The Wedding

October 8th, 2012

Well before the reception the groom, Nasibu, arrived in camp, peculiarly decked out like a Saudi sultan. He insisted we take a picture with his mother. My little friend, Shamila, joined.  I wasn’t informed about the strict no smiling policy.

They said the wedding reception would kick off around 7:30 PM.  Jessica and I thought we’d go for a few hours, maybe push our bedtime to a late 11:00 PM.  We got home at two this morning.  Anyone who’s been to Africa knows that things run on a different time frame, a sort of a park-strolling pace, regardless of any schedule.  And a Tanzanian wedding is no exception.


Before climbing on the boat (which was supposed to leave at 7 PM “on the dot”, I was told), Jessica, Anton, and I knocked

Shamila kept somberly “cheers”ing my bottle as she knocked back soda after soda. Note her power suit.

back a few Konyagi and lemons to prepare for the dry and potentially long Muslim wedding proceedings ahead.  Hearing the wedding boat buzzing by in the hazy dusk at 7:30, we tripped our way to the beach to flag it down, Jessica and me giggling and lightheaded from little food and a little more cheap African liquor.  The boat was filled with party guests from camp, all of us dressed in our best, and it putted up the coast to the northern research station, Mitumba, where there was a hall large enough to hold a reception.  Upon arriving we were ushered into a spacious room decked out in bright balloons and plastic chairs, music blaring so loudly that conversation was nearly impossible.  We were sat in a corner, alone, early (even though we were late).  At one point, Shamila, my tiny little camp friend arrived in what appeared to be a power suit and came and sat with us. She and the music remained throughout the night.


A Tanzanian wedding reception resembles the American variety the way veggie burgers resemble real burgers: the general shape is the same and some of the flavors are reminiscent, but, really, they are their own beasts.  For example, a Tanzanian reception has an MC.  Our MC was a man decked out in crisp black with a Barry White voice and a titch of Japanese gameshow host about him (every five minutes or so he would loudly announce “Wow!”).  I’ve seen him in camp before—he works for the National Parks—but loud music and colorful dresses put him in his element and he was cheesy and charming and altogether different in the blast of Bongo Flava music beating out from the speakers behind him (later in the evening I had to politely dance away from him when he brought out his old man, biting-the-lower-lip-while-swaying dance moves my way).  The MC got things going late (as expected) but eventually, once most of us were sat, we were treated to the arrival of the

The happy couple

wedding party.  Approximately, 6 chairs had been provided for the groom’s 12 relatives, so there was a lot of shuffling once they filed in as more chairs were crammed into the same amount of space (for some reason no one thought to count the wedding party).  They danced to their places though and soon it became apparent that no one in the wedding party—mother-in-laws, sisters, or the bride and groom themselves—was allowed to move anywhere without dancing (excruciatingly slowly, I might add, like the elderly shuffling down the halls of a hospital).  Once the families were seated, Nasibu and his new bride, Leyla, arrived shuffling side by side to a song that, in discos, elicits a sort of electric-slide line dance.  An interesting processional choice.  Leyla’s eyes were cast downward, her lips set in a firm line, and she looked that way the rest of the wedding because she wasn’t supposed to appear happy.  She was leaving her family that day and was required to show the proper amount of distress.  Nasibu, a chimp research assistant here I’ve known for the past couple years, looked equally miserable, though it was less clear why, and, as they walked, we immediately noticed that Nasibu’s new lady love was approximately 6 inches taller than him.  But despite their despondent faces, they held pinkies, gently, and Jessica and I couldn’t help but coo.


After everyone arrived, the MC introduced the families, each person standing up and waving while we clapped and ululated (standard wedding behavior).  Then it came time for speeches and, on behalf of Nasibu’s brother, one man stood up and made a lovely speech I mostly didn’t understand except for a short line, “Marriage is not a piece of paper.  It’s not a party.  It’s trust.”  I liked that.  After this man—who mostly does odd jobs around camp, but seems to be quite the orator—the grandmother of the bride stood up to make her speech.  But before she did, she grooved rather heavily to the music, the MC joining in, and I

Leyla dancing the cake to her new in-laws. Notice how everyone else is pretty blurry? She was dancing THAT slow.

instantly decided she was the best grandmother in the world.  Her speech completed, we then moved on to the cutting of the cake (they eat the cake before the meal, apparently).  This activity was supposed to happen around 9 PM, but Jessica’s watch informed us it was about 10:30.  The cake cutting also involved a lot of dancing to and from places, including a portion where the bride delivered a huge slice to her new in-laws and the groom delivered a similarly large piece to his, both of them shuffle-dancing the whole way, drawing out a 20-foot walk, roundtrip, into a 20-minute affair.  Finally, though, it was time to eat, and we were fed 5 different types of carbohydrate, two slices of cucumber, and two bites of meat.  Jessica and I ate voraciously and then waited for the next event: gift giving.



Around midnight Jessica and I were really starting to flag…

Gift giving was awesome.  In the U.S. we just pile all the gifts on a table and are done with it.  In Tanzania, everyone lines up in a huge conga line and shimmies up to the bride and groom, delivering the gifts while dancing and hugging them.  Pictures are snapped voraciously and people dance for a lot longer than it takes for the gifts to be surrendered.  After the giving of gifts the MC also announced other gifts that were given that couldn’t fit in the room, things like a “large milk goat!”  We all clapped politely.  And ululated.  Again.


According the schedule, the next thing was music.  Only this didn’t mean an open dance floor.  Not yet.  Apparently, this referred to the part of the wedding where some guy breaks out a puppet, which he flops around a little bit and then, laying his friend aside, snaps into some

Perplexing puppet dance.

crazy hip-jiving, knee-shaking Congolese dancing.  He was followed by other young men doing “shows”, some of which were extremely perplexing since they just seemed to be a group of young men we sort of knew hopping around to rap music.  This went on for some time, but eventually real dancing ensued, and Jessica and I were pulled to the dance floor.  Random people came up to dance next to us to have their picture taken since we were the only wazungu there.  We also had pictures taken with Nasibu and his new bride and it was one of the only times I saw Nasibu grin (somehow I think he was supposed to look grim in solidarity).  We were pouring sweat and bouncing around and everyone was smiling and it was euphoric.  Eventually, exhausted, Jessica and I stumbled out into the cool night air and caught the first boat back to camp, finding ourselves among the bride and groom and all the mothers with tiny babies.  They all laughed at us, but we didn’t care.  Under the blare of the music, the lake had become quite wild and we tipped and yawed our way home, a half moon seeping out from behind the trees that dotted the craggy coast, our eyes half-mast, our clothes soaked in sweat, tired and very, very happy.