my female elders for teaching me well. The women would then strip the bedsheets and do the laundry. The men would sit Steve down, and ask him if I was a "caterpillar or a butterfly", and he would hopefully respond that I had blossomed into a butterfly. Only then, and only if he had been satisfied the night before, could the ceremony continue on and take place. But, alas, none of this was experienced.....

The morning of the ceremony we awoke to loud Zambian music blaring outside of my windows at 6am. I got up to see what was happening, and people were moving all over the village setting things up. They had gotten two large speakers, a radio, a microphone, and a generator and placed them directly in front of my hut. They were building a structure next to my hut out of tree trunks and grass, making a makeshift canopy. Chairs were popping up from nowhere, goats were getting their heads chopped off, women were building massive fires, and children were putting on the nicest, cleanest clothes a village kid has ever seen. It was also quickly heating up. We made some coffee, I took a bucket bath out back and my hair was dry within 2 minutes as the outside temperature in the hot African sun reached 100 degrees. My host mother came over and asked to have a few rolls of toilet paper and I thought, "how wonderful! They've learned so much about health and hygiene from me that they wish to create a toilet for the guests at our wedding!" and happily passed over my sacred pink tissue rolls. A few minutes later I stepped outside and realized that she had, instead, decorated the front of my hut and the canopy with the toilet paper acting as streamers. 
As we began to get dressed into our outfits, Prince came over with a few men dressed in fancy suits and asked us to come out and sit on the floor in my hut to talk with them. It was a bishop that had come in from town with his translator to conduct the ceremony (again, this was my first time hearing about this, because I had told Prince no to every religious group that he tried to hire to sing gospel music at the ceremony, reminding him again and again that I didn't want a religious ceremony). So we sat with the bishop, we told him our names and wrote them on the certificate, told him the story about the rings we wanted to exchange and what they meant to us based on our time here, and why we wanted to proceed with a village wedding ceremony. 

One of our Peace Corps friend, Phillipe showed up then, and began to take some wonderful pictures for us! A few minutes later Steve and I were ushered into my host family's house next door to my hut, while we were still getting ready. I hadn't gotten out my cameras and solidified everything yet when Jonesi came in to tell me that we were expected in my parents house. We went over there and they started arranging us and said the ceremony was about to start and we couldn't leave! We hung out inside the house chatting with the boys and girls and trying to figure out what was going to happen next! 
Some of my village kiddos, with my brother Alfredi in the stripped button-up in the front, and my sister Tiyese in the middle in the back. 
My brothers and sisters were surprised with some new shirts to wear for the event. The kids of my village had a good time dressing up in the nicest clothes they could scrounge up from their dirt huts, and I have no idea where the glitter came from but they decorated their hair and faces in purple and gold glitter. 
The Matron, the male knife-dancer, and the groomsmen dancing Steve out.
Our matron of honor was a lady that I had never met before, or if I had, I had no recollection of meeting her. She lived in my catchment area near my health clinic and was really involved with the school youth and churches. She found some school boys and school girls to be our official dancers, as well as our groomsmen and bridesmaids. I had no say in the selection process, but a few of my students that I had worked with or hung out with around the villages made the cut, so I was happy to see them and share this day with them! The Matron danced out both of our lines. 
Jones took his job as Flower Boy very seriously! 
It was a beautiful, 120 degree summer day out on the day of the ceremony. Sweltering!! One of the cultural practices for weddings across Zambia is that it is a very serious ceremony. The bride and the groom are not supposed to smile at all, and are supposed to look sad the entire time. The bride is instructed to not make eye contact with anyone, always looking at her feet or to the ground, to play into the subversiveness and subservience to her husband that is expected in a misogynistic culture. I definitely did not buy into this part of the traditional practice, because I wanted to see everyone and everything that was happening at my wedding! However, we did try to keep a straight face throughout the ceremony, as seen in some of the pictures, 
Little Jonesi is even adorable from behind! He kept pulling up his pants the whole time. A few days before the ceremony, he came running into my hut and was so excited to tell me all about his new shirt and pants and shoes. I asked if I could see them and he said "no! only for the wedding!" His mom didn't want him to get them dirty before his big day.
The traditional fabric in Zambia (and all of Africa) is chitenge. I found some nice chitenge fabric when I was in the capital of Lusaka, at a market under a bridge by a railroad track. I got two different prints, and one I used to make an outfit for my host father and mother, and the other print I used to make Steve's shirt and my dress. It's typical for the bride and groom to match prints, so I went to a local tailor in our market and sat with them working out a design, then picked it up a few days later! 
Next, my girls line danced me out of the hut. Again, in the front is our Matron, then my female knife dancer in the blue, then my "bridesmaids"/female dancers. I knew a few of them, but the rest were random and I had no say in who was chosen!
She got quite fancy for her part in our wedding! She looked fantastic though, I must say. 
Trying not to smile, surrounded by my village grandmothers, with my little niece, Ruthy, in front of me as my flower girl. 
My village grandmas dancing around me. It's always a good time to dance in Africa! 
They sat poor Steve down in the sun instead of the shade! Again, it was OVER 100 DEGREES! About 115-120 throughout the day!
I got to sit in the shade in the fancy seats.. with some random guy next to me. I'm not sure if it was a symbolic thing that we had to be away from each other and then brought together at the end, or what. But I felt so bad for Steve in the sun!
Our Bishop and his translator. These two were hilarious, it was a comedy show. However, the sermon that they presented was very "fire and brimstone". They explained the unconditional covenant that we were making with each other was reflective of the covenant which Abraham made with God, to sacrifice an animal by cutting it into two halves, in which God would pass through the middle of the two animals as a torch or a smoking furnace, and bind the animal back together through him, as the covenant is completed. I'm not much of a theist- this is how they explained it to us and to our village. They also noted that it was a male animal and a female animal being bound together from their two halves, and said that that's the covenant that Steve and I were making. They assured us that if we were to ever break our covenant or wish to divorce, that God would strike us down and our bodies would split in half, letting us bleed out to our death and condemning us to burn in an eternal hell. He also made it a known point that if we should wish to divorce, the only way to safely do so and break the covenant without God striking us down where we stood, was to preform a divorce ceremony in the same exact location that we were currently at, with the same exact people, at the same exact time. He went into great detail explaining how we would need to have everyone there who was bearing witness on this day, with not a single person missing, and they all must be exactly as they were- not having aged even a minute, or changed into different clothes.. therefore making it impossible for us to ever break the bond that him and God were solidifying on that day..... So yea, totally what I was going for in my non-religious ceremony.  
My host father, Prince, and host mother, Agnes, rocking their matching outfits that I made for them. I thought that if anything, they would have some nice, fancy chitenge outfits to wear in their future should they ever need to dress up for something that they might not typically be able to afford. I made Prince a vest and tie, and Amama got a skirt, dress shirt, and duku (head wrap). They were so thrilled! Even though they didn't necessarily want to wear it for the ceremony (or they just didn't want to match each other?) they were excited to have such a nice gift. 
They finally realized how hot Steve must have been while he was melting in the sun, and got a lady to stand over him for the remainder of the ceremony and hold an umbrella above his head. 
My host father walking me over to hand me off to Steve.
Prince giving a speech to us about how he loves his daughter so much and she has helped him immensely an Astevu is such a great man that has also blessed him and may we have a blessed marriage and life together ;)
Village kids from all over the area showed up and hung out! Dressed to the nines in their best pajamas! 
Most likely laughing about some other ridiculous thing the Bishop was saying... There was a lot. He mentioned something about how some people try to make "covenants/marriage bonds" but they weren't real because they weren't done through God, and that some people might go into the jungle and cut themselves and drink each others blood, or use "ju-ju" (witchcraft) to have a wedding ceremony but these weren't real because science says that those things weren't real and "I'm no scientist, but this is science that things like witchcraft and satanism cannot be real and that's why we must believe and trust in the Lord and know only he can make our marriage real." [I know that was a run-on sentence, but our Bishop was kind of a run-on guy.]
He got some 'hanks' (handkerchiefs) for us. When he began to present them to us, he explained that the saying that is printed on them, "Blessed Partner" is to remind us whenever we pull out our 'hanks', we shall know that we have a blessed partner and stay true to them. His examples were as follows: "When the woman is home and cleaning and cooking in the kitchen and caring for the children, and she feels like she doesn't want to do these things any longer, she shall pull our her 'hank' and know that she has a blessed partner and she must stay true to him and serve him. And when the man is out on the town, doing the business, he should pull out his hank and remember that he has a blessed partner at home." ..This is why I'm not smiling at this moment.
He then had everyone rub their hands together, like so ^, so create a physical energy to ceremoniously complete the process of our covenant together. During this time, I passed my handkerchief to Steve and he passed his into my hands. And thus, we were "village married". 
One of my village grandmothers was so ecstatic that she came up and shook her hips and broke into tribal song in front of us. Like I said, always a good time to dance in Africa.  
Before exchanging our rings, the Bishop went into a long story about how we had gotten some very expensive rings for each other from "Zales, or Tiffany's, or something like that, but they are terribly expensive to show our love!" People wouldn't know what these places were in the village...and I know he thought he was making a funny joke because he had seen the rings before the ceremony and knew that they were cheap and made of copper, so he was sort of making fun of us...but it still irked me a little bit that he decided to make that joke, because I didn't want to give the impression to my village that we could afford expensive rings, (we couldn't/still can't), and I thought the whole reason behind the rings was such a special story and a nice story about helping the female youth of Zambia to succeed, that he should have shared that bit of information instead.  
He then allowed us to hug... No Kissing! 
We then kneeled on the ground while they prayed over us and our marriage...
And my host father, Prince, took Steve us, while his host father, Chaliwa Zimba, took me up from the ground and gave us their blessings and exchange of children.
This is our *ahem* Zambian Marriage Certificate. It can be held up in Zambian court of law, because it was witnessed by the people of my village, and my Group Headman, as well as the surrounding Headmen, who are all a distant part of the Zambian Government, but part of it nonetheless. However, we signed our village surnames on it, because to us, it isn't our 'official wedding certificate'. Legal in Zambia, but not anywhere else. Signed, Stephen Zimba and Caitlin Kamanga. 
No smiling as we pose for pictures with the Bishop and his assistant and our certificate.
We are the champions, my friends! 
 My sweet little brother flower boy Jonesi with his purple glittered face, and my sweet little niece flower girl Ruthie, taking her job so seriously.
 Our dancing line then proceeded to dance out the two wedding cakes. It was all choreographed, of course! Unfortunately our photographer missed the next event, but our knife dancing boy and girl that I mentioned earlier preformed their knife dance after this. They had one of my kitchen knives (which was really sharp so I made them wrap a towel around the blade), and the two of them preformed a dance where the spun the knife all around, passing it between their legs, behind their backs, back and forth to each other, etc... It was really impressive and I wish I had evidence! 
 And then, all three of us cut the cake together ;) They had already cut up the cake into different portions, as you can see on the table, but left a piece for us to cut and share. 
 A little bit of a closer view of one of the cakes. They were one-layer rectangular, plain flavored, but decorated oh-so-beautifully ;) I had told him about the colors of my dress, so he decorated in those colors! lol. This one was blue and pink, and said Caitlin in gold, and the other cake was red and green and said Steve on it. 
 I was surprised, but they actually let us feed the cake to each other! I thought that would be a cultural no-no.
 Whoever the guy next to me is (he was the MC with the mic and music for the rest of the party), was so excited to watch Steve feed me cake. 
 Then, as per tradition, you present a gift to the parents, the people who conduct the ceremony (in our case, the Bishop and his sidekick), and the Headman. We have to kneel on the floor and bow when presenting the cake portions to them, as a sign of respect. The rest of the cakes were cut up into bite-sized pieces and passed around to everyone in attendance. 
 While people split off to get their food, Steve and I became a backdrop for everyones photographs. People had come from all over, as was expected, to see the while people get married. There were over 500 people there, and a lot of them were randoms that we didn't know or hadn't invited. But, we understood it, because it was such an odd and special occasion to have occurring on their lands. So, to prove that they were there, people would come up and sit or stand next to us while their friend snapped a picture. They wouldn't even engage with us, ask us for a photo, or tell us when it was happening. They didn't care if we knew, or were paying attention, or not. They just did it. 
 Tons of people handed me their babies to hold while they took a picture of us. It freaked Steve out, but maybe they thought it was a sign of luck. Either for them, their babies, or our potential future ones. 
 Random people doing random poses elicits random responses from yours truly. We had fun with it all. 
 Again. Hi. Who are you? And why do you only care about Steve, and push me out of the way to shake his hand?
 Our Matron. I think Steve was sick of all these shenanigans by now. What a trooper. 
 Some of our best friends from town made it out to the village! They kept us entertained during the ceremony, as they would sit in the back of everyone and make faces and us and cheers their drinks to us. These guys were always a great time! But one of my school girls and bridesmaids was trying to take a picture with me when all of our other friends drunkenly barged in and wouldn't let her get a snap by herself. She obviously wasn't pleased!
 Again, people trying to take pictures with us while our drunk friends won't leave the frame! lol. These kids don't smile for photos unless you tell them "sekanani!" - "laugh! please!"
 Steve didn't like that everyone was handing me their babies. I love the babies. And this one wouldn't stop staring at me, and even reached his hand up to touch my face. He was intrigued!
 My poor little baby Ruthie became very unhappy because her chair was on the ground by my feet and people kept coming in and standing in front of her/all over her to take pictures with us. They also kept taking her flowers out of her hands to pose in pictures, and I had told her that they were her special flowers so she didn't want to share. I ended up picking her up so she wouldn't be trampled, and we got Jones to stand up and keep a strong hold on his flowers, too. They were so protective of them!

 When we finally got a break from it all and could just sit back and watch all the craziness! It sure was a wild experience! 
My cuties.

My Village has a strict "no alcohol" policy. I brewed my own wine for my wedding guests to consume in my hut after the festivities were over, but otherwise there was no alcohol to be found. However, the day wouldn't be complete without one token belligerently drunk guy showing up, shouting, and showing off his sweet dance moves. I came to party!  

So this concludes a too-long post, but I'm sure I didn't even cover half of it! People always ask if we are real married, and the answer is no; this was a celebration and experience that we wanted to have with those we loved and were close with in Zambia. A lot of it was to understand their culture more, and to tie together two years of our story- as well as their story- in one final commemoration. To us, it was an expression of our love to each other, yes, but more so an expression of our love to the people of Zambia. It means a lot to us, but it doesn't necessarily mean that we are married (although, as my friend pointed out, it seems that our marriage is more official, as in their marriage they were never informed that should they divorce, God would strike them down, split their bodies in half, and let them bleed out to death before sending them straight to Hell). This was something that I really wanted to do, and it took a lot of persuading to get Steve to agree, but we are both so glad that we now have this story to tell! (Plus, I can pull the "husband" card whenever it is convenient for me, or I can pull the "boyfriend" card when that is more convenient!) Now, I look forward to experiencing similar things with him all over the world, until one day we return to the US and can have a Western ceremony, witnessed by our friends and family from home.  (Don't tell him though ;) ...)

Invitations: $5
Dress and Suit: $50
Rings: $10
1 Chicken: $4
1 Goat: $35
Total cost: ~$200
Having a wedding ceremony, conducted in a tribal language, in a rural village in Africa: