Monday, March 21, 2011

3/6: I had an interesting series of altercations with a herd of cows today. I was the only one at the compound this afternoon so it fell to me to get the cows out. I’m not exactly sure why my host family doesn’t like the cows in our area but they do seem to enjoy eating the thatched roofing and tend to have a blanket disregard to the location of their bowels so I’m guessing those two factors might make the list. Anyway, my young host brothers have no apparent trouble getting them to leave. I tried to make the same noises the kids do then proceeded to use a broom as a threatening device. Nothing. I scrapped the bad cop routine and tried some good ole fashioned sweet talk. They didn’t even budge. It took several more tries over an entire afternoon to get them out. I’m sure they found my whole charade quite entertaining. (As did the neighbors I can imagine).

3/8-9: In planning the Camp GLOW parent meetings my counterpart tried to calm my nerves when I showed my concern in having a parent meeting in the middle of the day on a weekday. “Oh don’t worry, Lindelwa, they’ll just send a representative.” Perfect. So I was bracing for the meetings to be a circus. To be honest I was a bit disappointed at how smooth they went. Maybe I’ve adapted too much so that I don’t have as many cultural snafus. I didn’t anticipate the literacy rate being as low as it was but that was easily fixed by my counterpart and I shouting over each other as the parents/representatives dictated their pertinent information and signed with an X.

Also worth mentioning is Tshengie’s very creative excuse for not helping me with our grant proposal: her elbows hurt. Uh-huh.

3/11-13: I met a girl on a bush taxi a few months ago who invited me to be in her sister’s wedding. Not kidding. She then called me about three dozen times to remind me of the date that she watched me put in my phone on the bush taxi. So Friday morning I was at her house, overnight bag in hand, for the big day. I was put immediately to work and spent the next six hours chopping and peeling various vegetables with the bridesmaids that seemed to appear in shifts.

I was then escorted to a bedroom that I would later spend the majority of my three days. It housed a double bed and we later pulled a second thin double sized mattress from under the first bed. These two mattresses touched all four walls. On average there were about fifteen girls in this room at one time. I seemed to always be one of them. I watched the bridal party get ready and not wanting me to feel left out my hair was slathered with just as much relaxer and baby oil as the next girl. Unfortunately the end result was far less attractive. Think slick backed grease with a ring of frizz. Thankfully they didn’t dress me as so often happens when I go to these events. I almost wish they did. I felt quite out of place in my flowy skirt and Chacos next to the plastic heels and Forever 21-esque ensembles of the bridal party, all of whom are currently at university in Durban and very urbanized. I think they felt much better about ‘my look’ after the slicked back frizz coif was complete though they clearly disapproved of my far inferior clothing selection.

I had prepared to stay over for the night with Friday being the day of cooking and preparation and Saturday being the big event. Au contraire, the first of three ceremonies was Friday night hence the primping during what I thought was the prep day. I’m used to not knowing what’s going on but this weekend took the cake in the confusion department. After a day of eating nothing but biscuits and soda the first of three ceremonies began. The ‘warm-up wedding’ was more of a Southern revival with a few people in matching outfits. The groom was hanging out in his pick-up truck throughout the duration of his wedding and was dressed in jeans. The sound system was set at such a high volume that I was in physical pain from the very first Hallelujah. Four hours of fire and brimstone screaming, oftentimes with three or four people speaking in tongues into mics over the intended speaker, and it was time to eat. I was beyond lightheaded when we finally sat down to eat our first proper meal of the day at around 8:00pm. Unlike anything else that day, we were in a mad scramble. So I followed suit and ate as quickly as I could then cleaned the tent of the remains of the warm-up wedding I asked my friend Zama where we were going and she said we were going to Escourt, “not right now but now.” So African. We left six hours later at 4:30am. In the meantime I piled onto one of the two mattresses and ate more biscuits and drank more sugary pop. Thankfully, we slept from 11-1:00am.

It was so interesting to live with over thirty people in a three room house. Throw modesty and privacy out the window. This weekend is what guys envision girls’ sleepovers to be like; girls forever in various stages of undress. The wedding was in town and so we had running water. Girls bathed two at a time. We slept (for two hours) four to a bed dressed in just our underpants. (For some reason I was given the grandmother’s nightgown). Girls would come in and out unfazed by the nakedness. Out of the three full days I spent there I might have spent five minutes with a male.

After we primped and ate more biscuits and pop we loaded up into taxis in the middle of the night. I knew enough to not expect an environment conducive to sleeping in transit but what I got was another thing entirely. We ushered in the sunrise with traditional Zulu songs driving through the hills of SA. It took about four hours to get there but was one of those moments that confirm that you’re in the right place at the right time doing the right thing.

The second wedding venue was beautiful, think 80s wedding. The groomsmen dressed in too-big, gold pin-striped tan polyester suits. There were white lights under the white cloth that covered the walls and gold cloth was swagged everywhere.
This is not your average Zulu wedding. It’s what Zulus call a ‘white wedding’ and is what the ‘born-again Christians’ prefer as they no longer believe in Zulu traditions like ancestors which tie into traditional Zulu weddings. The groom’s family, on the other hand, still pays lobola (bride price). Another interesting fun fact I learned about born-again Christians is that they typically prefer arranged marriages. This wedding was just that with the bride being 19 years old and the groom 35.

But back to the festivities. So I quickly discovered I was the unofficial photographer which was both stressful and demanding. But the ceremony seemed to go off without a hitch. It was six hours long with many people giving long-winded speeches and our first meal again was at dinnertime. It was really warm in the hall and the maid of honor and best man kept running up to the honored couple to dab at their sweaty faces. It was also pretty humorous to see that there was no need to put on airs. Nobody feigned interest when they were getting bored and at the end there were quite a few heads on the table openly sleeping.

After the food was eaten the bridal party and other VIPS were carted off to the third ceremony. It was dark, cold and rainy when we arrived at the groom’s family’s home in a village outside Escourt. The family’s compound was built almost on the edge of a cliff. I was thanking the Nigerien cell phone gods that my phone had a built in flashlight. The entire bridal party changed into traditional clothes. Then the bride’s family gave the groom’s extended family blankets and grass mats amongst other things. We then crossed a swamp to another tent where there was more food. I licked mine clean.

We got home in the middle of the night and all the girls piled into the same room with the same minimal clothing. (I was given the grandmother’s robe). The next day we bathed and ate more biscuits and pop. I was so used to this routine that I didn’t want to leave. But I haven’t quite gone native and when I got home I relished in my aloneness for the rest of the evening. I caught up on the news from BBC World Service, swept out a fresh batch of critters and finished a good book.

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