September 9th marked the final ceremony of Ariane and Ben’s wedding. No other part of the marriage process began on time so we figured we could be a few minutes late to the religious ceremony. Alas, the church service began right on time and we rolled into the Catholic church 15 minutes late (thankfully with a lot of other late folks so it didn’t look as bad). Ariane and Ben were seated at the front of the church with two other couples and each couples’ maid of honor and best man. The attire this time was the big white wedding dress (and I mean, BIG—Ariane’s dress weighed 5kg apparently!) and full suits.
The service itself was all in Kinyarwanda and was presided over by a head priest, designated by a red sash, and like eight other priests. I haven’t been to many (er… any) Catholic weddings so perhaps the service followed the same or similar format? I was just really confused, though, because my host family definitely wasn’t Catholic the last time I checked and here we all were, with priests and communion and Catholic call-and-responses. (I found out afterwards that Ben’s family is Catholic and Ariane converted.)
The best part about church in Rwanda, in my opinion anyways, is the singing. They had an awesome choir and lots of the audience members knew the words and sang along. Even if you don’t identify with the religion, there’s something about hearing a huge room full of people joyously uplifted in song. Gives me happy goosebumps every time.
There were several times in the service when all of the couples processed out—and we thought the ceremony was finished—only to have them come processing back in. Each time the couples and their attendants came back, they brought items like rice, cooking oil, even toilet paper, to lay on the altar at the front of the church. My guess is that these were gifts for the church, maybe in thanks for marrying them, but we never got clarification. There was also communion and an offering where the couples held the money baskets, in a bizarre way to get folks to donate more to the church or something?
Then the head priest went to each couple and had them read aloud words that I’m assuming had something to do with having God bless the union and dedicating themselves to each other, etc. Then the grooms slowly (like so, so slowly) rolled up their brides’ veils while their hired photographers snapped a bunch of photos. They exchanged rings, the priest said some things—declaring the marriage I’d assume—and folks clapped. No kissing, which is too bad. Some more awesome singing and then the couples processed out to be congratulated by their guests.
Following the service, Colin and I were introduced to a family friend who promptly herded us to his car to drive to the next stage: picture taking. We drove to a fancy house with a huge outdoor garden, clearly a popular spot to be rented out for parties and/or picture-taking since there were two other wedding parties already there taking pics. The interior of the house was decorated with beautiful furniture, vases, candles, mirrors—very chic. Bride and groom took lots of pics inside and then went outside for a few bigger family shots. Unfortunately after only a few outdoor pictures, the clouds opened up and it just poured—hello, rainy season. We all crowded under the house’s front porch until it was decided that Colin and I should be brought to the reception while the others tried to wait out the rain.
We hopped back in the car and were driven to another rental space, set up with a huge tent for guests and a smaller tent for the live band setting up. Guests were already sitting around the highly-decorated tables and we awkwardly plopped at the first available table, not knowing anyone yet and sticking out as the only white people at the reception. The tent was decorated to the extreme—only pics will do it justice:
Eventually the bride and groom arrived and entered together as the MC announced them. They stepped onto this light-up walkway, which said “happy party” in neon lights and was set up like a runway leading to a larger stage with a fancy white couch and little end tables surrounded by hundreds of roses.
The couple then moved to a circular stage in the middle of the neon runway that turned them around as they smiled and “greeted” their guests as a new couple. It reminded me of the figurine on the top of a wedding cake to be honest—why didn’t Colin and I have that for our wedding??!
They then sat on the fancy white couch, Ariane moving slowly in her huge dress, and the speeches commenced. Wine was shared between the bride and groom’s families and the band played some cute songs about Ariane and Ben. (The band was from Burundi and totally rocked—best part of the reception, besides eating of course.)
By this time, we were getting a little hungry. We’d skipped lunch in our rush to get to the church on time and at this point it was around 5 or 6pm. We’d been nursing our hunger by drinking beers (very smart, eh?) but the next order of business was not eating but lighting the wedding cakes on fire. Each of the several multi-tiered wedding cakes had a tall sparkler situated on the top of it, which Ben lit.
Then more speeches. Eventually we ate some cake. Then guests gave presents to the couple. Colin and I were roped into getting up with the cousins to give an unknown gift we had no part in purchasing. Some photos were taken. I kept asking when the dinner would be served, no luck.
Then around 8pm or so, the bride and groom left the party—Colin and I were told to get up and say goodbye to the couple as they exited towards their car. The no-food panic was starting to set in—why are they leaving before we’ve eaten?? We got my host brother to explain that the married couple was going to change clothes and be introduced to their new home. Traditionally, this ceremony, called “gutwikurura”, would happen at the bride and groom’s new house. The wife would arrive at her husband’s house where his family would welcome her with traditional songs and dance. The bride’s family would then bring newly purchased items to fill the home—linens, decorations, cooking items, etc.
For this wedding (and it seemed it was common now for other Rwandan weddings as well), the bride and groom simply left to change out of the 5kg dress and suit, and after about an hour later, returned to the venue. The wife’s family transported all of Ariane’s newly purchased house items to the wedding venue, where they were piled in a room off to the side of the main tent in a building used for this purpose. Colin witnessed this part since he helped carry all of the really heavy housing items from truck to house while I waited (hungrily, did I mention?). He said that inside the house was a room with a big bed where Ben and Ariane sat. Family members gathered around them and gave their permission for Ariane to leave the house as a new wife. Apparently without this permission, the woman is unable to leave (so it’s very important that it’s not forgotten!). The new couple drank milk, which was then passed to several children sitting around them on the floor. After that, everyone moved into the second room where all of the housing items were piled. The gifts were formally presented to the couple and then husband and wife were allowed to “leave” the house and greet the wedding guests in the main tent again.
The procession began with four young women from the groom’s side entering the tent singing and dancing in the traditional Rwandan style, with Ariane and Ben following. Some more speeches. Then at around 10pm everyone was finally invited to the buffet lines to eat a traditional meal—rice, plantains, meat, peas, salads, etc. A few last speeches were made, saying goodbye to the guests and thanking everyone for coming. What a process! At last they’re married 🙂
In other news, we’ve successfully paid our water, security, and trash bills! These seem like mundane things but we feel quite accomplished. We’ve also secured three-month tourist visas, after many hours sitting in the immigration office, and are now allowed to stay until December. Colin is almost ready to submit his work visa application and I’ll hopefully be mooching off his status or potentially applying for a work visa on my own.
I’m also happy to announce that I’ll be starting a 1 month volunteer position tomorrow with an awesome organization called Kasha that sells family planning and feminine hygiene projects via mobile phones. (Check it out at: http://kasha.co/ ) Essentially, they offer low-cost products that can be confidentially ordered via your phone and delivered directly to your door. Their app also includes education pieces explaining about the products, and they just launched IUDs and a few other long-last family planning methods. If a customer orders an implant, injection, or IUD, they are paired with a nurse who places the implant, administers the injection at the customer’s home, or assists with a hospital visit to place the IUD. They are trying to expand their business into Rwanda’s several refugee camps so I’ll be consulting with them on the expansion, offering tips for how to make family planning products more accessible to refugee populations. Kasha also has a school program where they offer health presentations on feminine hygiene, where I’ll be assisting as well to help them expand their network of schools to reach more girls. Basically, I’m super pumped and can’t wait to get started.
Blog to come on our trip to Uganda this past weekend!