Sunday, February 15, 2009

On African Time

On Valentine's Day I attended a wedding in Kampala. The marrying couple were friends of some people here at CANLET. Fr. Noah, one of the priests in residence, was performing the ceremony so he insisted that I attend.

February 14th was the hottest day that I've spent in Uganda. It must have been 35 degrees. Fr. Noah wanted to be on time for the ceremony which started at 2pm. "Let us leave at 1:30," he said. This punctuality didn't surprise me. I've observed Ugandans to be quite punctual. Our morning meeting at the hospital usually starts at 8am sharp with no more latecomers than we tend to have at morning teaching rounds in Fredericton.

On the way to the church, Fr. Noach commented on the traffic, "It's a good thing that there is no jam today. I hate it when one of the couple arrives when the ceremony is already half over." I thought I had misunderstood.
"You mean that the wedding might start before either the bride or groom has arrived?"
"Yes, we have to keep things moving, because the church will be having weddings all day."
I tried to imagine the wedding ceremony going on with bride or groom conspicuously absent. This seemed like a policy that was instituted in harsh opposition to the practice of "African Time."

My experiences in Africa are full of examples of African time. Meetings start when everyone has arrived, buses leave whenever they are full, and pedestrians walk at a leisurely pace.

I was relieved to see that both the bride and groom were present when we arrived at Rubaga Cathedral. The beautiful domed structure had been built in the 1950s and was quite simple on the interior with small stained glass windows and a brick pillars. The wedding immediately preceding ours was finishing and the brides passed each other just inside the front doors.

Seated in the back row of the first section, I was surprised to see no more than 100 people in attendance. People had mentioned to me that most African weddings are large with several hundred guests. It wasn't until the end of the ceremony that I turned around and noticed that more than 75 percent of the guests had turned up late. The cathedral was nearly full! I realized then that African time was alive and well in Kampala.

The ceremony was performed in Luganda but it seemed pretty consistent with weddings at home. The bride wore white and the groomsmens' tuxedos matched the bridesmaids dresses. The church was decorated with a great deal of tulle and everything had a 1980's feel reminiscent of "The Wedding Singer."

The reception was held in a park near the centre of town. Strings of white lights and hung throughout the gardens and

The wedding party arrived about two hours behind schedule, so the speeches got underway quickly. Somehow, I had forgotten to expect many long speeches. When I was working in Rwanda and attended many conferences and ceremonies I got used to the number and length of speeches that went along with them. In addition to members of the wedding party, immediate and extended family, the bride and groom's employers gave their remarks.

Following speeches, there was a delicious buffet dinner and entertainment by traditional Ugandan dancers. As one of three white people in attendance at the reception, I knew I was in danger of being hauled onto the dance floor during the performance, so I tried not to make eye contact with any of the dancers.

There were more speeches before and after the cake was cut. My favorite part of the ceremony was when the bride and groom knelt before one and other in turn and fed each other cake. Then, they knelt before their parents and did the same.

By the time the dancing started it was already11:30. From start to finish, the wedding lasted twelve and a half hours. I enjoyed the whole thing immensely and now count it among one of my favorite Valentine's days.

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed your description of "African Time." How interesting, and how rushed and structured we must seem to Africans...hmmm, I may be a bit inspired! :)

    By they way, you're a great writer. I really like your blog!