Monday, November 22, 2010
This is a three-part blog that entails three big cultural events within the span of a week. All of which were spear headed with the birth of my niece, Averry Rose, back in the states. A birth, a wedding, Tobaski, and a death all took place. These events, the experience of each broke me open and allowed me to reach deeper into a new understanding of this culture, it’s people and my place within it all. . A new moment of awakening was triggered within me as I took a ride on a wave of humility. This wave engulfed me in awkwardness as I learned to swim steadily to the surface. The lesson was not as simple as I would have liked it to be, but diving into life never is.
The birth of my niece caused a war between excitement and regret. I badly wanted to be apart of it and being stuck in the bush while attaching my phone to a tree branch to get reception felt like the last place I wanted to be. It taunted me with questions and sucked me into a state of doubt. I, however, had little time to embrace all the emotions I was feeling because I was soon swept into the madness of my host sisters wedding. And this would officially be where my blog starts.
Mamouna, known as Mouna, has been my best friend in village. Her patience, love, and sense of humor has made my life so much easier. Facing the fact that she would be leaving was sad. It meant no more candlelight girl talks, complet sharing, and morning coffee. Upon feeling this sadness I was reminded of how beautifully life supports me. I can strongly identify those whose purpose has been to play a particular role, to help me discover something inside myself and possibly aid them simultaneously. The reality that I am never truly alone is something that requires some time to think about. Even if our conversations were shallow and our true understanding of one another could not be expressed in words I am accustomed to, Mouna and I shared a beautiful friendship. One that will not end, but only change as life constantly does.
The night before it all began, we spent the night doing Fudda “Henna”, talking, and laughing. Morning came and she was whisked off to Koun Kane for a salon makeover. When she returned she resembled a princess with loads of glitter, hair extensions, and colorful makeup. (See photo below) A women (whose relation I am unsure of) took care of the cleaning and food preparation. The day progressed as guests started to arrive. It was a lot of sitting around, listening to music. Occasionally one or two women would stand up and dance, but for the most part it was a mellow celebration. There were a limited number of guests for the first part of the party because our villages were busy winning the final match of the local soccer tournament. After a costume change by our beautiful bride (picture 2) the dancing increased and I was given booty shaking lessons. I can now officially shake my Jayfunday (big butt) pretty decently. The third costume change took place later in the night at the time all the kids came into the compound with their trophy cheering for their victory. It was then the party began. The third costume change was into a white dress (pic 3) A table was set up and everyone gathered to take pictures with the bride. The groom (my school counterpart) arrived and the two sat and enjoyed the celebration. I lasted until about 1am though the music and dancing continued well into the early morning. I did take a moment to sit and absorb the moment. The more I watched the dancing (men and women separately) the more mesmerized I became. It was as if everyone was taken over by some music god and it was directing their every movement in conjunction with those around them. It was an incredible outer body experience as the beat of music vibrated through my entire being. I felt so alive, and yet so alone.
One of the most difficult parts of this whole experience was understanding where I belonged. Sure Mouna and I were friends and I had a matching complet with my other sisters, but I was, and still am an outsider. No matter how long I spend learning the language, eating their food, and immersing in their culture, I will always be a foreigner. I often forget I don’t belong because my family is so wonderful and most of the time I feel at home, but in moments like this the reality of it hits me hard. It is in these times that I long to feel normal. It is moments like this that I am reminded how strong I have become. It is then that I realize this strength must be used to fight the weakness that summons me to battle.
The ceremony continues the following mid-morning and is initiated with the beating of the Tam-Tam’s (drums). Today is no longer a time for joy and happiness for there are very few smiles. Instead there are tears and looks of sadness. A very strange experience which leaves the outsider unsure of how to be. Do I cry too? Is that okay? Mouna is bathed and washed clean of all her fancy makeup, hair and jewelry. She is then wrapped in basic material and a white drape covers her head. She looks at no one, sheds tears and immerses in the sadness that she is leaving her home.
Out side the women dance and chant to the tam tam and then enter her room. The chanting consists of marriage blessings. They then lead her through the village tossing rice as she finds her way to one of the biggest trees. She then sits on a mat and one of the women does laundry from each room of the household. (When asked why, the response: “It’s our tradition” I am on a mission to find significance.
The day continues like such full of little things that are symbolic in a way I have not yet learned. I could try and guess, but it would be providing mis information to do so. After lunch (greasy rice and meat) I took a nap, but was awoken to the tam tams and someone talking into the microphone. (all electricity is powered by a generator). The Marabou (Ihman or spiritual leader) talks for about a half hour about the history of the family. I could not understand much due to the rapid pace in which he talked. There is more Tam Tam’s and then all her baggage and gifts are brought out in front of the guests. They count each meter of material and show it to everyone. (Material is usually the gift of choice) Then they prepare all the bowls, spoons, pots, pans, etc that she will be taking with her (some gifts, but mostly purchased by my host mother). They wrap up everything in Gourds. Each Gourd has some type of gain in it.
This takes a couple of hours and then a prayer is said and all the women drink a spoonful of fresh cow milk. Mouna retreats to the room but then reappears to be bathed (still in pagne) in front of everyone. She is then wrapped in new material (to tell you the truth looks exactly the same) Then dinner is served. All the men gather around the Ihman on mats. This is the official giving away of the bride. He asks the father and mother to say something and says a prayer. The bus arrives shortly after and It is loaded with all her stuff. Then 30 of us squeeze into a 15 person van/bus. There is chanting, singing and clapping until our bus gets a flat tire and we are stuck on the side of the road exhausted.
We finally arrive at the grooms house (in this case velingara) where we are met with singing. Her baggage is unloaded and she is brought water to clean herself. She washes and then washed some type of cloth. Next she enters the room of her mother in law. There were so many people that I could not see exactly what happens. Mouna is the second wife so next she enters the first wives’ room and is then led to her room. We sit and they bring us food. It is about 2 am and everyone is tired. We sleep like Sardines on the floor.
In the morning her baggage is opened and recounted by her new family. There is more dancing and singing. Mouna finally gets to remove the awful white cloth and dunks it into a bucket of water. She smiles for the first time and is then hauled away to the salon to become beautified once more. There is lunch and more dancing. She returns and then all the women from her home village leave her with her new family. Her new life has begun!
I am exhausted after the 3-day fete. No time to rest though for now it is Tobaski….Part 11 coming soon!