“Big Up For Your Great Decision” (A Tanzanian Wedding)

We had the distinct honor and hilarious pleasure of attending  a local wedding this past weekend; a sort of badge of honor for any traveler or expat. Momentarily it also became a minor source of stress as we hadn’t really packed party gear with us – I guess we both came thinking we were going to dress like upscale beach bums all year. With the help of a drunk street-side shoe repair guy who fixed my only nice sandals and Sandra’s husband who lent Boogie his slightly too roomy dress shoes, we did manage to put up a sufficiently fancy front. And boy did this wedding/cultural experience deliver.

Abduel’s (Amani’s accountant) and Priscilla’s wedding was a fascinatingly ostentatious, hilarious and moving affair: think gaudy colors, thousands of fairy lights, lots and lots of colorful flowers, waiters dancing in front of the tray with the roasted goat and 500+ well wishers dancing their way toward the front of the room to congratulate the happy couple. Although at times sombre when judging by the demeanor of the guests as they sat at their big round tables (people here don’t talk much while waiting) or in the stalls (those who arrived late had to sit like in a theatre at the back of the hall), everyone and everything came alive as the dancing began. And this confirmed a key suspicion: Tanzanians cannot throw a party without replacing everything that would normally be walked with dancing, usually in the form of a superbly cool and joyous conga line.

Secondly, although the wedding was fairly impersonal in some respects – the bride and groom sat separately from the guests and were constantly being filmed by a camera crew with blindingly bright spotlights – the communal dancing to go and congratulate the couple, to receive a thank you in the form of a cake, and to present one’s gift (yes, everyone does at least three rounds of dancing!) was touching, heart-warming and just plain hilarious. The amazing thing is that the dancing really never stops and comes from such a happy, easy and deep place for the locals – real joy stems from movement and music over here, not speeches or words.

Thirdly, apparently “goat is the new cake” – let me explain: A sorry-looking, grotesque little roasted goat with its open and still hairy face stuffed with banana leaves was rolled out as the main event, with the waiters joyously dancing in front of the macabre procession. In Chagga weddings (Chagga being the main ethnic group in the Kilimanjaro region) it serves the function that a cake would back home, complete with the bride and groom carving their first piece together.

We had a great time with our fellow volunteers and colleagues (Kristy, Salma, Jay and Annmaree in the pictures) – dancing, sipping some overly sweet, fortified Tanzanian wine and soaking up the wonderful madness of it all.

Big up for your great decision, happy couple, and thanks for taking us along for the ride!

-K&B

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