First Week + Traditional Wedding

I can’t believe it’s been a whole week already! It’s been a dusty, uphill journey (pretty much all roads around here are), but we made some big moves and are excited to move into our very own apartment later this week. Living with Leslie’s host family has been an amazing privilege and we are so thankful for all of the help and support they’ve provided, but with our own place I’ll be able to take my first step toward actually being able to call Rwanda, “home”. The apartment is located in a new building in the Kicukiru neighborhood (fairly close to where we are both working) and is fully furnished! And, most importantly, it has 2 bedrooms so we have plenty of space for you all to visit. 🙂

Last Saturday, we attended Ariane’s traditional wedding and Leslie was even asked to be in it as a bride’s maid and got to wear a mushanana (a ceremonial Rwandan dress consisting of a wrapped skirt and a sash over the shoulder). As it seems that a lot of big things are planned and orchestrated fairly last-second in Rwanda, the days and hours leading up to the wedding were extremely busy for our family. When we woke up Saturday morning, we found a group of people sitting behind the house peeling potatoes, chopping pumpkin, and preparing all of the food for the few hundred wedding guests. As it turned out, their caterer had taken the money for the wedding and disappeared, but luckily there were plenty of people to pitch in and we joined in to string green beans.

In the afternoon, we left for the wedding venue where Leslie was promptly whisked away to prepare with the other bridesmaids and I was given a seat in a section that I later learned was reserved for guests of the bride. The layout of the venue included two seating areas (rows of chairs) facing each other and separated by grassy area and a stage at the front. The stage was very brightly decorated with many strings of lights, bouquets of roses, and 4 ceremonial chairs in the center facing forward. At first, no one sat in these chairs nor did they sit in the seating area across from the bride’s guest seating until, after all of the bride’s guests were seated, a gate opposite the side I had entered opened and all ~150 of the groom’s guests (who had apparently just been waiting outside) appeared and processed to seats in the groom’s section. The groom’s guests were led by the groom and his groomsmen, all dressed in traditional attire and carrying staffs, called “inkoni.” For the first hour of the wedding, the two fathers (in this case, the man filling in for Ariane’s father was actually just their next-door neighbor) took turns giving long speeches, making jokes, telling stories, and then presenting each other with bottles of champagne (which were actually just bottles of sparkling grape juice). I later learned that these speeches were something like introductions and statements of approval for the members of the other family (i.e., “Ariane’s uncle, James, is a good man and he is welcome in our family”).

Once enough introductions had been made and champagne bottles gifted, the groom and his groomsmen stepped out into the center to greet his new father-in-law and give gifts. Next, the bride and her bridesmaids came out of the house, where they had been preparing for hours, and did the same. The two groups came together and gathered around as the bride and groom took hands and the father’s and the MC said a few more words and everyone clapped. Finally, the bride and groom walked together up onto the stage with the best man and maid of honor and took their seats. The band started playing and a few singers sang to the couple on their stage. After the songs, two men came out and performed a traditional dance, which I think was called “inkuyu,” that involved sticks with balls of woven grass that they presented to each father throughout the dance.

When the music and signing was ended, we remained seated as the groom’s guests left through the gate they had entered. As it turned out, only the bride and her guests eat at the traditional wedding. A few hours later, we sat down to a delicious feast of things I do not know the name of but included ingredients such as goat, chicken, cassava, rice, potatoes, beans, and fresh vegetables. It was so much fun to witness and interesting to compare to the Leslie and my ceremony just one month ago.

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