Monday, 5 October 2009

Jeanne’s wedding; Tom’s return

October 3rd

Off to Nyanza today for Jeanne Remezo’s wedding. Jeanne is one of my friends and is the new head teacher at Nyabisindu school. She’s about 25, petite, drop-dead gorgeous, and she’s marrying a lawyer called Cryspin who works in Nyanza. It’s a big affair. I’ve arranged to go with Claude because I’m not sure how to find either the church or the reception place, and Claude used to be the school inspector for Nyanza so he knows absolutely everybody there.

We agree to meet at the “Horizon” bus depot at 11.30, which means I can have a lazy start to the day and make sure the flat is tidy and presentable for Tom’s return. At this stage of things I’m not sure whether Tom is staying over in Kigali tonight (his flight doesn’t arrive until the middle of the evening), or whether he’s arranged transport back to Gitarama.

What I’ve forgotten is that there are elections taking place today. I’m not sure what kind of elections they are; certainly not Presidential (coming next year) or parliamentary (already done earlier this year), so they must be some kind of local council ones. Anyway, as usual it means there’s a shutdown with shops closed and none of the express buses running. We have a problem.

I ring Claude and it’s almost mid-day before he finally arrives. We have to get a slow matata to Nyanza. The driver can’t find enough people to fill it; we’re travelling at a slack time of the day, and we amble very slowly all the way to Kabgayi and only pick up speed thereafter. At every single stop we come to a halt and there’s a couple of minutes’ pause while the driver and convoyeur look around hopefully to see if there is anyone wanting a ride. By the time we reach Ruhango there are only four or five passengers on the bus, and the driver won’t go any further. By now its half past twelve or gone, and we’re going to be late for the wedding. That’s OK; weddings never start on time, but there’s a limit as to how long they’ll wait for guests to arrive.

Another bus pulls in beside us; Claude recognises some people on it and we quickly change buses and join them. We fill this bus and it sets off quickly and he drives like a madman all the way to Nyanza. Sitting two rows behind Claude and I are two of our new Tronc Commun heads, Jeanne’s colleagues. There’s Marie-Chantal from Kibyimba, whose school I’ve been to twice in the past ten days, and Odette from Butare, whose school I went to a few days ago.

Unfortunately the bus won’t take us into Nyanza town, even though there are at least four of us wanting to get off there. (That’s unusual; usually drivers will oblige for more than a couple of passengers in the hope that they’ll find another couple of fares in Nyanza centre). So from the main road junction to Nyanza it is too far to walk in the heat of the day, and we have to hire motos. Even then, when we arrive in the middle of Nyanza, we’re still not at the church. Fortunately some of the wedding ushers are running a shuttle in a beat up saloon car from the town to the church. All in all it’s been quite a journey!

When we arrive the wedding has already started. The church is enormous and is already more than half full; we’re ushered to a seat well back and off to the side. I’m the only muzungu among hundreds of Rwandans, but it doesn’t faze me in the least. The church is well proportioned with an extremely high ceiling and good acoustics. This is just as well. Now that we’re in the rainy season I realise that it’s also the hot season. Around mid-day the heat of the sun is intense, even at this altitude. It saps your strength very quickly. And because of the rains it is also humid. Everyone in the church is dressed to kill. The men are almost all wearing dark suits or, like me, dark jackets, and everybody is perspiring in the heat. The women look wonderful in their robes. By the end of the service there church is packed full; all through the event there are more and more people arriving. Everyone is fluttering handkerchiefs or their wedding invitations to fan themselves.

The wedding is similar to Marie-Chantal’s at Shyogwe; you can barely see what’s going on because the bride and groom are always surrounded by a posse of photographers. There’s the official video record, complete with bright lights which he keeps shining in our faces and blinding us, and a swarm of guests hoping to get their own candid shots. Claude takes my camera and goes up to get some for us. Cryspin is wearing a cream coloured morning suit and matching tie; Jeanne is wearing the most gorgeous white dress with an enormous train. Her bridesmaid is constantly having to adjust the train and her veil.

The choir is good, but the service is so long! We have full communion, a sermon, and around ten minutes of singing from the choir. By the time we can follow the couple out of the church we’re all gently braised and there’s almost a stampede to get out of the door and into the fresh air. To my surprise it’s miles cooler outside, even in the sun. The church roof has absorbed so much heat that it has been radiating it down on us; it’s as if we’re been sitting under an electric fire or a strong sun lamp.

Outside the church it is fascinating to watch Claude networking. Le tout Nyanza is at the wedding, and Claude seems to know everybody and be affectionately remembered by everybody in the town. He was only here for two years, but he’s one of these people whom everyone likes and everyone wants to greet. By association, they all greet me as well and I lose count of how many people I’ve met. Many are teachers or head teachers of Nyanza schools (I think Cryspin might be working in his legal career in something to do with schools).

We drift down to the reception hall which is on the road from Nyanza out to the Mwami’s Palace (those of you who’ve been to Nyanza will understand where I mean), and claim our seats on the wooden benches. We all know from previous experience that there will be more people than seating at the reception and you need to get in and stake your claim! We end up sitting with Odette, Marie-Chantal, Florent (Jeanne’s deputy at Nyabisindu), Mugabo (the head from Mata who lives in Nyanza), Immaculée (and I’m not sure how she’s come to Nyanza and why she didn’t travel with Claude and myself), and a posse of Nyanza teachers.

Claude and I have taken the precaution of buying our return bus tickets to Gitarama as soon as we leave the church; we agree to get the six o’clock bus. That means we’ll have to leave the reception long before it finishes, but after six the buses from Nyanza are unpredictable and it’s better to be safe than sorry. Nyanza isn’t as easy a place as, say, Butare or Gitarama to get to and from. However, it means we have a deadline and we spend half the reception checking our watches.

The reception is lovely. There are the usual dancers, including the one I so admire who dance with baskets on their heads. The boy dancers are very, very young, but make up for it with some amazing energy. There’s another group of people dancing who must be something else to do with either Jeanne’s or Cryspin’s families; the women come in their robes carrying calabashes or the tall wooden milk jugs traditional to Rwanda; the men are wearing the kind of aprons that you put seeds in when you go out to sow seeds by hand. They dance on the stage in front of everyone. At one point Cryspin gets up and dances with them and this practically brings the house down.

All outside the windows there are street children and various adults peering in; for these destitute people a wedding reception with all its dancing is the best free entertainment around.

Cryspin’s dad makes a long welcoming speech and is answered by Jeanne’s; there are speeches and speeches extolling the virtues of the couple and lots of jokes I can’t understand. We are all given fanta or beer, and eventually the cake is cut. By this time the important family guests have given their presents. It is a quarter to six now, and Claude and I have to leave to get the bus. It is not good protocol to leave a wedding until after the presents have been given, so we are very lucky that there is just time for us to make our bus. There’s no time to wait for wedding cake. I have the usual gift of money for the couple, so I try to sneak up behind the family members and give it to them. Cryspin doesn’t know me from Adam, but Jeanne gives me a wonderful smile and explains who I am. Then it’s a dash through the evening gloom to the bus, with lots of other people who are also heading to get transport home. Even so, Claude is constantly being stopped to be greeted by passers by.

Back home I can’t be bothered to cook, and there’s a power cut in progress, so I decamp to a bar and have brochettes and ibirayi for the second night running.

Best thing about today – everything except fighting the transport system!

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