Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Have you ever wondered what Nick would look like in a Traditional African Dress?

There is now visual evidence of what this might look like. Stay tuned for pictures of me wearing a gomis. This week certainly has been cultural.

I was kinda the Maid of Honor for a Wedding I sorta missed. I was given the title of “Designer” (Maid of Honor) and “Guest of Honor” at my first African Wedding. I say “kinda” because I didn’t really have any special duties other than that I was one of the very very few people who could actually be transported to the church where the wedding happened. I say that I kinda missed it because I never saw them officially married by the priest. It was also a 4-hr Confirmation ceremony, and the bishop never once mentioned the wedding. So They were married at some point but maybe before the mass started… I don’t know. The weirdest part of the wedding: neither the bride or groom looked happy in the least. They smiled only when feeding each other and at the end when I took a picture. They avoided making eye contact and speaking to each other. If she wore black instead of white, the whole ceremony would make much more sense. It looked something like a funeral for their parents.

Everything was borrowed. They have a village wedding gown, veil, tiara, party supplies, shoes, etc… because of financial reasons. They ceremoniously cut a piece of sliced bread and fed each other with it and handed people small pieces since there was no cake. The open bar was two pots of millet beer with long straws.

Now lets talk about the bride price. A man must buy a woman before he can marry her. A pretty modest bride price might be 6-9 cattle. The parents determine the price though. The man and his family bring furniture, food, livestock, etc. to the family at the Introduction Ceremony. The bride price is a huge reason why divorce is not so common here. Parents must pay back the price if the daughter leaves. Many parents burn the bedsheets of the daughter when she marries to symbolize that she is not to come back.

The Introduction Ceremony: Parents are not to meet the person you date until you are engaged. They must then meet to make sure that he is not a relative. In-laws are not to be near to the spouses’ parents of the opposite sex. This means that my mother-in-law could not be in the same room (or would have to be in opposing corners) as my husband. They are not to enter the bedroom of the parents… At the wedding, Mama Angella feared to get into the car that was taking us home because it was owned by her son-in-law.

Now for Muzungu Bride Price: If a man marries a Muzungu, the price is at least doubled. This is because he has now risen in status and everyone in the entire village will respect him. As for their children: children are scared to play with them for fear that they might break. Because they are assumed to not work so hard, they are considered frail in comparison to full-blooded African children.

Yesterday I also saw a circumcision ceremony. As I mentioned before it is a circumcision year, and there have been many parties throughout my village. On Monday, I was swept away with a huge throng of people going home-to-home. The candidate and his family are painted white with flower. Drums follow him around and people dance on all sides of him. Men carry long sticks and tree branches. He wears a stoic expression and a fabric that forms an “x” on his chest. He blows a whistle but doesn’t speak. At the homes, he is given money. It’s essentially trick-or-treat where one person gets the treats but everyone is welcome to dress up and have fun. These marches go on for two days prior to the circumcision and are followed by parties.

On the third day of the festivities after more marching and a feast at the Uncle’s, the boy is cut. As a Muzungu, I was entitled to special viewing privelages. I walked into the arena, which was fenced off by a string on all sides. Hundreds of people were gathered to watch. I got to stand with the three cutters, the father, and the grandfather. The mother and all female relatives sit inside with legs straight and outstretched. They hold their breath because if they twitch at all, it is believed that the boy will also twitch. Was there a goat heart on a stick in the center of the ring? Of course. Were the boy and his mother completely smeared with cow manure? Yes. Was the boy carrying a headless, roasted chicken as he ran into the ring? Yes. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for the boy, there was so much commotion and pushing when he ran into the ring, hanging out. It happened so quick… he ran in and seconds later the whistle blew to signify that it was done. I say its fortunate for me because I didn’t see the actually cutting (which doesn’t last more than 3-4 seconds… if it does, the cutter is caned). I say unfortunately for him because (as is commonly the case) the cutter was jostled and an artery cut. They did make sure that the Muzungu got a good look and pictures of all the blood though.

Other customs:
If the boy doesn’t fear (flinch, blink, make a sound, cry), he is now a man. If he does show any signs of fear, the sticks carried by the mob come into play. He is swiftly caned. His mother is too (it is believed she must have moved and caused the boy to fear). The father hides. The boy is disgraced. All money, cattle, goats, chickens, etc that were given to him are taken away.

The reason he stands on a sack with dried, crumbled clay: The foreskin and blood MUST fall onto the sack. If they don’t, someone can steal them to bewitch the boy. Bewitching is one cause of taking so long to heal. On this occasion, no one who is not in good favor with the family is allowed anywhere near the house. They can be caned if they come. This is to further protect the boy from being bewitched.

The cutter… We asked how he became a cutter. He is possessed by a spirit and trains others how to cut. Right after cutting, he runs away. Because if he messes up, he is caned. (he was also bewitched). If he chops off the head… he is stoned to death on the spot. He is trained “medically” for instances such as this where he cut an artery. He simply removed a safety pin and a string from the boys vest and put two small holes in the organ. He threaded the string and tied it tight to try to stop the bleeding.

Ah I love how much culture is in the village… and I will bring home pics… but that’s all the descriptions I can give for now.

Other fun facts I have been learning in the village:
Popping Corn is a different species altogether (so next time Fajita Friday at school tells me I cannot add corn to my fajita because it endangers the cooks’ eyes, I can respond “sorry sir, but I believe you are misinformed about the nature of corn breeding. Now please allow me to properly enjoy this fajita”)

Water is quite a monster in the village. Sometimes we don’t have drinking water for most of the day, sometimes I don’t bathe for awhile. Retrieving water can take several hours and requires quite a bit of manpower.

The Wednesday after American elections, East Africa (at least) went crazy. Kisumu, Kenya held a public holiday. Women and men yelled in the streets of Mbale. In their eyes… An African man is now in charge of the most powerful nation on Earth. For a couple days I was called “Obama” instead of “Muzungu”

Also, one big problem in the village: girls married off at 11,12,13 years old. Many want to marry older men to get money. Many parents pressure them to marry so they also get money (bride price).

Also… Yay for taking 16 pills a day/ not really taking all the pain killers prescribed… for a Nile-Style chest and lung infection. Cough!

That’s all for now. You can email me any questions you want. Take care all!!!


Dandy said...

Hey Alex! It sounds like you are having an amazing time and I can't wait to hear even more stories!

Love from Dayton!

Chris Haggy said...


I can only shake my head in wonder at all the amazing things you are doing and seeing. Everything is going to seem rather bland when you come home next month.

I have been sharing exerpts from your blogs with my students to keep them entertained, and they have enjoyed every minute - (laughing all the way!) I am unbelievably proud of you and wish I could be like you when I grow up!

Love you,

Aunt Christy