I skipped Day 3 entry, mostly because I was just plain tired. Suffice it to say that we had a taste of what we will do, kind of a test run. For me, I worked with my small group of energetic folks to plan a health intervention with the Batwa (aka Pygmies). Lots of meetings.
Day 4 was over-the-top amazing. There was no work planned. Dr. Joseph, our first contact one year ago, the man who formed the original idea of us coming to Rwanda, is getting married. Saturday, he had the legally required prenuptial ceremony. Without this ceremony, he is not allowed to go to court to register his marriage. The prenuptial ceremony includes a dowry payment for the bride. He had formally invited our group to his wedding. We were thrilled to watch this, but at some level, we also felt we needed to go as a sign of respect.
[NOTE TO MY DEAR FRIEND MARGARET: PLEASE COMMENT BACK ON THIS ONE.]
Now, before I left the USA, I had expressed some mixed feelings about attending this event. I could not understand how a man (Dr. Joseph) could be so outspoken for equal rights in Rwanda, while also paying for a bride (as in ownership).
Over the last couple of days, I asked several Rwandans about this practice. All seemed confused by my questions. Our primary guide, Eddy, told me last night, "How can anyone own another person?" Clearly, our view of dowries is inconsistent with Rwandan views.
As I watched the prenup wedding, I started to clue into the intent. The bride’s and groom’s families had chosen "delegates" to represent them. These delegates went through a comical debate, or negotiation, for the price of the bride. Now, everyone already knew how much was being paid for the bride: 2 cows (literally 2 cows). The negotiations were just pretend, if you will. However, the show was the great wit displayed by the delegates. Most of what they said was completely made up, and the delegates were shooting from the hip. For example, the bride’s delegate said "the bride cannot be married because she took a trip to Spain, where she converted to Roman Catholicism and promptly became a nun. Further, the Pope himself has denied her request to leave the convent in order to be married." He also noticed that the groom had so many M’sungas (white people – we had all 19 of our team there). He suggested that maybe the groom was not worthy of the bride because the groom probably had no Rwandan friends, as evidenced by all the foreigners who attended his wedding.
Cultures can often be extremely different. The negotiations went on for two hours. [I forgot to mention, it was all in KinyaRwandan, the first language of nearly everyone in Rwanda.] There was an occasional musical interlude or traditional African dance or song, any of which made the whole trip worth it. When the delegates finally came to the agreement, two cows were brought into the ceremony. And they pooped! Luckily, the whole floor area was covered in grass; this was a very rural setting for the wedding, after all. Once the cows had been ceremoniously inspected (to make sure they were really worthy), the cows were escorted out and the delegates made a toast to each other.
Then the bride came out . . . . There are no words to adequately describe the beauty I witnessed. My lovely wife wept. I felt like I was going to fall out of my chair. [I will have to borrow my colleague’s camera to send pictures on my next blog. My camera is not working.] She was worth every penny. I was later told that the cows cost $2,000 each, for a total of over $1Million Rwandan Francs. That is a lot of money in Rwanda. More music, more prayers, more ceremonial dancers, and speeches made.
I then realized that the dowry was really a gift to the bride’s family, a way to show them that they had done a spectacular job in raising a girl to become a goddess, one worthy of great praise.
After the ceremony, we went to Dr. Joseph’s after party, hosted by his father. By tradition, only Joseph’s wedding guests were allowed to go. This party had traditional elements of its own. They specifically wanted us there, so they held up the festivities until we arrived. Speeches upon speeches (of course I gave one, too!). Two hours of speeches.
From beginning to end, including travel time, we spent about 8 hours. No food was served. So, you can see that there were a few people who got a little cranky. It was probably the only minor drawback to the experience. Then the bus took us to a restaurant, where our food was paid for by Dr. Joseph. Joseph eventually arrived and spent time with our delegation.
I felt deeply honored to have been invited. I felt deeply honored to be given a chance to thank our benefactors in public.
I cannot wait to share the photos with you all!!
On a side note, when Le and I have discussed our dream of moving to Africa, she has always said that she needs to "touch the dirt." That is to say that she has always known that she must feel the dirt and have it talk to her to let her know if that was the country God had chosen for us. I have learned over time to trust her instincts, so each day we are here I ask, "Have you touched the dirt?" She kept telling me it had to happen in a rural area, not in the city (which is where we are now).
The groom’s after party had a formal closing. During the closing speech, I had the sensation I usually have when I know God is speaking to me. It was as if I had "touched the dirt" and heard it call me, tell me I was home. I looked at Le and asked her, "Have you touched the dirt?" Well, you saw her blog. We both know this feels like home. One year ago, Rwanda was not even on my top five list.