Thought I would share a several weeks old big adventure with you…not everything that happens here, after all, has to do with medical issues! The first thing you have to know about Kenya is that everything that happens is, more likely than not, unexpected. Even for Kenyans! But especially for people like me who have been part of a totally different culture most of our lives.
But, when all is said and done, unexpected can be fun! Take yesterday for example!
Mary and Stanley invited me to the wedding of Mary’s nephew. Sounded like fun. What time? I asked. 8:00 AM, Mary answered. OK, I thought, sounds early, but figured with Kenya time that meant it wouldn’t start until 10, and I’d be home by 1 or 2. Well, I was ready to go at 8, but the procession started at 10, which meant sitting in my car for the better part of two hours. The procession turned out to be a line of motorbikes, cars, matatus (taxis), and busses heading towards Machungulu, about 10 km away. We processed all the way from the hospital to the local Pluto gas station – about .3 km away. And there we were decorated! If you ever want to have an abundance of fun, try driving on the wrong side of the road with balloons flopping on your side view mirror, and a giant pair of ribbons and bows blocking your line of sight. Exciting does not begin to cover it! Here was my car, although the balloons had already popped (more on that in a minute!) Remember the steering wheel is on your left as you face the car!
Six people piled into my car and we drove to the bride’s house. On the way, Mary shared that our car would be taking the bride to the wedding. All right, then! About twenty minutes and two wrong turns later we got to the goat path that led to the house. I went as far as I could, and then was asked if I would mind backing out 500 yards or so (no turn around, and a huge tree in the middle of the path) and then back-in again so that when the bride got in the car we would face the correct way. This is where the balloons popped on the tree in the middle of the road, although I did not dent anything.
We walked a muddy (it is rainy season, after all) 200 yards to the house, washed our hands (a Kenyan custom) and were handed a bowl of food! It was a little early for lunch, but it tasted pretty good!
Then, about an hour later, here came the bride and the groom and the attendants and junior attendants. It was quite a parade, and the bride had an 8-10 foot train that everyone was trying to keep out of the mud. Mary is walking the bride and holding the umbrella (did I mention rainy season?).
We got the bride into the car, and the 200 or so people who were gathered all piled into matatu’s (taxis) a couple of rented school buses and a whole bunch of private vehicles. Everyone got into one of the vehicles except 8 individuals of varying ages who piled in with me, Mary and the bride. Yes, the 1997 RAV 4 had 11 people in it. Haven’t done that since college, where we held the record for mooning everyone on I-5 from UW to UPS. Proud moment. This time, though, everyone had their finest on…even the four stuffed in the back in the “boot”.
Oh. And if you are wondering, yes, the bride is in a motherly way. She is actually 9.25 months along, and I was very glad Mary was with us (she’s a nurse). When we got to the church, Mary whispered to me that she half expected the bride to break her water while in the car, and was relieved it had not happened. Yeah, me too….
So it was 20 minutes to the church in a long procession (met a funeral procession coming the other way), and then everyone out and into a church that has a capacity of about 50 people. I found out that wedding processions have various colors of ribbons and balloons festooning them, and funeral processions all have red ribbons and balloons. Now you know!
About 600 people, maybe a few more, were in attendance, and half of them jammed into the tiny church – especially when the heavens opened. My job was to hold an umbrella over the bride as best I could (her baby bump kept protruding, but thanks to my skills that was the only part of her that got wet!), and she headed in as well. I was then grabbed and shoved towards the front of the church. They had saved a seat next to Mary for me…second row back. Seat is a metaphor for a wooden bench six inches by eight feet.
The ceremony was a bit different than ours – took a couple of hours or so. A lot of singing. After the hour long wedding ceremony itself, the preaching began. And then the speeches…there are always speeches in Kenya. After about an hour and forty five minutes, I had to move, so excused myself and stepped outside with about 475 of the other guests. I saw Mary and asked her what was next. She said, “Now we go to the reception!” OK. cool…who wouldn’t want cake. I asked where the reception was and she named a village between Meru and Nanyuki….about an hour and a half drive – more with traffic (took two hours). I started to excuse myself, but saw the look of panic in Mary’s eyes. I would no longer be in charge of transporting the bride, but the aunts were a different matter entirely.
About that time the bride and groom came out – just in time for more speeches. I don’t know if it is a tradition, or one way to keep the train out of the mud (which were both ample), but the groom wrapped himself in the dress’ train. It was clear who he was with!
So off to the reception. I’ll blame the ribbon blocking my view, but I missed three speed bumps (out of 30 or 40 or 50 or so). The aunties only gasped five or six times, however. When we got to the turn off to the reception, Mary explained to me it was where she grew up with her brothers and sisters. She also explained that it was on a dirt road, and with the rain and all, we would find out how bad the road was…and how muddy.
Answer? Bad. And muddy. We slipped and slid…and at one point Mary said, “I thought this was four wheel drive…” No, no it’s not! But sturdy…it is sturdy, and we finally made it to our final destination. We all agreed that we needed to be back on the road at five, in order to get back to Maua before dark. It was three when we agreed to that. Two hours? Plenty of time to cut the cake. No problem!
Problem. It took 1 1/2 hours for the bride and groom to show. Turns out they had a special spot for photos, and it took them a while. Then the crowd, by now double the size of those invited – also very Kenyan – was hungry and waiting to escort the bride and groom from their car, which could not make it up the muddy hill, to the reception, in Mary’s old home’s back yard…complete with tents, cake and and food. Lots of food! So the time was not wasted while we waited. We ate. The menu was the same as earlier, except now there was also irio (mashed potatoes, banana and beans or peas) and chapati (kind of a plump tortilla). It was pretty cool. There were very hungry people there, and the family had planned to feed whoever wanted to eat, both invited and uninvited guests, of which there were more than a few. As I ate I saw all levels of poverty and wealth. All were fed. I remembered carefully parsing the guest lists at our daughters’ weddings, trying to keep the costs “appropriate”. Here everyone ate and everyone was welcomed, invited or not! As we heard the horns honking, signaling the arrival of the nuptial couple (plus one soon to be), we all gathered to sing and dance them up the hill. I stood behind a group of older women and got this shot of their head wraps.
Two hours later, they cut the cake, but Mary felt it was time to leave. No cake for us. Stanley also drove, so we walked out to the cars and took off the ribbons. When we left, it was a little after 6 – which meant driving through Meru and all the way back to Maua (another hour) in the dark. This time I did not hit a speed bump inappropriately, because they are easier to see when it is dark. The headlights reflect back off of them.
The problem with night driving over here, other than the elephants on the road (seriously) is that, well, Kenyans are black. If they wear dark clothes they are almost impossible to see. And drunk pedestrians in populated areas are common – often in the middle of the road stumbling down the path of least resistance. They were out, but I avoided to miss them. The other big issue at night is that Kenyans prefer to drive with their brights on at all times, and also like to use the center-line kind of like a homing beacon as they center their cars on it. It is why we almost never drive at night. The drive home reinforced that practice…
But I made it with only seven or eight gasps from the four women in the car with me! I got back home just a few moments past 7:45 PM. Then I sighed that Sue was not there to giggle about the whole thing with me. Sleep was only interrupted seven or eight times by the heavy rains last night…I would not want to try the roads today!
Adventures abound. ANd the passages of life are the same all over the world, no matter how they are “packaged”!