On the 7th of August I was invited to a Congolese wedding!
This was the wedding of a colleague from the Bukavu Office lets call her ‘L’. L is originally from Kinshasa(which could have been another country, given the distance and the difference in culture) and her husband ‘M’ is from Bukavu. They had been living together for a few years now and have three beautiful children. This in Congolese culture, very much like in the Indian culture is considered a blasphemy. And so this wedding had even more importance in terms of ‘legitimising’ not only their love but also their children in the eyes of God and the state. For L the wedding preparations began a year ago, for me, about 3 weeks ago. The custom here is that all groups wear the same clothes for the civil and the church ceremony. So as her Oxfam-family, we were all in the same clothes. We had to buy the material that she had selected and give it to the tailor to stitch. I was a bit disappointed that the pagne was black and white and not some bright, fancy ‘African color’. But this was nice too. I made a jacket and a dress out of the material. For the dress I had no picture to show the tailor, only a design in mind, and I cannot draw to save my life. But luckily E can draw, so she penciled out what I wanted and we gave that to the tailor. A week later I went back there and I was mind blown with what he had done! It was perfect! So well cut, so well stitched, super sexy! I couldn’t wait to wear it.
The day before the wedding, we had a small party at our house, and L came over and stayed the night (as she was not allowed to stay in the same house with her fiancé the night before the wedding). That night the Earthquake happened! Poor girl, her already stressed nerves were shaken all the way.
The next morning she woke up at 5am and was off to the hairdresser by 6! We had to be at the townhall at 9am. E and me were dressed and ready to go at 8.15, with still no sign of L! She still had to come home, change into her dress and do her make up (which I was going to do). Well, finally at 8.30 she shows up, looking super pretty, hair done, make up done and now for the dress. We help her get dressed and she leaves in 15 minutes. We get to the townhall and wait. Finally at 9.30 everyone who should be there is there and we enter and the official ceremony begins. The state official is sitting at a desk in the middle of the room with a gigantic Congolese flag behind him, emphasizing the legitimacy of the state in this very personal event in their lives. He starts saying his thing, talks about the country – the importance of civilizing marriages in this way, he talks about the role of the man and the woman, the man should provide for his family and the woman should obey her husband. Then he asked the grooms parents to announce the dowry that they had paid for the bride. The man announced it proudly. He then asked the bride’s parents if that was true and if they were happy with it. They affirmed. The couple signed papers and voila! They were married officially. Clapping , cheering and wooing ensued. Then we stepped out for pictures! After half an hour of smiling and posing, some of us slipped away to go get a coffee and relax before the church ceremony.
A few hours later we found ourselves in a brightly decorated church in a school compound. This ceremony was so much fun! I was super pleasantly surprised! First of all there was a glorious choir who were singing and dancing and just being super awesome! It was very difficult not to groove to and tap your feet to the hymns! Then there was this priest who was the most fun priest I had ever seen – he was wearing a beautiful pagne suit and also danced with the choir. His sermon was super funny and witty and so much more progressive than the state. He spoke about everything from the condition of DRC, to politicians to love and accepting change in each other but also in society. It was a super interesting to hear him talk, with jokes and witty comments he made everyone laugh but also seemed to be driving home a point. This however went on for 4 hours! At first it was fun and interesting but it would have been a bigger success if it had ended after 2 hours. When it finally did, everyone seemed relived and happy, then for the pictures again! After that there was another small break before the big party!
A few hours later, we got dressed up again, this time in fancier clothes and went for the party. It was in a big room, decked up with lights and flowers and drapes and chinese lamps and more. Everyone was assigned tables and on every table there was an array of drinks to choose from. There was music blasting on the speakers, with the DJ announcing his own name in a metallic voice at regular intervals. The master of ceremony came in soon and started the show by cracking a few lame jokes. Then the guy’s family walked in one after the other, with the MC announcing who they were and how they were related to the groom. Then the bride’s family came in and the same happened. Soon the newly wed couple walked in and were subjected to some awkward ‘you have to do this’ activities, for the amusement of the crowd. Then they sat down and everyone started lining up to congratulate the couple and give them gifts+take pictures. The MC went on announcing who was congratulating the couple now and what their relationship to the couple was! About an hour later everyone was asked to stand for prayers, the annoying MC now wanted to someone from the crowd to volunteer to say the prayer, and no one was coming forward so he started pinpointing and almost forcing people to lead the prayer. When people refused, he made some jokes about the Earthquake from the previous night. Finally someone agreed. A short prayer ensued and the buffet was declared open. Table by table people were instructed to go get some food. It was a gracious spread – There was a range of different meats, fries, salads, sambousas, and lots of sweets. Everyone piled their plates and sat down to enjoy their meal. For a while not much was happening, everyone was busy eating and the DJ kept announcing his name in the backround. And all of a sudden, some boys started clearing some space up in the middle of the room. The music changed and the couple was invited onto the dance floor, they grooved to one song, smiling a little at times and looking a bit mortified for the rest. Apparently its custom that the couple, especially the bride ‘must not smile’ during her wedding! This shocked me a bit and I couldn’t help but feel that they were not enjoying the party, however I was assured by the bride later that indeed they were having a good time.
And once the dance floor was declared open there was a transformation I the room! All the guests who were just a few moments ago sitting all prim and propah at their table and eating were on the dance floor going ballistic! It was awesome!!! The music, atmosphere, everyone dancing fantastically – just having fun! I danced my ass off – trying to groove to the music, it was so different from what I was used to. The movements looked very distinct but in fact were super subtle, this way of dancing I was told is very typically Congolese. It looks amazing in any case and everyone seemed to have it in them. I was mesmerized! But after a while we were exhausted, and went home. Apparently the party went on till 5 in the morning. Before leaving we were all given a keychain/bottle opener with a picture of the couple on it as a souvenir from the wedding.
In all it was a long and exhausting but awesome day and I was glad to be part of it. 🙂