Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Get me to the church on time

On Saturday morning, the last of 2011,  Grant and I drove up the mountain to Eldoret. We were on our way to attend a Kenyan wedding. The invitation requested us to share in the celebration and witness the exchanging of marriage vows between a lady who works in Grant's department and her husband of fifteen years. In town we followed the road depicted on the map on the reverse of the beautifully embossed, bilingual invitation. We soon found ourselves outside the city and bouncing along a rutted road in the rural highlands of Kenya.

After five kilometers, we realised we'd somehow missed the turnoff to the church. The time was 09h50 and according to the invitation, the wedding started at 10h00. I phoned the bride, who, to my surprise, answered and confirmed that we were on the right road. However, Grant made a U-turn and we retraced our steps for a few kilometers. The only turnoff on that road led to a building which seemed to be half-built. We stopped to ask directions of a lady walking along the road who told us in perfect English that it was the road to the AIC church that we were looking for. 

We turned up the lane and soon saw a sign saying: AIC church in front of the half-built building. Turning in there we were met by a young woman who said she'd been sent by the bride to show us the way to the church and that we were there! She also said she was going back to the bride's house and they'd be back shortly. The time was 10h00.

Driving around to the front of the church, we saw drapes over the door and rose-petals strewn on the carpet in between the plastic chairs. Apart from a youthful-looking pastor who came out to welcome us and handed us a beautifully embossed program of the proceedings, there was not another soul in or around the church. The time was 10h08!

The church building, although not completely finished, was prepared for a wedding (Wearing my high heels, I found traversing the builder's rubble quite a challenge)

Grant and I remained in the car waiting for something to happen. A few minutes later a car stopped in the road outside the gate, the doors opened and six bodies peeled out. Three men dressed in suits with carnations in their lapels walked up to the car. Grant and I got out and met the bridegroom and two grooms. Behind them were three little boys, dressed in a similar formal fashion to the men. I asked the children if I could take a photo and they sweetly posed for me.
Three page boys dressed up and ready for the wedding

The time was 10h35 and still no guests had arrived.

At 10h43 Grant and I walked towards the church and stood waiting in the sun. It was a cold and windy day and as I was wearing my little black number and silver top, I asked him to fetch my pashmina from the car.
At 11am two matatas (taxis) arrived filled with singing people and rooftops loaded with gifts for the bridal couple. The congregation had arrived!
Two live sheep (one shown above) were part of the wedding gifts

At 11h08 another convoy of vehicles arrived and stopped in the church yard. The passengers emerged from these and promptly sat down on the ground, some even laying on their sides. A young lady of about 14 approached us and greeted Grant by name. She said she was the bride's first-born and that her mother had told her to seek us out and say she would be at the church shortly.
All the elderly members of the family were offloaded at the church at 11.08. They promptly sat down on the ground and waited
Groups of children and others sat around on the lawn eagerly awaiting the arrival of the bride

At 11h14 a guest arrived carrying a table and cloth, (the church vestments, I imagined) handed it to an usher who took it to the front of the church and placed it there.
At 11h14 a  guest arrives  with a table and cloth and hands it to the eager usher at the door

Shortly after this the youth pastor approached us and asked us to come inside. I asked if the bride was due to arrive and he assured us she'll be here soon. He led us down the church aisle (the entire floor surface was still ground) and into a doorway to the side. Obviously the vestry. There were several plastic chairs in a semi-circle around a low rectangular table. This part of the church was also unfinished and freezing wind blew through the unglassed window openings. Three other guests - relatives of the bridegroom - who'd flown in from Nairobi that morning, joined us. A lady arrived with a crate of sodas and a box of bottled water and handed them out. As we sipped our water and chatted to the other guests another gentleman arrived through the back opening (no door!) He introduced  himself as the pastor who was performing the ceremony and said he'd only just arrived by taxi from a far-away village. The time was 11h29. I thought, well, if the pastor arrives an hour and a half after the time stipulated on the wedding invitation, when would the bride arrive?
Grant chats to Ben (a businessman from Nairobi) while his wife Rose and brother-in-law, William look on (Everyone was huddling into their jackets with the cold pouring in through the open windows)
Fifteen minutes later someone came and asked Grant and Rose to reverse their vehicles back to enable the convoy carrying the wedding entourage to do a lap around the church yard. My heart soared; at last the bride would arrive!

Grant and other guests with cars were asked to move them back to enable the bridal motorcade  make a grand entrance

No sooner had he and Rose returned to the vestry when the youth pastor asked us to be seated in the church as the bridal procession was about to arrive. We trundled out through the opening, me tottering across the builder's rubble and in through the front door of the church. The time was 11h51.
I managed a few photos before we were hustled into the church and asked to take our seats
Four ladies from the congregation were singing while we all looked backwards to see the bridal processing. At first they sang traditional songs

Then they burst into gospel to which everyone stood up and clapped, singing along with them. I had my camera focussed on the church door...

Ben in the corner of the photo above whispered to me that he hoped the singing stopped soon and that the bride would arrive. Laughing at his impatience, I asked him to take a photo of me and Grant, which he kindly did!

Me and Grant in the church with our hair blown askew by the wind whipping through the windows

There was a flurry at the front door and the bridegroom (centre) turned around expectantly

The maid of honour, four bridesmaids, four big flowergirls and two small flowergirls could be seen, beautifully dressed in lime green gowns, lining up on the lawn outside the church. In anticipation the singing ladies increased the tempo and volume of their rendition .

All the time guests still poured into the church. I focussed on one wearing a feathered headress, animal skins and carrying a spear. Grant hissed: Don't take a photo of the witchdoctor! But I think he was just a guest in traditional garb.

The guest in tradtional garb is marked with the red arrow

The time was 11h55. Nothing further happened except that the singing ladies stopped singing gospel, opened a hymn book and began to sing from it. As the rest of the congregation sat down and faced forward, Grant and I did the same.

Five minutes later I noticed several young men enter the church via the vestry door. They were carrying large music centres and loudspeakers. They placed these in front of the church. Presently we could hear the small generator starting up in the vestry and the pastor "testing, testing" the microphone. The ladies were still singing hymns a capella with the men in the congregation harmonising beautifully in between. There's something about Africans singing that's not easily equalled or duplicated elsewhere.
Several young men set up the sound system in the front of the church

Once more the singing ladies changed to gospel whereby the rest of the congregation rose to their feet, clapped their hands and joined in the worship. I turned around willing the bride to appear in the doorway. Instead three old ladies appeared, supporting themselves on sticks (not walking sticks, but bamboo-like rods) and turned into the row of seats behind us. I managed to take a photo surreptitiously as I wasn't sure what the older generation's reaction would be to a snap-happy Mzungu pointing a camera in their faces.
Three old ladies behind us clapped along to the gospel singing

It was now 12h29 and with no sign of the bride, Grant whispered to me that we should think of leaving. He was due back on site by 2pm and we would make it if we left at that moment. So, under cover of the singing and arrangements going on in the front of the church, we walked through the rows of chairs, up the aisle and out of the door. Outside people were milling around, children were playing in the builder's sand and chips. My last view of the wedding was of the middle page boy (of the three I photographed earlier that morning) sans jacket and bow-tie, shirt-tails flapping and sliding down a red mound of soil with whoops of delight!

Driving back through town, the traffic was three times as dense as when we'd entered at 9am. Everyone was intent on getting their last-minute business done before the start of the New Year celebrations
Forty minutes later we were on the final 24km stretch down the mountain to the valley. Around the next corner came a convoy of wedding cars (there were dozens of weddings in the city and this was merely another one) I quipped that perhaps this was the bride going to town now! But as we'd spoken to her at her home, a few kilometers from the church at 10am, we knew she had been in the vicinity. She just hadn't arrived at the church by the time we left!
As the white car approached, the man in the back waved and called a greeting to Grant. He was also from the mine and we heard afterwards he was on his way to his wedding in Eldoret

Back home Grant changed out of his formal clothes into his khaki longs and shirt, placed his hard hat on his head and left for work. Three forty-foot containers had arrived with generators for the mine and Grant was off to assist the fixed plant manager to offload them. He arrived home after seven that night which meant I missed Gaelyn's Masquarade Ball. Check out this link and you'll know why I was sorry

We had tea and toast for supper and an early night. Those were our New Year's Eve celebrations.

On Monday Grant spoke to two of his men who'd attended the same wedding as we had. They told him the bride eventually arrived at 4pm.

In retrospect although we had a different experience we would have preferred to see the bride arrive in church and later join them at their midday-dinner as stipulated on the program. Then I could have posted a really good story about a Kenyan wedding.

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  1. Wow---the bride was in no hurry, was she??? She made the groom wait for a long time. Sorry you didn't get to stay and see the entire ceremony... I would have loved to have seen them all dressed up....

    Great set of pictures --and you both look GREAT.

  2. Africa time! Can't be beat.

  3. Wow, that's almost as good as Mexican time, which is usually the next day.
    Great story, Jo. I loved it. Too bad about your shoes, and you should have worn a heavy coat.
    Still, I enjoyed it very much.
    Luv, K

  4. Ha, ha, as far as I can tell, you posted a really great story of a Kenyan wedding! Like hats, they come in different shapes and sizes.

    Sorry you weren't at the ball, we missed you!

  5. Guess they all tell time a little different. Sorry you missed the wedding, and the ball.

  6. Wow! I've heard of African time but I think this bride was setting a record. My own experience in Kenya is that the people rise very early and are often "ahead of time" for meetings but I haven't yet had the experience of attending a wedding. It would have been nice to see your photos but you did an excellent job of telling us about the day. It's a good thing you and Grant left for the camp when you did.

    Have a marvellous week!

  7. Hehehe ... what a saga ... I must confess that I would have been reduced to tears (of frustration) ...

    ... I'm terribly impatient and hate queuing or waiting for anything ... a problem that often gets me into trouble ...

  8. You made me laugh so much that my belly hurts now !! That at least was a wedding (and New Year) you will never forget !! Absolutely great, I think Mr. G. who is so much for punctuality, would have gone mad ! The pictures you made are so informative ! The church with the plastic gardin chairs, I can't believe it ! At least they were modern once. You look a little out of place so chic as going for William and Kate's wedding ! Hahaha ! I wished I could live such an adventure too !
    Our wedding was special too. The priest forgot it and all guests had to wait outside the church (which was closed) for 30 min with - 10°C when he finally arrived his robe flying in the wind, breathless and ... with an hangover !! He still smelled the wine !

  9. What a story! Love that church -even with the gales blowing in through the window!

  10. I loved this post more than any of the others I have read recently
    thank you

  11. Ohhhhh! My belly is hurtin' from laughing as I read your blog and remembered the agony of weddings in Kenya. Well ... agony for impatient me, the visiting mzungu. From the time you talked about the "matatas" arriving and the slow progression of all the other problems I was laughing. Like when you told of negotiating the builders rubble in spike heels and I remembered our first walk in the country with a missionary lady in high heels -- then the pastor "testing, testing" reminded me that the volume is always set to the very precipice of "squeal" so that when the microphone is picked up it blasts into your ears with un-bearable sounds; and the waiting and fretting I always did at those affairs. I left more than once because of the lateness of the bride until I learned that I could not attend a wedding unless I had the whole day free! Thanks for this wonderful post, Jo! It's been healthy for me as laughter doeth good like medicine.

  12. Yikes! And I thought when my d-i-l arrived one hour late to our 30th anniversary dinner THAT was bad! African time is definitely different than western time!


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