Lenyalo la buti wa ka! (My Brother’s Wedding)

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My gogo, who I call Mma, and host brother Andrew walking down the aisle

This week was all about the impending wedding of my host brother, Andrew, and his fiancée, Mantoba.  We had community members and relatives at the house round the clock cooking, cleaning, setting up, and dropping off contributions such as drinks, food, plates, etc. South African weddings are quite a lot of work! The most recent PCV, Barbara, also came to visit for the wedding, so we were roommates for the weekend.

Andrew and Mantoba’s wedding was two days: the first day, Saturday, was the “white wedding” ceremony. This was similar to American wedding ceremonies. After that was a more traditional South African reception at the bride’s house, and day 2 was a traditional reception at the groom’s house where I live. My family hired some of our relatives to do catering, but unlike most American weddings that I’ve been to, the bulk of the cooking and clean-up crew was family and friends who helped out as their contribution to the wedding. Friday was a buzz of activity, and I helped a bit with cooking. Although we have an oven, we mainly cooked over the fire in giant pots to accommodate the large servings. I helped stir the cabbage and tried to help with the pap (a traditional South African dish made from corn that’s similar to mashed potatoes), but I couldn’t stir fast enough! Saturday morning we headed to the lodge for the wedding ceremony, which was decorated magnificently. Margaret, one of our relatives, took pity on me and helped me to tie my headwrap- she did a great job, but I did feel like I was channeling Chiquita Banana! Sadly, my camera died early on in the ceremony, so I only have a few photos. Andrew danced down the aisle with Mma, and I teared up a little. We’ve only been family for a short time, but I am so grateful to be living with such wonderful people! Next were the bridesmaids and groomsmen; Andrew and Mantoba’s son and ringbearer, Ditiro, who was wearing a sign that said, “Daddy, here comes our girl!;” and finally, Mantoba, who looked incredible, with her father. The priest, Father Vincent, gave a speech in SeTswana, punctuated by traditional wedding songs. I don’t know how the audience knew when to sing which song, but they were beautiful! My favorite was one that goes: “Andrew namela thaba, o ba botse goreng wena o nyetse” or “Andrew is climbing the mountain, he must tell them why [he] is married” (rough translation, and please excuse any misspelling). Two of my cohort members came to visit, and it was also great to catch up with them and share my first South African wedding!

One of my relatives, Mma, my cousin Mapula, and my cousin Sthupi dressed to the nines for the wedding

Sthuphi and I

After that, we all piled on the bus that my family hired to drive to the village next to mine for the bride’s traditional reception. A friend of mine explained that the family kept the gate open to show that anyone in the community is welcome, and there were hundreds of people there. There was a lot of singing, dancing, speeches, and delicious food. We ate ting (fermented pap- it tastes better than it sounds), beef, chicken, salad, morogo (a local green similar to spinach), and rice. At one point, a procession of people wearing face paint, fake noses, and other costumes walked in led by a man in a wedding dress. This was the groom’s family come to poke some light-hearted fun, and the next day this would be replicated at the groom’s reception by the bride’s family. We left around four to ensure my friends got the taxi home before dark and so that I could go help with food prep for the reception at our house the next day. I helped peel and chop butternut squash and potatoes for several hours, enjoying the company of dozens of women from my village. I was so slow in comparison to them, but I ingratiated myself by practicing my Tswana and attempting to join in the impromptu singing. Around 10 P.M., Andrew and Mantoba returned to the house as a married couple. All of the people helping (which was at least 50) swarmed our gate, singing and dancing, as they drove in. A neighbor explained that the bride is stopped at the gate to pay the previously agreed-upon dowry, or labola, if it hasn’t been paid already. She also explained that the bride arrived so late as symbolic of her father’s reluctance to let her go, which I thought was sweet. The prep and set up continued until at least 2 A.M., but Barbara and I were exhausted so we headed to bed.

The following day I was up bright and early to help with food prep. My host family all went to church, but I stayed behind to chop spinach and peel carrots. I became fast friends with my companion, Lekeledi, who is part of a group that runs a self-funded charity to feed destitute families in Pretoria and to provide them with hygiene kits, school uniforms, and school fees. She told me that her dream is to start her own non-profit that focuses on enabling girls to get an education and have more opportunities, and she was inspired by her own struggles to pay for and access her education. I was very inspired by her passion and commitment to women’s empowerment, and we exchanged information to stay in touch! Our house was insanely busy, and I barely managed to bathe and change before the reception started. A big brass band came in to herald the start, followed by a great women’s dance group. Afterward, the bride’s uncle came bearing gifts, including an umbrella with rand (the local currency) paperclipped to an umbrella. This was followed by the bride’s family doing their mock procession.  The bride and groom returned from church about an hour later, and then things really kicked into high gear. They performed a practiced dance with the bridesmaids and groomsmen as they entered, looking stunning in their traditional wedding garb. The dance ended at the main tent, which was one of three tents in our yard.

Dancing as the bride’s uncle presents gifts

Mma pulled Barbara and I into the main tent, which is reserved for close family and friends. I was very grateful to be included and have an up-close seat for the rest of the wedding. Our tent got a tasty appetizer and champagne to toast the bride and groom. Once again, there were speeches, a prayer, and lots of traditional songs and dance. I was amazed by the beautiful fashions—I really love the traditional SeTswana clothes. There was also a motivational speaker, which I found surprising and interesting! All of the speeches were in Tswana, but I picked up some key words like “love each other (ratana).” We dined on pap, some succulent beef, a delicious broccoli salad, butternut squash (called pumpkin here), a bean salad, and more! I may be biased, but I thought our food was better than at the bride’s reception

Main wedding tent

Bride, groom, bridesmaids and groomsmen dancing to the main tent

After the main part of the reception, I helped clean up. There had to be at least a thousand people at our house! My host family is very popular. I also hung out with some of the local kids that I’ve befriended and showed them how to use my camera. My supervisor, Martha, was there and looked particularly on point with her gorgeous outfit, and I also saw some friends from another org. The electricity went in and out during the day (probably from overuse) and went off again at night. I brought my headlamp out to help with the braai. Braai is sort of like the South African version of barbecue, except better. They roast sausages called boerewors and beef. Just as I came to help, the electricity came back on, but the headlamp still proved useful for delighting some of the kids. While the braai was starting, I helped to clean some of the hundreds of plates. My washing companion, Ginny, is a manufacturer who started her own traditional embroidery company after losing her last job. They focus mostly on clothing, specifically traditional wedding clothes. She’s looking into starting embroidery manufacturing in-house to save costs. We quickly bonded, and I marveled at how lucky I was to meet two amazing women working on empowering women in just one day!

Post-reception dance party

My supervisor, Martha, and I

After washing dishes, I met one of my host cousins. He complimented me on my integration into, and respect of, Tswana culture. I was glowing with pride. I feel as though I’m constantly making mistakes, such as using the wrong greeting. It’s hard to remember sometimes that the most important part of my service is learning about and respecting another culture, but moments like these really drive that point home. I enjoyed some of the very delicious braai afterward, then collapsed into bed around 11:30 P.M. with the party still raging. Today, I’ve helped out with more of the cleaning as we set out the pots, pans, dishes, chafing dishes, spoons, etc. for those who donated them to come pick up. It’s never a dull day!

Post-wedding clean-up

This post has excluded many other wonderful and amazing people that I met, but suffice to say there are a lot of great people in my village, and I’m very excited to be here. Most of all, I want to acknowledge the many men and women that have been at the house daily to cook, clean, set up, and tear down for the wedding for free. It’s a very different concept than American weddings. Unfortunately for any future South African weddings, this one set the bar really high!

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