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11 December, 2001 -- It's very hot and dry now, and there will be little or no rain until March. We are so thankful to be at 5,000 feet. We were in Kisumu last week down by Lake Victoria and came back decidedly wilted.
There was a regional agricultural show last week in Kakamega, and the President himself came to the opening day. For three days we had city water and the roads were graded on the chance that he might see them or travel on them. (Don't get me started.) He maintains a very large house and grounds near the town centre for the one or two days a year he might be here.
We have long, busy days taking in marks and preparing fee schedules for the coming year. Our girls are very poor (but we have at least four potential doctors, one pilot and couple of budding lawyers, plus a French teacher in the making) but they sometimes bring a small gift. We've received bananas and papayas, a large bag of unshelled groundnuts and, last week, a heavy object in a bag. My colleague nearly jumped out of her skin when she moved the bag and it wriggled. Upon investigation, she found a rooster lying with its legs tied. This was a valuable gift and of course we couldn't refuse it, but what does one do with it? It was tied up outside for a day and a night and dutifully crowed like clockwork every thirty seconds during daylight hours. Eventually we sent our askari to ask the teachers at the literacy class if they could use it for their harambee (fundraiser) next week. They were delighted to accept. It might still end up in a stew pot, but it could be sold for cash.
Last Saturday we were guests at a wedding. The bride was a CHES student and was also assisted by ACCES (African Canadian Continuing Education Society.) She now works as a secretary for ACCES. The wedding was scheduled for 10 a.m. and got underway only half an hour late (many people told us to arrive only at midday). It began with the bridegroom's procession of some half a dozen serious young men. They were quickly seated, and the bride's procession began. This was what it was all about! Small boys danced down the aisle carrying candles and bibles (choreographer hovering nearby). Young girls in white dresses and straw hats who danced in front of the congregation followed them. Then came young women carrying flowers. The latter formed an arch when the bride appeared at about 11.30. She took half an hour to progress slowly down the aisle (not a long one) accompanied by a matron of honour.
During all this, the music was lively and loud, with a running commentary in English and Kiswahili.
When everyone was assembled, the wedding participants began animated prayers and hymns and danced spontaneously and vigorously, some falling to their knees.
The wedding service itself was lovely with a few interesting and symbolic customs. Before the exchange of vows, the groom lifted the bride's veil. He had paid a "bride price" or dowry and had to be reassured that he was getting the right woman. After the vows, the couple was hung with garlands and cakes were cut. First the couple gave each other a piece, the first food they would share as man and wife. Then they came down to the congregation and offered pieces of the cakes to their respective families as a sign of caring and respect.
Next, individuals and groups were called up to present their gifts, beginning with the families. Most danced their way to the front, waving their arms and the women ululating. Of course when it was our turn, the wazungus (whites) walked sedately to greet the couple and leave a gift.
Hand-washing was then organised and we were treated to a meal of rice, chicken and chapattis. During the meal the families and friends were invited to come forward to introduce themselves and say something about the bride or the groom. Parents, uncles, aunts and cousins told in a few heartfelt words what the new couple meant to them.
At 3:30 p.m. we left to walk home, our heads spinning with sights and sounds.
©2002 Patricia Crossley