After my last post, I had resolved not to let my impatience get the best of me. So, on Friday I was calm and not concerned that we were more than two hours behind schedule. I was enjoying operating with a young resident who was eager to learn. I love to share with students and residents who are hungry for knowledge and wisdom! I think that they bring out the best in me. As we were close to finishing, a wedding invitation was delivered in to the OR. Two residents who I had known from previous visits to Tenwek saw me arrive Tuesday and had sent an invitation to me. If we had been running on time, I would have missed the delivery! I was honored to be invited and certainly wasn't going to miss my first opportunity to attend an African wedding!
Earlier this year as I was preparing for a mission trip to Nicaragua, our team leader recommended the book Foreign to Familiar: A Guide to Understanding Hot -and Cold -Climate Cultures. Turns out the book was exactly correct in its descriptions of cultural differences. The invitation states the wedding begins at 10:00 am. So, being the cold climate creature that I am, I showed up exactly at 9:00 to catch a ride with the White family to Kericho - one hour drive away. The Whites are long term missionaries here and they knew better. Beth White was still feeding children breakfast and hadn't started getting ready yet. She informed me that the bride's mother was still in Nairobi and that it would be at least a couple of hours! I returned to my room to do some reading and remembered the book's description of this very situation. We left three hours later and arrived just on time to the wedding. A full four hours past the stated start time. According to the book, this was typical because hot climate cultures regard the start of the wedding as when preparations begin - the arrival at the church comes later - well after the start of the event! I spoke with a few residents who confirmed that it's always a guessing game as to when the bride will show for the wedding. Four hours late was not out of line! TIA!
Mike and Liz are both first year surgical residents who have centered their life around serving the Lord and His people. Their day and their ceremony were likewise God centered. The wedding was outdoors and began with the typical bride processional. The biggest difference was the women who did this high pitched trill that is unlike anything we do in America! The groom awaited at the front of a small tent which was lined with about 50 chairs that formed a small aisle. The tent provided an intimate setting for the ceremony. The bride's mother then gave her away with a short speech that was heartfelt and moving. She described Liz as her only jewel and asked for God's blessing on her new home with Mike. A worship team offered two Swahili songs which found everyone in strong voice - except the English only speakers like me. One thing that's been abundantly clear is that culturally, Americans have a hang up about singing and dancing. These Kenyans sing with an abandon which I envy. Most have good voices, but the quality of the voice doesn't determine a person's volume as it does back home. Singing is for celebrations and enjoyment is for everyone. Wish we were like that!
The ceremony had the typical elements of sermon, vows, ring exchange and candle lighting. The newlyweds were announced by the pastor and the emcee took over right there in the church tent. He had them dance, not walk, down the aisle followed by the wedding party and family. It sounds like a stereotype, but there is no doubt that Africans are blessed with rhythm. I could have watched them process all day! Age is no barrier, kids and elderly all dance with ease and grace. The only awkwardness I saw were the white folks whose attempts were, to be kind... lame! I was safely behind my camera which was probably best for everyone!
A buffett was served while the wedding party disappeared for pictures. One of the coolest parts was when the couple returned to the festivities. The women went out to escort them in. A Swahili song was sung by the crowd as they danced their way in a parade that encircled the grounds for the next half hour or so. Two or three songs were sung, with never the need for any instruments other than the voices. Harmonies, rhythms, and melodies blended together as the party danced it's way around in no particular hurry. The bridal party nestled under a tent with the head table. Their meal would be followed by gifts, toasts and more dancing. Unfortunately for me, we had to hit the road back to Tenwek. Missionaries are not permitted to drive after dark (for safety reasons) and the late started meant we'd miss some of the festivities. We arrived back just before dark at Tenwek.
I feel so honored to have been invited. The love of family and friends was so abundantly clear to me, even though I understood none of the Swahili that made up most of the conversations. Africans are really good at relationships and family. They celebrate without reservation and take joy in the simple act of spending time together. Time is not their master. Life is often hard in Africa, but days like today are for celebrating the love of friends, family and God. Their remaining surgical training will be difficult and once finished, their lives will be taxed by the overwhelming need of their community. I pray for God's blessings and protection of their marriage. I know that they will be a blessing to so many in their lives and surgical careers.