Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Congratulations Kyura and Inno Part 3: Almost Ready to Say I Do

I was amused. That was not the reaction he was going for, but there it was: amusement. The pastor stood at the front of the church admonishing the bride and groom. "What time did I say to be at the church?" "And what time is it now? All heads turned to look at the clock. "He has got to be kidding," I thought. But he wasn't. Stern and lecturing, he went on. And I was so, so very amused. The wedding had started ten minutes late. Ten minutes! This was Nigeria. In any other context, probably even any other wedding, ten minutes late would be early. But Kyura and Innocent are polite, good natured people and were so happy just to be there at the altar, they let him lecture, nodded some conciliatory yes, sir's and waited patiently for him to finish so they could get on with the wedding.

It wasn't really Kyura's fault we'd arrived late anyway; we'd set off from the assistant pastor's guest house in due time, but friends and family needed more pictures, and then a series of transit vans bringing guests from town had blocked the way from the pastors' yards to the church yard, so we couldn't get to the church.

Day 3: The morning had begun like any wedding morning. The bride woke early and the requisite flock descended on her with all the plumes of fancy necessary to transform her and themselves into momentary oddities of perfection: the hair stylist, the make-up artist, the maid of honor, the photographer, and all the helper-friends. We burst into the serene morning and bustled about the room and yard helping, getting out of the way, getting in the way, getting beautiful, getting excited. The hairdresser started her work first, finger-rolling Kyura's long extensions and pinning them into tight pin curls.

Hairdresser finger-curling and twisting the hair for pinning
Adding the finishing touches

The make-up artist wasn't far behind, and once the hair was finished, the make-up could begin. No electricity, so Kyura sat near the window for the best light. Contouring is very in in Nigeria right now, so even though Kyura's not much of a heavy make-up wearer generally, for her wedding, she was getting the full contouring treatment. Her Maid of Honor was getting the same make-up treatment outside. For someone who doesn't do contouring make-up or watch YouTube instructional videos on it, this was quite a scene to behold. Sometimes their faces were green, sometimes yellow. Frequently, there were harsh lines and strange spots. But as the artists worked their magic and their spongy blenders, faces reappeared from the wavy lines and strange colors; slightly altered faces, but still pretty. The room didn't have a mirror. The make-up artist had brought a small one of her own for Kyura, and someone had fetched a large mirror shard from the house for others. Someone turned to me, "Are you going to put on make-up, too?" "I already did mine." Like I said, I don't contour, and it was unlikely anyone here was going to know the right combinations of colors, or even have the right colors, for my face. I was satisfied with my usual powder, eyebrow pencil and mascara.

Contouring the bride's cheeks

Maid of Honor getting her makeup done outside

All of this doing-up took several hours. In the meantime, the photographer and videographer slid in and out of the commotion, capturing moments for posterity and designing beautiful settings to showcase important elements of the day. I trailed the photographer and tried to make myself useful, carrying things for her, holding things, and for a bit, using all my weight to pull a plastic-twine clothesline taut so she could get photos of the wedding dress hanging in the breeze without the dress's train dangling in the dirt of the dusty courtyard.

Photographer setting up a shot with the dress and bouquet

The church does not allow women to enter without their heads covered. Kyura, of course, had her veil. The guests would all have elaborate hair wraps. Kyura had someone collect a red-orange shawl from her old closet at her parents' house for me. One of her other friends wrapped it tight around my head for me, despite others' arguing that the church wouldn't turn me away if my head were bare. I had no desire to offend anyone or play my oyibo card like that. The Maid of Honor had a special hair piece with a little mini veil of its own. The silver tones in the white lace went perfectly with the silver beading on her long pink dress.

The Maid of Honor looks in the mirror while her hairpiece is adjusted

All of us friends, aside from the Maid of Honor, wore outfits out of the same matching fabrics as is the custom in Nigeria. The tailor made mine in advance, a fun 1960s-style tent dress that was nice and cool. Even while we were getting the bride and ourselves ready, the tailor was back at the house finishing dresses for wedding guests, whirling away on the treadle machine in a room next to the one that had been Kyura's up until last night.

Soon, we were all ready.

The bride.

Kyura ready for her wedding

And her friends.

(I particularly love this photo because the brilliant photographer turned the camera at such an angle that I don't look like a giant freak.  Notice the window in the background; imagine if the picture were turned so that the window frame were level...)
It was time to go to the church!

Monday, August 21, 2017

Congratulations Kyura and Inno Part 2: Good-bye Home

There comes a point in most people's lives when their home becomes their parent's home. Growing up, it is collective, my home, meaning mine and my parents and my siblings and whoever else lives there with us, it's ours. But at some point, that group doesn't include you anymore, and your home is no longer yours; your home is some other place where you stay without all those other folks. For myself, and I think for a lot of us in the U.S. who first leave home for college, that transition happens sort of gradually. You have a dorm or maybe even an apartment where you stay at school, but home is still your home. Maybe you have still have a room there, or at least most of your stuff accumulated during your first 18 years, possibly even still being added to with new accumulations that you just don't really need in your dorm. Eventually, you go, move to another place, take a few more things. At some point, your parents turn your room into a guest room, or an excessively gigantic sewing room bursting with fabric, patterns and sewing machines. You start confusing your friends by calling that place, where you used to have a space, and wherever you stay now "home," meaning it equally for both. And someday, you find yourself saying to your sisters, "are you going to Mommy and Daddy's today?" and you realize you're quite dispossessed of your home and you aren't even really sure how it happened. For Kyura, however, that transition was a big bright line that she could mark almost down to the minute.

Day 2: Good-bye Home

Good Friday had been a strange mix of lackadaisy and bustle during the day. Kyura's family's home in Jos was as full of people as the house in the village had been, perhaps even more so.

Friends bustling and chillin

All the female friends were posted up in the room Kyura and her sister had shared growing up. Lounging on the beds; taking tea from trays, sipping sweet gulps of Milo and chewing soft white bread; taking turns disappearing to bathe with buckets of water scooped from the large plastic cans stored in the corner of the large bathroom, plastic cans restocked throughout the day with fresh water drawn by two young men hauling rubber bag-full after rubber-bag full of cool refreshment from the well in the side yard; helping Kyura style her hair, iron her dress---when the power was compliant enough to course through the padded copper wires and into the iron---, and prepare for the day.

Drawing water

The rest of the house was alive with it's own activity. Kitchen staff prepared a constant stream of food for family and guests. The seamstress for the wedding whirled away on a treadle machine in the next room, producing and altering dress after matching orange and yellow dress in an array of styles. 

Like any other bride the day before her wedding, Kyura needed to get her nails done. And like so many other brides, she'd been talked into fake nails that were so very un-Kyura but manageable enough to last through the wedding. We trooped along with her, to the side porch where the manicurist pulled up a stool to do her work in the natural light of the sun. The tube of Chinese nail glue the manicurist bought turned out to be empty, so she ran out to a small shop and quickly returned with a new, and better stocked, package. Relatives came out to the porch to say hello as they passed through the house, aunties and young cousins. A few of us sat on chairs brought out from the sitting room or leaned against the porch rail, chatting while the manicurist did her craft and the boys in the yard hauled up water. Kyura fielded phone call after phone, mini-crisis after mini-crisis: calls from friends looking for places to stay for the wedding, the printers not having the programs ready for Inno to collect, the reception decorators not seeing the transferred funds in their bank accounts due to the Easter banking holidays. Kyura handled it all calmly from her porch throne.

Later in the afternoon, the groom's family would be coming to ask for Kyura. Inno's uncles would apply to Kyura's uncles for their niece to leave her home and come to theirs. If there was a set time for this, I have no idea when it was, but being Nigeria, if there was a set time for this, it's unlikely the uncles came anytime near that time. The sitting room filled with family elders from both sides, arranged on the thick sofas and chairs in a large circle. Kyura's sister brought out snacks and beverages and served each person. home, no longer her home.


Outside, male elders with jingly metal bands fastened around their ankles sang and danced in a circle. Others joined, from the house? from the town? There were so many people everywhere I wasn't sure where most had come from. I joined, we danced until the group suddenly fell quiet.  Discussions began. I snuck in the back with the seamstress, hiding rather conspicuously on a tall bar stool behind a pushed-aside dining table, watching, not really understanding much more than that this was important and solemn and emotional. Kyura was called in and kneeled before her parents. Before long, she was being led out of the house, shrouded in a veil, another

Procession (to the car) to the church
procession of singing and dancing, another car ride away from home to a new place. Away from

At the request of the groom's family, Kyura's family had given her over to the custody of the church until the wedding morning. She, her maid of honor and her eldest aunt would stay at the church, in the care of the best man and the groom's family, until the morn. We followed on foot. The church where the wedding was to take place was separated from Kyura's parents' house only by a lane, and a very large cement wall on the edge of that lane. For tonight, Kyura had no home; her parent's house was no longer hers, and her husband's house was not yet hers. For tonight, she was to make do in the guest house of the assistant pastor. And make do it would certainly be.

The assistant pastor's guest house, or perhaps it was to be a servant's house, was a small one-room cement building out back of his home on the church property. It had an en-suite restroom divided from the room by a curtain. Kyura's wedding dress was hung from the curtain rod, tulle and beads pressing against the protective coating of the clear garment bag, saving the pure white dress from the dust of the walls. There was no furniture, just two old mattresses, one on the floor and one against the wall, the one against the wall in far worse condition. Kyura's aunt took one look at it and sent someone for a mat from the family home. A mosquito net hung matted in a twisted ball and low above the laid-out mattress. Agreement was quickly made not to let the net free for fear of what might fall, or crawl, out of it. Another runner was dispatched to the home for bug spray. The room had a single window next to the door. An electric fan was courried from the house. There was one outlet. Even when the power was on, it didn't work.

Best man trying to make the fan work

The best man arrived with a screwdriver, removed the outlet and attempted to wire the fan's plug directly to the wall. It still didn't work; probably a blessing that these wires were lifeless! A solution was concocted in the form of multiple power strips and strings of wire run in a line over from the assistant pastor's house, a plastic bag wrapped around the part where bare wires were twisted together on the ground outside. It worked, at least when there was electricity in general. A battery lantern was fetched from the house.

The groom's family brought dinner. Rice and some sort of soup or stew, tea. Dishes were fetched from the house. We sat on plastic lawn chairs that had been brought in. Kyura and the maid of honor sat tepidly on the floor mattress. We chatted and laughed and amused ourselves with the ridiculousness of this place as a bride-to-be suite. We laughed at the Nigerianess of everything about the room and the on-and-off electricity and the broken outlet and the creepy mosquito net and the scary mattress against the wall and the huge number of friends and family helping with everything and the perfect-despite-it-all haze that surrounded every piece of the events leading up to the big day. And we bid goodnight to Kyura, her aunt, and the maid of honor, to sleep as best they good, as we retired to our own lodgings until the morn. Sheets and blankets were fetched from Kyura's parents' house.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Congratulations Kyura and Inno Part 1: A Proper Village Send-Off

Back in April, I went to my friend Kyura's wedding. We hadn't seen each other since attending a conference together in Uganda in 2010, so when she invited me to her wedding, I just had to go, even though it meant postponing an already long-overdue visit back to Zambia. But I have found that attending friends' weddings is really important to me. Even if I hardly get to see them during the festivities, just showing up often means so much. This one was extra special because I actually got to spend a ton of time with the bride.

The wedding festivities took place over four days, beginning with a send-off ceremony and celebration for the bride, culminating with the wedding itself, and ending with a special thanksgiving for all their blessings.

Day 1: The Send-Off

I arrived in the village with one of Kyura's friends, shuttled there by a trusted driver who was willing to take us hours down the road from Kaduna and off the paved highways to the family's village. Looking around, I could see how much wealthier Nigeria is than Zambia. I'd never been in a Nigerian village before. There were powerlines running through the sky, nevermind that they probably were lifeless more often than live; metal roofs on every house I could see; everyone had shoes, even the children; and the roads, though dirt, were in decent condition. The family house was large and cement, with elegant columns lining the porch, like a plantation home, or a country estate for old British landed gentry. Of course, either of those would have been lacking the corridors full of stored water in 50-gallon drums and 20-liter gerry cans, the rumbling of the generator whirling electricity to cell phone chargers and lightbulbs, and the plastic patio chairs on which village women sat pouring local maize drink into empty plastic bottles. Nonetheless, I was impressed.

Kyura and her friends were inside. The house was full of people, many of them bustling, preparing food and drink and clothes. Others, like myself, lost in the action, sitting on plush sofas in the dim parlor, chatting tentatively to strangers who would be good friends in a few days, eating lunch? dinner? a snack? something anyway, from plastic plates on our laps. A giant bowl of cooked cucumber and tomato salad(?) makes for an interesting whatever that insert-appropriate-eating-session-here was. I eventually found my way to the real action, where Kyura's closest friends, and the day's chiefmate, were helping her get ready for the send-off celebration. This would be the day for her family's village to officially say good-bye to her, to send her from her home to the home of her husband. It was like a giant wedding reception for just the bride. There was even a cake cutting.

Kyura wore a long green skirt decorated with lace and beads, an intricately beaded ivory top and a head wrap bordering between yellow and ivory dotted with green rhinestones. A group of elder village women arrived at the family house dancing and singing, yellow wrappers with orange stripes and white shirts a unifying dress code, corn-husk-and-seed rattles tied around their ankles provided percussion to accompany their voices as they stepped forward and back, holding long sticks in as they sang. They led the procession from the family house to the school grounds where the send off would be. As they danced, Kyura rode behind in a car, saving her long dress and new shoes from the mud of the morning's rains.

Dancing at the Send-Off

The school grounds were decorated with canopies and bunting in white, seafoam and evergreen. Guests of honor---family, friends, local dignitaries---sat under the canopies. Rows of villagers lined the edges of the school yard. Kyura's close friends who were accompanying her sat under a white canopy, surrounding the satin covered sofa where she and her chiefmate sat. An MC in the center of the yard led the celebration: dancing and prayers, one group then another, dignitaries, father's family, mother's family, friends of the bride, the groom's family, etc. Each was called up in their turn to dance with the bride-to-be, to shower her in cash, everything from 10 naira notes to 1000s, none of which the bride deigned to pick up. There was a special cadre of pre-teen girls for that. Dressed in black and white, they would swoop into the dancing masses and scoop the bills into cardboard box lids, taking their full lids to a special side place where they'd empty them into bigger boxes and return to the dancing for refills.

Prayers are offered for the bride

Village leaders, politicians, religious leaders and family members came forward to say a few words. I couldn't understand all the words as much of it was in the local language and some in Hausa, but the happy and joyful sentiments were obvious no matter the language. Kyura's parents told her how very proud they were of their dutiful daughter. She wasn't the only one crying.

Dinner under the canopies

While the dancing continued, plates of jollof rice, chicken, moin moin, salad, and I-don't-even-know-what-else-cuz-it-all-has-meat were passed around to those under the canopies. As the festivities wound down, brightly-colored styrofoam take-away containers of food were passed out to the villagers. Notebooks, buckets, plastic basins, and other keepsakes we would refer to here as swag were passed out to attendees on behalf of the bride's family, the groom's family, friends of the bride, aunties, etc. Guests were also giving presents, bringing them to the white canopy with the satin couch, wrapped packages in all kinds of shiny paper, and even a bright pink potty-chair---can't beat planning ahead.

As the celebration at the school grounds ended, the festivities continued back at the family house for those who weren't exhausted. The rest of us, including the bride and most of us friends, hit the hay, or foam rather, for a good night's sleep. Tomorrow we would travel into Jos.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Homemade Gifts Keep on Giving

Usually when I post about sewing, I post about my own projects. But today's a little different; this is one of Munchkinhead's amazing creations.

Munchkinhead is queen of pattern-less wonders, so I was extra surprised when my birthday box contained a blouse sewn by her from a retro pattern. Mommy helped, but Munchkinhead's careful attention to detail was evident in many places where I could tell Mommy or I would have been like "forget that step; that's too much work!" It's a sheer cream chiffon with butterflies, hummingbirds and flowers.

Seam binding on the hole for the head to go through.

The side seams are French-seamed so the delicate fabric won't unravel. The collar and arm-hole seams are completely covered by seam binding in a perfectly matching color. The collar ties lie flat and straight with no pulls or tucks, their exact evenness giving me my best possible chance at tying a half-way decent bow. And all the stitching lines, even the hem, are straight and even. Mommy used to have me practice sewing straight lines by running lined paper through a threadless sewing machine; I wasn't any good at it then and I'm only slightly better now. Munchkinhead's lines look like someone's called "ten-hut!" and they're ready to march.

It's one of my favorite blouses now.  I wear it almost every week, and every time I do, I get a new compliment from someone.  "Thank you, my sister made it for me."  And then I call or text Munchkinhead to tell her, especially when that compliment is from someone famous.

Me in my fabulous Munchkinhead blouse.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Angelfood Cake with Rose Glaze

Growing up in Wisconsin, it was customary for schoolchildren to bring treats to class on their birthdays. I always assumed this was true for everyone, after all, it happened on all the tv shows on Nick at Night, too. After living on the coasts, however, I've learned that in fact this was one of those holdovers from a more innocent age that middle America was able to keep while big-city coastal folks gave into fear mongering about razor blades and allergies. I get the sense even middle America has sadly gone that way now, too. But not me. I still take treats for my birthday. Granted it's to work rather than school, and as my coworkers are adults who are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves whether my food will purposely or inadvertently kill them.

This year for my birthday, I decided to try one of my old favorites from growing up, with a new twist of my own. Mommy used to make me the most wonderful confetti angel-food cakes. Spongy and spring-like, I remember how the mix from the box would foam as she put the beaters into the bowl. This came right before my favorite part, licking the beaters.

My top criteria for any recipe is not needing to run to the store. Luckily, I seemed to have all the ingredients I needed. The recipe called for egg whites not by egg, but by cup. After I separated enough egg whites, I saw why. 8 eggs. Eight!

Egg yolks ready for the fridge. There were a lot of custards in my future

I usually do all my mixing by hand with my sturdy nsima stick from Ba Joyce's grandfather, but it was clear I was not going to successfully beat egg whites with a thick slap of wood. I tried using my egg whisk, but that was also insufficient. So, I pulled out my pretty pink handmixer from Mommy and went to town on those egg whites.---But not too much to town because that would cause them to collapse.---I think I did ok; the cake came out fluffy. I didn't have a tube pan, so I used my bundt pan. Getting the cake out was a little difficult, but not too bad. So by this point, so far so good. I have a warm and fairly whole fluffy angel food cake. Then I got a little too creative.

Foamed egg whites

I decided to try not just a rose glaze, but also a rose butter cream frosting. I found basic recipes for glaze and butter cream frosting and added rose water and red food coloring to both. The butter cream frosting would not cream. I don't know if it was the store-brand butter or adding the rose water to early or something else, but it would not cream. The butter stayed globbed up, globs of butter rolled in sugar, which is still yummy.---My specialty is tasty mush disasters.---I sliced the cake in half horizontally and spread a layer of the sweet gobby goo, putting the top of the cake back on to create a gigantic sugary sandwich. "Angel food cake with rose butter filling." It's all about the presentation, right, verbal included?

And then I kept going. The rose glaze turned out like it ought to have. Win! Except I did something a tad foolish. I put the cake on my cake carrying platter and drizzled the cake with the glaze. Sounds perfectly fine and dandy, except this was the night before I was taking the cake to work. The glaze had .all. .night. to soak into the cake, and boy did it ever. The next morning, when I opened my cake carrier to set up a little come-and-get-it-station in our break room, whole sections of the cake were bright pink and the bottom of the cake was rimmed in pink syrup. Mmmmm.

Birthday cake! Angel food cake with rose butter filling and a rose glaze (the night before all the glaze soaked in).

Actually, it was quite delicious, just best in small portions. All the better for work, more to go around!