Friday, November 19, 2010

sleepless desert nights...

senegalese weddings should be on everyone's bucket list. well no, technically i didn't attend one. the pre-wedding bride sendoff should be on everyone's bucket list. within my young 23 years of life, this has been one of the most beautiful, most poetic, most touching ceremonies i've ever witnessed. part of me regrets not having a camera for this once in a lifetime occasion but i'm also glad i didn't. pictures cannot capture nor do justice to the 30 hours of energy and love, the closeness of each and every member of a village, the farewell and words exchanged. to experience it was the only way. in the end, watching my sister be taken away by the groom's uncle was heart wrenching.

i've always dreaded senegalese holidays or events. they're quite dreary to say the least - a lot of dressing up for no reason, a lot of sitting around, a lot of drinking tea, a whole lot of nothing. so when i heard my sister was getting married, i secretly dreaded the event. i knew there would be loud music all night that would keep me from sleeping and i knew there would be a lot of sitting around the next day, shaking hands with every single person, eating food that's been touched by numerous hands, washing my hands in a washbowl that has been beyond thoroughly used but cannot be helped because there's no clean water left, drinking out of a communal cup that's been slobbered over by strangers - all of this increasing my chances of getting an amoeba again (my last amoeba extravaganza directly followed a wedding i attended so i associate large gatherings such as this with really poor sanitation and hygiene).

but the dreary part was derived from attending baptisms and weddings and religious holidays. never had i ever attended a bride sendoff. it turned out to be quite the contrary to dreary.

i didn't find out that it really wasn't a wedding until the very last 6 hours. i blame this on wolof's inadequacy when it comes to vocabulary. for weeks my family has been announcing this event as a sey, a wedding. but the word sey, i finally realized, can represent all things related to the wedding, like the pre-wedding bride sendoff. such an event is still within the realm of sey, and thus my confusion. furthermore, i blame my fellow family members for not correcting my grammar. for days, i've been asking, "so the groom has not come yet?" their response has always been, "no, the groom has not come yet." what they should've said was, "no, the groom will not come, ever." that would've made everything clear.

the first night, the women of the village got together and cooked. 2 dinners. there was more food served than during the breaking fast of ramadan. i haven't felt this full in a long time. we ate and then we danced. experience had thus far proven that people don't really dance but just sit in chairs, in a circle, staring at each other. this time though, it was different. the young, the old, and all those in between, everybody danced. granted it took the teenage boys a lot longer to gather their nerves and get started but in the end, no one (or at least very few) remained in their chairs. it was such a beautiful mix of tradition and modernity that i couldn't help but smile. a pole was stuck in the sand and on top, a single light bulb hung to illuminate the proceedings. we danced under the stars and moonlight to the thumping of gourds and hand claps, songs perfectly arranged by the DJ and his sound system. women in beautiful wraps stomp away at the sand, kicking up a hazy cloud of dust that engulfs the surrounding. shadows dance across the walls, echoing across the hills. i am actually in africa - this is so surreal.

after only a few hours of sleep, the second day begins. day 2 began with my sisters invading my room because there were too many guests everywhere and they needed some privacy to get ready and prepare for the festivities. the hair braiding took a good 3 hours, then the make up took another hour, and then putting on the outfit and adjusting it and wearing the tons of jewelry took another hour. 5 hours... damn. it's really a bit sad though. my sister is naturally very beautiful but thanks to senegalese customs and traditions, dressing up for a wedding means wearing copious amounts of makeup until you, quite frankly, start resembling a clown. i don't understand where this idea of beauty originates - though im thinking the french had some influence, all with their haute couture and whatnot. but i guess she managed to pull it off in the end. there was more eating, and more dancing, and my sister changed for her second outfit.

as the sun began to set, my sister retreated to her room, followed by a couple of family members, and began the process of packing. a group of women, unmarried, ranging from teenage to early womanhood, sat in a circle outside of the room, banging pots and clapping hands to an intricate beat, singing songs that i could not understand. the older married women were sitting a little farther away watching the younger generations sing their farewells. at this point, men weren't around yet, but being a foreigner, i was allowed to observe, sitting with the grandmothers a little farther away. the men of the village finally showed up 2 hours later. the groom's uncle, along with other family members of the other party, then arrived on a car. dinner was served. my sister, up until this point, had remained in the room, and no one but close family members has seen her.

once everyone in the village had been fed, an eerie silence engulfed the gathering. the uncle of the groom stepped forward and announced that he must take the bride-to-be with him to the village of the groom. at this point, a group of local young bachelors, ran to block his path to the bedroom, demanding a payment for passage. the uncle discussed the payment with the other family members and ended up paying the bachelors off. then my sister's uncle stood up and demanded a dowry, a lump sum of 30,000 cfa or the equivalent of $60. this may not sound like much at all but here, that's a lot of money in bulk. a typical senegalese salary is way below 20,000 cfa a month, and that's if he doesnt spend any money or owe anyone anything. the groom's uncle had a long discussion with the other family members and my sister's uncle, growing impatient, walked away. my other sisters, as well as the groom's uncle, had to run after my sister's uncle, and after some more discussion, the groom's uncle paid up. finally my sister walked out, entirely veiled under a white blanket and there was a little girl following her very closely, also entirely veiled under the white blanket. they both sat down in the middle of the procession. according to a grandmother i was sitting next to, the little girl's job was to convince my sister to get married saying things like 'you are beautiful' and 'you are a good muslim' and 'the husband will be nice to you'. no one could hear any of this except my sister. all the while, the villagers began a group discussion slash blessing and words of advice. in the end, a prayer was said and my sister got up and walked toward the car. the women of the village began singing again; my sisters and brothers were all crying. we watched the car drive away under the moonlight. it was midnight already.

it's a very heart wrenching departure because in some ways, she will never see the village ever again. once you are married, it's like you belong to your husband's family - you celebrate holidays with your husband's family, you dont get to go on vacations when you feel like it. your job is in his home and leaving rarely is a possibility. mobility for women in this country is difficult and unless there's a wedding or baptism in yang yang, she probably wont see her family for prolonged periods of time. it's lonely. and it sucks if she's the second or third or even fourth wife. but luckily, the younger kids that are going to school in the other village will be able to visit her so maybe she wont be so lonely after all.

following the two days of pre-wedding festivities was tabaski. tabaski is a holy holiday where every family (that is capable) sacrifices a sheep to commemorate abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son as an act of obedience to god. according to this book i read, there was a survey back in 2003 that said 5 million sheep were killed in senegal, alone, on tabaski. think of the population increase since then and then think of all the muslim countries in the world. how many sheep are slaughtered within the span of a few hours on the morning of tabaski?

our family slaughtered 2 sheep and i helped skin them and clean out the innards. i definitely lost my appetite the rest of the day. watching your food decapitated, skinned, chopped up, i should really become a vegetarian. then for many following days, sheep meat was all we ate. i watched my family tear through the skull of one.

otherwise, tabaski was uneventful as all other senegalese (religious) holidays are. we wore traditional outfits and walked around the village greeting everyone and that was about it. i guess the only other interesting thing was my outfit that i had made - i asked the tailor for red stitch work and he gave me hot pink.

go figure senegal...

No comments:

Post a Comment