Tuesday, August 2, 2011

My Big Fat Gambian Wedding

I was only made aware three days ago that cousin Binta was engaged to be married,  who knew? I didn't even know she had a boyfriend, let alone a fiance.  But if you know anything about me, you know that I love weddings, absolutely everything about them! So it couldn't be more perfect!

Of course I began asking Bintou everything I could about it.  What would Binta be wearing? Where would it be held?  How many layers was the cake?  But, what I quickly discovered was that a traditional Gambian wedding was not your typical Cinderella fairytale complete with horse and carriage (although here, getting a horse drawn carriage of sorts could be done just by walking to the main road).  A traditional African wedding didn't even come with a white dress (good thing I guess since Kleinfelds hasn't made it here yet) and whats more, this traditional African wedding wouldn't even have a groom!  Binta's finace is off in the UK but the wedding would go on without him.   Apparently it's pretty common here for weddings to happen while the husband-to-be is over seas.

The morning of the wedding, I woke to a house packed with people.  The bride was off at the salon getting her hair done and her countless female relatives were busy preparing 15 crates of chicken for dinner.  Alex and I were rather clueless as to how the day would unfold.  Before I could even begin to speculate a stampede of people entered the house with megaphones, drums, songs and a film crew.  They had come to take the bride to a friends house where she would spend the day.

A short ride away, Binta's friends house was in full swing.  Children crowded around the courtyard and the whole house smelled like roasted meat.  Binta was the center of attention, the camera crews light shining on her face as she sat and met with friends.  Outside the street was blocked by rows of plastic chairs and children and women sat and listened to traditional drumming, occasionally someone would break into dance.

When we returned home the number of guests sitting around had tripled, fifty people had quickly become a hundred or more.  The ceremony would take place in the evening down the street but everyone had begun to congregate in anticipation. 

The bride, Binta, and her loyal bridesmaids
 The ceremony was a sight to see.  Hundreds of people dressed to the nines gather to witness a marriage.  There was lots of loud singing.  At certain points the bride would stand, followed by her gaggle of bridesmaids and would be engulfed by eager women.  Money would be passed from hand to hand, taken and then redistributed.  Words were spoken.  And as soon as it all began it seemed to end.  Food was passed out and people began to leave.  Alex and I sat confused.  There were no vows.  There was no first dance.  There was no aisle to walk down.  But it sure was a celebration, loud and colorful and joyous, as all weddings should be.
Alex and I with Binta

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