Tuesday, September 04, 2012

An African Journey: Post Four - An African Wedding

At our wedding reception in December of 1965, 
one of my husband's oldest friends and his wife stood in line,  shook our hands, wished us well, and jokingly said,

Ray and Dick were born just a few days apart and 'met' at the church their parents attended when they were infants.
They went to high school together and were part of a group of guys who kept connected through college and beyond.
Finding out that they were thinking about 
traveling around the world the same time we were?
Astoundingly good news!

And that's exactly what happened, eight months later.
Only their location was a little more in flux than ours,
we traveled on different ships,
and we weren't at all sure where they would end up
once we all got there.
As it turned out, for the first few months,
they were housed at a mission station in the bush, about 40 miles away from us. To get there required driving on this dirt road,
the same corrugated dirt road that we traveled 
nearly two years later when I went into labor.
There were villages located all through this area,
and all of the people who lived in them walked or rode their bikes to the mission for two primary reasons:
to receive quality medical care or
to get married in the chapel.

Every few weeks, we would drive out that road
to see how our friends were doing.
Or they would come charging into Choma,
often on the motorcycle they bought their first week there.
Their presence was a huge gift to us. Huge.
This was the small rondaval they called home for those months. It was one room, with a corrugated tin roof and an outhouse.
And you may remember how we lived . . .
in a stucco and brick house, with three bedrooms and indoor plumbing. 
Plus, we had electricity about 80% of the time.
And yes, we did feel more than a little guilty about
encouraging them to come on this adventure.
They both wanted to teach school, 
so while they waited for an assignment, 
they lived at Macha Mission. 
Ray managed this workroom, and used his considerable mechanical gifts to repair all kinds of things.
Anita made herself useful wherever she could and was 
so delighted when they rigged up cooking equipment in their small home.
Prior to that, they had to eat in the main house,
with a tribe of other workers.
Once in a while, that kind of community is a grand thing - if everyone is moderately compatible and easy-going.
But three meals a day, seven days a week?
It can be tough sledding.

In about our third month there, we had a true adventure together. 
There was a wedding at Macha - and we were invited!
The wedding was scheduled for about 10:00 a.m.,
but didn't begin until a little after noon.
Because in Zambia, it was customary for the groom 
to purchase the attire for the bride.
This groom didn't have a clue about sizing and the dress
he selected for his small wife-to-be was about four sizes too big. 
The entire mission staff was busily trying to make adjustments 
so that this girl could come down the aisle. 
Many safety pins and an improvised cummerbund later 
(made from a cloth diaper) - and, voila!
It worked and somehow the wedding happened.
Some western traditions were incorporated - like the clothes and the attendants. But one custom was entirely Tongan:
the bride never looked up, never smiled. Ever.
This was the most important and serious day of her life
and she was not supposed to make light of it in any way.
And she did not.
Following the ceremony, we were invited to the feast held in celebration of the new family - at the groom's village.
The women had been cooking for hours,
gifts had been gathered,
and the couple's new hut had been officially decorated . . .
by the groom, with new clothing, fabric and other gifts for his lovely bride.
We drove over a bike path, then a cow path, then through a small stream, where we had to get out and push the Kombi-bus. The bride and groom hitched a ride with us, however, so we knew the party couldn't begin until we got there.
The houses in the village were made of mud bricks, the roofs thatch. The smaller structures were grain storage bins because the staple food for this entire region is ensima, a porridge made from ground field corn. Every village kept a ready supply of the tough kernels in these small, raised huts, out of the reach of hungry warthogs and wandering cattle.
 In the morning, ensima is served thin, gruel-style. 
For meals later in the day, it is quite stiff and usually served with a relish - most often vegetables, but on special occasions, chicken or beef.
This was a special occasion and there was chicken cooking in the pots!
Meals were cooked communally and sometimes eaten together, 
sometimes in smaller family units.
On this day, we were ushered into the groom's hut and food was brought to us.
We felt overwhelmed and embarrassed by so much special attention, 
but had been told ahead of time what to expect 
and to just receive this hospitality for the lovely gift it was.
The groom's hut was not quite as large as this one and did not have windows,
but it was cozy and welcoming.
As I recall, I was not feeling at all well that day, but I was determined not to miss this once-in-a-lifetime experience!
You can just barely see that the groom has a good supply of both sugar and hand soap - high on the list of desirable products to own.
They brought us so.much.food - stiff corn meal mush and some stewed chicken to go with it. And we loved the enamel ware bowls it came in!
This was the view looking out the door of the groom's hut,
just a snapshot of village life.
After everyone had eaten their fill, the party began.
There was dancing,
and there was singing,
and there was gift-giving.
Each gift would be danced up to the couple -
a five-pound bag of sugar,
a box of tea,
a bar of soap or a box of soap flakes.
Everyone was delighted to be there and showered this
couple with love and generosity.

 About six weeks after this remarkable adventure,
Ray and Anita were moved 500 miles south of us
to one of the oldest mission stations of the denomination.
It was located in the beautiful, rocky landscape of the Matopos hills in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Getting together got a lot more complicated.
We thanked God for the steam train and made the effort, however. 
And we got to see some gorgeous country in the process.

This is the school where Ray and Anita taught for nearly two years. They had indoor plumbing and generated electricity during daylight hours. They loved their students and made some long-time friends in this place.
Whenever we visited, they took us sight-seeing.
And there were such beautiful sights to see.
They came back to Zambia to visit us, too.
We celebrated birthdays and anniversaries together when we could, laughing and enjoying the long threads of our shared history.
Anita was one of the greatest friends of my life.
She taught me how to cook, how to laugh,
how to enjoy life.
She died one month before I began my life in Santa Barbara
and I have missed her ever since.

Ray was skilled at so many things and so generous with those skills! 
He and Dick shared many years of close friendship.
After we returned to the States, 
our families gathered every New Year's Eve and Day,
and vacationed together several times.
Those ties were begun here,
in our bright red kitchen and their hilltop adobe home.
Ties that connected us heart to heart,
soul to soul.
Sharing such life-changing experiences binds people 
in ways that are hard to describe or define.
But I am eternally grateful for all of it - 
the experiences,
the ties,
the friendship.
I am so very glad we had this cross-cultural 
adventure when we were young, 
but I find that what I miss now that I am not-so-young is 
not the adventure itself, but that sense of long history with heart-friends. 
It has never been replicated in our lives.
And as I look at these old pictures,
as I read the letters I sent home,
it is this connection that I miss the most.
There simply is no substitute for it.
Thank you, Ray and Anita, for loving us well
and sharing our lives for so many years.
I miss you.

I will join this at Jennifer's and at Emily's and at Duane's places. Also with Laura Boggess and with Michelle and Jen and the SDG: