On Thursday, I attended Ariane’s civil wedding, part 4 of the wedding events. It was held at a civil service government building in a large room with rows of benches and a front stage. Ariane and Ben were one couple of about 7 or 8 other couples getting legally married that day and they all sat in the front row facing the stage. Everyone was dressed to the nines, the men in suits and the women wearing either floor length white dresses or fancy knee-length dresses. The benches behind the couples were filled with family members and close friends of the couples.
The ceremony began with two civil servants giving long speeches in Kinyarwanda—it’s definitely a speaking culture here; for most occasions, there are tons of speeches: lengthy introductions, explanations of significance, giving thanks for the ceremony, etc. Once my Kinyarwanda is up to par, these might be more interesting but for now I generally zone out.
Eventually, the first couple was called up to the stage where they stood behind a podium, raised their right hand, held the Rwandan flag with their left hand, and read a statement, which I’m assuming swore them into the legal act of marriage. Then they proceeded to walk across the stage, sit down at a table with the civil servant, and sign the legal marriage certificate. Their official witnesses (family members generally) came from the audience to sign the certificate as well, and if the family had paid for photography or videography, the whole affair was surrounded by trigger happy cameramen.
At the end, all of the couples stood up, showing their marriage certificates to the crowd as we applauded their new married status. Afterwards, there were family pictures taken in the yard outside the government building, and we headed off for dinner. The groom’s family arranges everything for the civil and religious ceremonies (the bride’s family is only responsible for the traditional wedding) so they’d selected a nice Chinese restaurant for the following meal.
Unintentionally, I’d worn a dress the same color as the bride’s so I was selected to sit at the head table with the bride and groom and the groom’s brother—because they told me it would look good in the pictures if we all matched. (This is not as funny/strange as you might think: At the traditional wedding, we found out that the bride and groom must pick their maid of honor and best man not based on closeness of friendship like in the US but by looks. The bride and maid of honor must have the same build and skin color and not look strikingly different—like one cannot be much smaller or lighter skinned than the other. If the bride doesn’t have any friends who look like her, she can actually “rent” a maid of honor for the day. Ariane explained that this is common, and looking back at wedding photos, the family often doesn’t even remember the maid of honor or best man’s names if their services were rented.) Colin joined us late and I told him to wear blue, too—how disastrous if he ruined the pics by wearing green or something 😉
After the meal (buffet-style with traditional Rwandan foods—rice, beef, chicken, cooked green bananas, French fries, peas, and onion/cucumber salad. The only Chinese dish was some under-spiced Lo Mein noodles), the speeches commenced. Lots of family members spoke—the mothers of both bride and groom, uncles, aunts, the bride, the groom….. Colin and I zoned out amidst the Kinyarwanda per usual, and right as I was trying hard to cover a huge yawn, I found out that the groom’s mother had just thanked us for coming all the way from America for her son’s wedding. I have impeccable timing with my yawns.
We said our goodbyes eventually and spent our first night in our own apartment! It felt a little sad saying goodbye to Maman Jimmy and the rest of the fam, even though we’ll be living about 20 minutes by bus from them. They’ve been so gracious—feeding us, clearing out an entire room for us to sleep in, exchanging languages, and being patient as we slowly readjust to Rwandan life. It’s been strange not having my niece Gianna coming in to wake us up every morning, greeting Maman in the morning, being surrounded by noise and a bustling family. But on the whole, we are so grateful to have our own space and start to get settled in.
Our new place is a cute two-bedroom apartment in a neighborhood called Kicukiru (pronounced “key-chee-KEY-roo”), with a modern kitchen and bathroom and great views of the hills and city. The apartment compound has a grumpy security guard around our age who watches the gate and glares at us whenever we pass by, but we have high hopes that we’ll be great friends soon.
The neighborhood is quiet, safe, and just a few minutes’ walk from the supermarket, coffee shop, and bus line. We’ll be living quite close to where we think we’ll be working (about 10 minutes by bus from a lot of the NGOs, we think) and not too far from my host family either (20 minutes by bus). There’s also this super cute little coffee shop with art gallery just down the road, where I’m hoping to get involved in the art scene and also drink a lot of Rwandan tea.
We’ve also figured out our internet and phone situation, after a week of research and visiting tons of shops to compare prices. We now have access to internet all the time and can best be reached by email, Facebook messenger, or WhatsApp (download it to text us!).
Y’all are very lucky we don’t have much work yet so we can write lots of blog posts! However, with three interviews last week, myriad visits to NGOs, and lots of networking, that may change soon. I’ve met some awesome people already and continue to find new connections to folks in the public health sector. For example, last week I met with a nun named Sister Anna, who my friend Maya connected me to via her old high school teacher and our Jesuit connections. Sister Anna is the headmistress of a school called Our Lady of the Angels so I went to visit her at the school to see if she had any connections in education or public health. After talking for a bit, Sister remembered an American acquaintance who she was convinced could be helpful. She made a few phone calls, found out that the woman was at home, and promptly set off to visit, dragging me along. The woman lives on a property owned by the Jesuits so it was only about a 5 minute walk from the school. Visiting unannounced is a cultural norm here so even though she and Sister had not seen each other for awhile and I was a stranger, the woman greeted us warmly and is helping connect me to a few other folks in the public health sector.
I’ve also been showing up unannounced at lots of NGOs, including fhi360, Care International, World Vision, Jhpiego…. anything with a project in family planning, child/maternal health, or HIV/AIDS prevention. I’ve had some luck meeting with HR folks or getting Country Director contact info, with hopes of setting up formal meetings soon. I’ve had several interviews, with Society for Family Health (SFH), with an ESL language school, and soon with Kasha, so I’m hopeful that something will pan out, even if it’s just volunteer work to start.
Love you all!