Heather in Senegal

Thursday, July 13, 2006

July 6 Thursday
Today my host mom and I went to Jenabu’s house, where many people from our neighborhood were gathered to celebrate the wedding of Issatou and a man whose name is unknown to everyone I asked. The couple is a little younger than I am. I have seen them a few times being affectionate with each other, so I think this is a chosen, not arranged, marriage. My mother and I went to the part of the yard where elderly women were sitting, and we greeted all of them. Some of these little old ladies giggled at talking to a toubob in Pulaar. When they asked questions beyond my vocabulary, my mother would tell me what to say. After we had completed the greetings, my mom took me to the compound next door, where the girls I am friendly with were cooking. It was a mob scene, with many, many young women pushing their way to the tubs where juice was being made or to the various charcoal stoves holding huge pots of dinner. I could fit easily into one of these pots. Soon I was elbow deep in a tub of bissap leaves and water, squeezing red juice out of the leaves. A thick whitish very sweet drink, made I think from baobab fruit, was also being prepared, and girls often tilted my chin up so they could ladle it into me. Delicous. I helped pound onions with the big mortor and pestle, but after spraying people with onion bits too many times, I was guided back to the juice. And of course, with so many people packed so close, there was a good deal of dancing.
At some cue we all dashed from the cooking area back to the first compound where chairs were set in a circle. The bride was sitting in the circle, and people were dancing for her. She was stunning. Her hair was braided and twisted, and a challah-like bun was placed on her head. Her scalp was painted silver. Her face make-up, particularly that around her eyes, had her looking a fairy-tale witch. And her dress was shimmery and intricate. I was urged to dance and was happy to oblige I frolicked and flopped about like a court jester Every time I wanted to sit down another girl would come to dance with me and urge me to play with her. Men came nowhere near the bride’s circle. They watched the dancing from a distance and refused to participate.
At some other cue everyone suddenly got up to go home. My neighbor took me under her wing and led me back to my house. She told me to bath, and then she came over to choose clothing for me. They have a gentle way here of making me feel slightly like an invalid. Freshened up, we went walking to another house. At this house chairs were set in rows, and we sat and waited for the bride and groom to arrive. The yard was packed. There were probably two hundred chairs, and most of the people who were sitting had someone on their lap, myself included. Behind the chairs there was a mob of people standing. I had not known to bring a gift, so some friends of mine said I could go in on theirs, and they let me be photographed with them and their shiny big bucket full of household items.
When the couple arrived everyone stood to honor them and to see them. I lifted the little girl who was on my lap up onto my shoulders, and was so pleased to have had the arm strength to do this. I shall ever be a fan of pulling water from wells. The wedding couple was flanked by three sets of girls and women in coordinated outfits. They went to a table that was set on a stage and posed for pictures with many people. The table was carefully made up with plastic flowers and bottles of coca-cola and orange fanta. They danced stiffly with their arms around each other for about thirty seconds as the dj played Whitney Houston’s “And I Will Always Love You,” which I think is about a breakup. The dancing reminded me of a wedding I attended in Massechusetts where the bride and groom beamed as they danced slowly through their chosen song. What seemed to me an imitation of a familiar ritual made me so homesick for friends and culture that make sense to me. After the dancing came more posing for photos. We were served popcorn and fried dough, and later we were given sandwiches. A friend opened mine and plucked out the meat. The whole event was videotaped. I have been trying to find out if there has been or will be a wedding ceremony, maybe something in a mosque, but I have not been able to get a clear answer. The community support for the couple and the planning and coordinating that went into the event sung of a great love for the couple and excitement for their life together. Tomorrow the celebrations will continue in the courtyard of the groom’s house, and I hear there will be live drumming for the dancing.


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