Happy 4th of July! Happy Independence Day! Happy Liberation Day! Happy wedding day! Turishimye! (We are happy!) Today there are so many reasons to celebrate that I am beyond words! Last week when I was camping with my family, they asked me, “Aren’t you going to be sad to miss the 4th of July in America?” However, ironically I could not be happier to spend my second consecutive 4th of July as an American in Rwanda. It is an honor and a privilege to celebrate the independence and freedom that my own country celebrates for 239 years, while Rwanda remembers the day that they were liberated from the genocide 21 years ago. It also happened to be the wedding day of my Rwandan inshuti (Jean Marie’s) friend, so Martha and I attended a beautiful, long, hectic, confusing, and spectacular wedding with him today!
We knew that we would stand out, but we never knew how much attention we would (unwillingly) receive throughout the day. They were pretty stoked that some Americans showed up to the celebration!
It is utterly impossible to describe what we witnessed today, but it was amazingly extravagant and simple at the same time. The only advice we received before leaving was to wear a dress and nice shoes, and to be ready at 8am. What we did not understand is that we would arrive back home at 8pm after 6 hours of road tripping (read: caravanning, stopping, flying around turns, breaking the car) through the southern province, and after stopping at four different venues throughout the day. The invitation said that the dowry ceremony would start at 9, and the church ceremony would begin at 2. Therefore, the dowry ceremony started somewhere around 11:30, and we got to the church around 4:30- and no one was phased! After the Church everyone went to take pictures in a garden that had some horses on the loose. Finally, the wedding ended with a reception in another church with some toasts, Fanta, a cake complete with sparkler candles, fruit sharing, and gift giving. After we took our seats in the back, we were paraded to the front row for this part. And, of course, there was some song and dance, during which we were told to stand up and dance along with them. We probably made such a spectacle, but hey, at least we were laughing at ourselves the whole time along with everyone else.
Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a look into a Rwandan wedding:
After stopping by a random house to find a toilet and some bus stations to pick people up, we made it to the bride’s house, where the first traditional dowry ceremony took place. These kids took a break from their soccer game to say hi!
We arrived with the groom’s party, and the bride’s wedding guests as well as the rest of the village were lined up on the road to welcome them.
The groom’s party enters the dowry ceremony bearing gifts. Traditionally, the groom’s family must give one or more cows to the bride’s family, but money and other gifts are usually a substitute in urban or suburban areas. In return, the bride’s family gave everyone a handkerchief and a lollipop!
Kids from the village were so curious and excited, we had so much fun chatting with them.
Every ceremony was conducted in Kinyarwanda, so we only understood a few words at best, but it was fascinating to watch the series of events unfold. Here, the abasaza (old men, the fathers of the bride and groom) have to “fight” over the bride in a joking way until they decide that their children will be married. Meanwhile, we just had fun hanging out with the babies in the back of the tent.
Yep, that’s the entire village just watching from the outskirts.
After about an hour of pretend fighting, I realized that the bride was in the house the whole time, and didn’t even get to witness half of her own wedding! But, she had a really cool dress.
Though we tried to sneak in the back and stay under the radar to the extent that it was possible, of course they had to call us out and make us stand up so that everyone could see abanyamerika kazi (the American girls). Then, they suddenly handed out Fantas to everyone, and people started getting in line for food. As we sat there commenting on the huge mounds of food on their plates, one woman came over to Martha and presented her with this giant plate of goat meat, liver, rice, bananas, and vegetables! It was so much food that we decided to share, and upon doing so we only received more smiles, weird looks, and laughs. The one really difficult part was that we were politely trying to eat all the food they gave us while surrounded by hungry children, but not we did not understand the cultural norms well enough to depart from what we observed the people around us doing.
As we were leaving the dowry ceremony we were super pumped to find a woman rocking a Boston sweatshirt! The entire village was amused and thrilled that we wanted pics with her.
Bored selfies in the back of the Church.
After the dowry ceremony we had a 3 hour trip to a Church in Kabuga, which is on the other side of Kigali from where we were in the morning. We arrived late, which was totally normal. No one seemed to know or care when the ceremony even started.
What’s worse than attending a Protestant-length sermon? Attending a Protestant-length sermon in a language which you don’t speak! The only language I understood was the body language of the congregation which said that they were incredibly bored.
Bridal party? Choir? Traditional dance club? All of the above? Not quite sure…
Taking vows ❤
The church was 7th Day Adventist, and so simple, it only had pews and an altar. It didn’t even really have walls!
My experience in this church really made me ask, “What is Church?” Is it a building? Is it a holy space filled with religious icons and statues? Or does it consist of the people? Though the Church building was the most primitive I’ve ever been in, it had so much character, and the handiwork of the people was still evident!
White girls unsuccessfully trying to blend in
By the time the ceremony was over, it was already sunset! So we headed off to some garden where they were going to take pictures with a “donkey.”
The “donkey” turned out to be a bunch of horses with a crazy drunk horseback rider who was wearing shoulder pads, a cowboy hat, and his finest equestrian boots. SO. BIZARRE. We saw many bizarre things, but this is close to the top of the list.
FINALLY, after dark, we moved to ANOTHER Church, which was the function hall. Turns out that the reception involves more Fanta, cake, gifts, and… ceremony.
Instead of sharing a kiss, they shared fruit? Note the fruit trees in the background, and the spotlight, pretty epic. Here they are drinking from a pineapple!
No wedding is complete without dancing.
Fireworks for the 4th of July! The perfect ending to an incredible wedding of a beautiful couple.