Yesterday, my trusty sidekick B. married my dearest Nigerien friend . . . and I not only had a front-row seat, I was invited into the ring for a few rounds.
There is something fascinating and enlightening about attending festivities from a culture different from one's own . . . to observe, learn and experience something new. But there is a whole new level of enrichment that comes when participating!!
You may remember that back in April I mentioned that I had been asked to be a grooms(wo)man at B.'s wedding . . . and then E. also wanted me on her side . . . and instead of chopping me in two, they compromised and decided there was enough of me to go around.
For two months they went back and forth, changing their minds about the part I would play, what I would wear, when I would walk in, what I would do to help prepare, how I would do my hair, and how much I needed to know ahead of time.
Then finally the weekend came!
The event took place in a city four hours to the east of Galmi, the hometown of both the bride and groom. I spent all of Friday with E. at the home of her good friend's granny. We passed hours lounging around on mattresses on the floor in a hot room with a lone window and slow fan . . . waiting.
I'm still not exactly sure what we were waiting for . . . more women to arrived, food to be made, henna to be applied, our 'appointment' at the salon. From 10 to 5 that's about all we did . . . waited and sweated . . . and napped.
Just before five o'clock we packed up and headed to the salon.
For a split second, this was the first part all day that felt normal: pre-wedding hair-doing.
E. and the rest of her posse went in first. They were all mid-greeting when I step through the curtain. The three stylists saw me and froze . . . the ticker-tape running over their foreheads said 'OH $#*%!!! WHAT ARE WE GONNA' DO WITH A WHITE CHICK'S HAIR?!?!'
They began to chatter amongst themselves in Hausa and soon the whole tiny cramped room was contributing opinions on to how my hair would look the best. Again, it was all in Hausa, but from the bits I could understand, it sounded a little something like this:
'We'll give her braids.'
'The rest of us are wearing it down, she'll look funny.'
'Then we'll put in a weave.'
'But her hair is REALLY fine and it'll just slip out . . . trust me, I've done her hair before.'
'Then we can put in cornrows.'
'But she'll look bald . . . and her scalp is SUPER white'
(Someone began rummaging through my hair)
'Oh yeah!! CHECK IT OUT!!!'
(Someone else put her hands in my hair and started to play)
'Woah! Déborah! Your scalp is SUPER white!!'
Finally, one of the stylists came over with her fine-toothed-comb and colorful rubber bands and pulled back the front bits of my hair . . . in the end, I looked prepped for my first middle school dance.
I stared in the mirror, speechless.
'OH DEBORAH!!! You look BEAUTIFUL!!' they exclaimed.
'Um . . . I . . . uh . . . you don't think I look like I'm twelve??'
'Oh no!! Déborah, that's SO much better than you normally have it!' (OUCH!!)
E. loved it, so I gritted my teeth and went along for the ride.
After a few hours, the rest of the girls still weren't done with their weaves . . . but it was time for the Wedding-Eve Party to begin . . . so E. had us drive her to her parents house. By now the sun had set . . . and there was no electricity in her neighborhood. Hanging out while she went around to greet all those who had come, I began to think about what it is really like to live in the dark . . . eventually your eyes adjust a bit, but you can only ever see halfway at best.
Before too long, E. grabbed my hand, 'Déborah, you're going to want to come with me.'
She led an entourage of old women down an alleyway to the neighbor's house. As we walked the women were singing and making the typical Nigerien yodel-like-sound women make they are rejoicing. We entered a courtyard that was completely empty except for a large, well worn, grass mat on the ground and lonely sapling.
'Déborah, you can sit here,' E. said, pointing to the mat, but before we knew what was happening, two plastic chairs were brought out for me and my friend S.
'What's going on?' I asked E. 'I'm going to get washed,' she said.
I don't know why I was so excited, but I was.
I had heard about the ritual Washing of the Bride, and now I would get to be here for one!! My inner anthropologist came alive and I couldn't wait for what would be next . . . I was in! I had been invited to participate in a ritual that is usually reserved for the closest friends and family . . . and while there were at least twenty of us present, this wasn't a moment for outsiders; I had been welcomed into the inner circle.
E. and her granny went into a mud room . . . another old lady followed with a water can. While we waited the women outside sang and yodeled. When she came back out, E. was patting her face and arms dry with her headwrap.
'Let's go,' she called to us. 'That's it??' I asked. 'Yup,' she said, and we made our way through the alley back to the party.
It was nearing 10pm and we still had three girls arriving from Galmi on the bus . . . so, S. and I ducked out with the bride and groom (who needed to stop and the greet the pastor at his house for a bit) and made our way to the bus station.
By the time we picked up the girls and grabbed a bit to eat, it about midnight. B. texted and said the party had ended and there were 'too many girls' already staying at E.'s parent's house, it would be best if I stayed the night with the crowd who had come with us from Galmi . . . not gonna' lie . . . as awesome as it's been to be immersed in my dear friend's culture, I was a bit thankful to be able to sleep with a pillow, take a shower, brush my teeth at a sink, blow dry my hair (while careful not to shift my rainbow of rubberbands) and have a mirror to apply my makeup. What can I say . . . I'm still a city girl at heart!
Always a Bridesmaid: Hausa Style, Part II, coming soon.