Monday, March 16, 2009

Midnight Wedding Crasher

Biking to the village next door this past Tuesday I greeted the people in a compound that had more folks gathered under various shady spaces than usual. They called out for me to stop and greet so I got off my bike and walked around the compound greeting the separate groups of people. The old women on stools finishing up their porridge under the mango tree, giggling teenager girls by the huts cleaning breakfast dishes and preparing for lunch and the old men relaxing on a mat next to a grainery after what I'm sure was a taxing morning of eating breakfast. Nana, one of the old women, took me by the arm to greet the men and she explained that I pass through each Tuesday to go to the health center when they asked what I was up to. I asked them why there were so many people in their compound and the men said they were celebrating a wedding tonight and that I should come back later to join in the festivities. When I agreed that I would, one of the women piped in that they'd be sending someone to find me if I didn't so to make sure I came back.

When I got home that afternoon I told Annie about my chance encounter with the wedding party and got her blessing to return later that night (they don't get started until 11p.m. or midnight!). After dinner I take my knitting over to Annie's hut and we sit outside to knit and talk about the day, Christine's cuteness and when we think she'll start walking or get her first teeth. My eyes got heavy around 9:30 so I curled up on the mat next to Annie's chair and took a cat nap alongside my already fast asleep host sister Batuma and host brother Emmanuel until about 10:30 when I got up to get ready for the wedding. With a full moon and a cloudless sky I didn't need a light to navigate the dirt path between my village and the one 2 miles away where the wedding was. Usually when I bike anywhere people pop out from the fields or compounds to say "Hey Djelika, where are you going?" and then we greet one another as I bike on and they say "Greet them for me!" But tonight it was just me and the dark outlines of the shea and baobab trees and it didn't matter if my wrap skirt flapped in the breeze since no one was around to see. As I approached the village, I could hear the rapid beat of the drums inviting me to come and dance. I arrived at Nana's compound and admired the shine and glimmer of the women's wedding complets in the moonlight and went to sit on an open stool. Nana came to sit beside me after we'd greeted the half-awake wedding guests lying on mats spread out around the compound. I found myself instantly surrounded by about 20 little girls who kneeled around me and laughed shyly at one another when I would return their polite stares. Nana went around and introduced each of the girls, relying on promptings from her own girls when she couldn't remember one of their first names. I could still hear the drums beating and asked Nana if it was time to go. She said, soon, soon and continued to laugh heartily as I told her that no, I wasn't married and no, I didn't have children and that yes, having more than 3 kids in America was considered a lot as she said she had 8 herself.

Somehow Nana decided it was time to go to where the actual wedding party was (at this point, I was still unclear as to whose wedding we were attending...actually, I still am...) so we gathered up our stools and trooped over to a large clearing next to the mosque where folks had already set up mats and lounge chairs around spotlights and speakers powered by a humming generator. We set up shop next to the man with the microphones and Nana got started singing along with a few other older women she introduced as her sisters. A few men at a time would pair up and start dancing to the women's chants and the beat of the hand drums. The bride stays closed up in a hut somewhere else while the groom sat surrounded by his buddies next to the dust-bowl of a dance floor. Someone would periodically pour water from a jug onto the dancing area so the fast moving feet wouldn't kick up so much dust. One of Nana's sisters handed her microphone to another muso-koroba (old woman) and pulled me onto the dance floor. We walked in front of the groom and knelt down to touch the ground in front of him and then went to dance in front of the drummers. I felt the laughter pour out of me as I tried to imitate the women around me and was only encouraged by the belly laughs of the old women shimmying and shaking faster and with more rhythm than I could ever hope for. This went on until about 3 a.m. when I found an open lounge chair and curled up once again for another nap. My friend Hawa gently woke me up around 4 and walked me to my bike so I could go home to catch a couple more hours of sleep before the call to prayer broke the spell of the evening and a slightly pulsing headache from too little sleep reminded me I'll opt for an early reception when I get married.


shaun said...

i usually enjoy your posts, but i THOROUGHLY enjoyed this one. great narrative!

sarah perry said...

you are quite the napper, I must say... glad you had a good time. I had a good time reading it too, makes me miss you tons!!

Brynn said...

What a cool experience, Jennifer! I always look forward to reading your posts--the way you write gives such a clear picture of your day-to-day life.

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