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.

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