My African landscape has been littered with countless deaths and funerals, but after 19 years in Mozambique, I have just attended my fifth wedding. In a cultural twist which reflects what is truly important: the West promotes marriage to the point of big business, Africa relegates it to "whenever we have the time and the money simultaneously", which is seldom. Besides which, who knows how long this is going to last and there is very little point in spending all the money to feed so many . . .
Funerals cannot be put off, people must be buried very soon after they die. Weddings, on the other hand, are optional and represent a massive outlay of resources. (Funerals also require funds, but their urgency means that there will be contributions.)
So it was with great joy that Phil, Isabel and I attended the wedding of Paulo and Carina, two twenty-somethings, partners for five years, (second partners for both), whom we have been mentoring and encouraging for several years. They attend the church in the bairro (slum) and this was a giant leap for them. Weddings are costly anywhere, and here the couple is expected to feed all comers a full meal. But I get ahead of myself:
At the church, the couple processed out of the pastoral house to the church, walking on clothes spread on the ground before them.
Inside it was darkish and dusty, but the couple stood while Pastor Elias scrutinized his notes. It was Elias' second wedding. and he did well despite his nerves.
The service was exceedingly formal, which meant Elias was reading archaic Portuguese, so he frequently explained in asides so the congregation could follow the event. After a family member of each spouse and a church member all testified that there were no impedimentia to the marriage, things went off without a hitch--well, except for theirs.
Smiles are not standard fare at such serious events as weddings, so it was a relief to see that Carina was happy as well as beautiful. As we drove at a funereal pace from the church to their home, we heard comments about the queen in the car, thanks to Carina's plastic crown complete with faux jewels.
Once at the house, the agenda was to begin with cutting the cake. (Before the meal? Never mind.) It was delayed by rearranging the seating under the 3 shade clothes several times. Finally Paulo and Carina were settled facing the crowd!
Around the edge of the festive arena were palm fronds woven for privacy. But this is a slum and neighbors all want a piece of the action. Small children opened holes to enjoy the show. No amount of shooing would keep them away for long!
After Paulo and Carina had fed each other a sliver of cake and drunk a little orange fanta, it was time for gift-giving. This was a lengthy process with Orlando calling out specified groups: neighbors, Paulo's family, Carina's family, the young people, the women's group, the missionaries, and on and on. As a group was called, various members would sing and prance forward and slap down coins or even a bill now and then. This is called "hitting the table." Quite a heap of small change was amassed this way. Gifts, wrapped and unwrapped, were brought to the table. The chicken was quickly whisked off, lest she deposit on the tablecloth!
After close to an hour of giving accompanied by song, the feasting began: chicken for the seated guests at the table (about 12). Plenty of rice to fill empty bellies, cabbage fried with tomatoes and bean gravy. The young people weren't shy about helping themselves. Cutlery is optional at all events, and here was no exception.
When the guests were sated, the photos began. Here are Paulo and Carina with Pastor Elias, beaming over the milestone they have achieved.
The blended family. Carina's two daughters by her deceased Muslim partner are Ornila and Esperanza, Paulo's son is Eriki. Paulo and Carina have been unable to have children together yet, which is a cause of concern to Carina--she feels it reduces her worth and desirability. Paulo's willingness to marry her despite this shows great faith in God's inscrutable Hand. Pray for their family, that it will be a light in a dark community.
The joy that comes from deciding to make a commitment and follow it through can be seen in their faces. It cost them culturally, economically and stretched them spiritually. They are a few of this generation who are prepared to take a stand and be a visible witness to God's design of a man and woman forsaking all others and becoming one.