Thursday, December 9, 2010

First Shona Wedding

One amazing Sunday we visited a different church and discovered that we'd chosen a wedding Sunday. We had met the pastor's wife and had come to connect with her; were we in for a treat!

In 19 years in Mozambique, we could count the church weddings we'd witnessed on one hand. Honestly, it isn't that people weren't making families; simply, culture dictates that church weddings be outrageously expensive, so people opt out. Zimbabwe, despite its economic hard times does not have the same attitude.

Before the wedding was Sunday School as usual, taught beautifully by the pastor's wife. Then after the appropriate arranging of musical instruments, lighting a few candles (turning off the fans so the candles would stay lit), and much anticipation--it happened.

First we heard the wedding party arrive in their cars, horns blaring and people cheering. Shortly, five little girls in white dresses paraded down the aisle strewing flower petals in their path. The one with the veil was carrying the pillow with rings. After them, the four couples standing up with the bride and groom came, one at a time, in a sedate Shona two-step. Each couple took two steps forward and two back (feet synchronized), but the steps back were slightly shorter than the ones forward, so progress was made. The rhythmic music was easily followed and we had plenty of time to admire each couple. Once they were seated in the front row, the groom and his best man came in, just as slowly. It was easy to spot the groom. The best man was having a ball and the groom looked very apprehensive. We discovered later that he had good reason--Shona culture encourages quite a bit of good-natured razzing.

Once the two men reached the front, they turned and awaited the bride flanked by her parents. Halfway up the aisle, they stopped and the wedding was put on hold. The MC turned things over to the pastor, who gave various announcements and then introduced US, in the middle of the wedding! (I felt sorry for this girl, but she didn't seem to have the attitude that it was "her" day alone.)

Then came my most favorite part. This is where the groom thanks the parents for the wonderful job they did raising this girl.

Brief cultural interlude: We have learned in our Shona lessons that clapping is one of the key methods of showing appreciation. Men clap with their hands vertical, women horizontal. The number of claps is significant of the measure of gratitude. It is usual to clap to a child once or twice, to a person you are meeting two or three times. Women clap more times for men and so on. It is very hierarchical. One doesn't clap with hands flat, but slightly cupped, for more resonance. Now, back to the wedding.

At his point, the groom and his best man and four compadres (who came down the aisle with the lovely girls on their arms) all came together before the bride and her parents, then THEY KNELT DOWN and on cue clapped in unison. Thirty-six claps. Now if you consider that there were six guys on the floor clapping, that is a total of 216 claps. This girl must be something!

I haven't mentioned all the other details about bride price, and other gifts given by the groom to the bride's family. And cows are still a part of that, I'm only telling you what we saw.

Once the bride finally got to the front, handed over to the perspiring groom, and her parents seated, the actual ceremony began. They exchanged vows and rings and signed the register--just like western folks do.

Then they sat patiently in their seats, facing us, while the pastor preached about marriage. For an entire hour. He even had a married couple stand up front and modeled how things interfere with communication and a couple grows apart (he had them step away from each other at each example until they were at opposite walls). I didn't catch everything, the sermon was mostly Shona, but the phrase he kept repeating in English was: "this is a till death do us part kind of thing." I think everyone got the message and no one was bored.

I was touched by how much the couple, although the reason for the celebration, did not expect all the attention. (Truth be told, I'm sure the groom was relieved when they stopped picking on him!) The event was for us all--and we were all blessed.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Blind and Positive

Not long after our visit to the preschool graduation, our friend/nurse/colleague, Julie, took us to visit a destitute family in the rural area nearby. She had visited the previous week and came with a distressing report of this family’s situation.

The father is 75-years-old and blind. The mother is 35 and HIV+. They have four children between the ages of 10 months and 10 years. The baby was sick.

When we drove into the “yard” around the rondavel where they lived, it appeared to be completely deserted. Rusted pots and broken detritus of living were strewn haphazardly. Nothing was planted deliberately, but weeds were profuse. I didn’t see a latrine or an area for cooking.

Inside the little round hut the floor was at least cement. The blackened thatch hung in cobwebby strings. About a third of the floor space was obliterated by junk. The ancient blind man was kneeling on a mat with the baby tied to his back. The baby had recovered. His wife lay on her side on the floor covered from head to toe in a nondescript blanket. Only one thin foot protruded. She did not respond to any talking to her, but moved so we knew she was alive. Julie had spoken with her the week before and said she was very weak and gaunt.

The husband never stopped thanking us for visiting, bowing forward with the baby bobbing forward and back. He so appreciated the honor we did him by coming. This visit Julie was prepared and had brought several sack of corn meal, oil, dried fish, sugar and food items provided by TEAM for those without means.

Julie said that the previous visit, the hut had been filthy, the floor littered with dirty clothes and excrement. A kind neighbor, whom we met, had come to help and clean, even bathing the patient. Her face was radiant and I sensed the depth of her concern for this family.

This type of situation is not uncommon in Zimbabwe. As a nurse, Julie hears about them frequently, always being asked for more help than she can give. We prayed with them, as the pastor and she had done the week before. In the midst of the misery, the Lord received the glory for the help of the neighbor and the gift of food. Will this family recover to become healthy and be a part of Kingdom building?

Common sense says no, but I am becoming more aware that common sense isn’t able to account for the God-factor.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Gatsby at Goromondzi pre-school graduation

It was a Friday morning with a surreal air: we were attending the very rural Little Stars Pre-school graduation. It was over an hour on some pretty metaphysical roads--roads in the abstract if you will. However, the bright pink building was not hard to find as we came within sight. It was my first pre-school graduation. The point still baffles me: no other graduation, not even high school, is honored here to this extent, except perhaps the doctorate.

Pastor Diamond greeted us warmly. The kids were assembled, sitting on the dusty cement. We sat on tiny chairs along one wall with tiny desks in front of us, covered with tiny table clothes. After a prescribed amount of verifying, readjusting decor, and the sound crew (on their tiny chairs with tiny desks seated under a window to our left), the programme began.

This effort was planned and rehearsed since school began sometime in January. These small ones had memorized in English (with very little idea of what they said) Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star complete with hand motions, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and an entire Nativity play. It was half way through that we realized that was also in English. There were also many Shona songs and skits--usually starring the best-in-class.

The highlight of the occasion was the capping and reception of diplomas. There were several little black capes and two little black mortar boards to go around for 65 kids. So the children stood at one door dressed in a cape, came forward when called, had the mortar board placed on their heads, received their paper, had the mortar board removed, and turned around to run into the next small one coming in with cape flying. It was a delightful, chaotic, musical event. Everyone was having a ball. Most of these kids are orphans, taught by the dedication of Christian Zimbabweans committed to making the Kingdom better by whatever means they had.

Then a bizarre twist reminded me of the frantic scramble for success and material prosperity in this land devastated by AiDS and corruption. When the first ten or so graduates had filed up and back, a family, well-dressed, complete with father, mother, and baby accompanied one of the graduates up to the front again to the Christmas tree. The ceremony was continuing and this family, laden with gifts, stood for a photographer who officiously posed them and took portraits. Then the boy who had graduated began to open his gifts. Two of them were battery-powered toys. One was a helicopter with lights, which ran and made a racket, the other was a reindeer which played a Christmas carol. Father proceeded to put batteries in and the toys were set on the floor. The graduation dimmed as every eye focused on this special child. Not only did he have two parents and nice clothes, he had gifts and a photographer documenting his good fortune.

I looked into the faces of the other small ones, those being ignored as they received their little certificates, those who stood with forgotten papers in their hands, mouths open, watching the helicopter flash green, red, yellow lights, whirr, hum, and careen across the cracked cement. I could not read those little faces. Was it admiration? Envy? Disappointment? Pain?

The Tom and Daisy Buchanans have arrived in Zimbabwe. They are scrambling up a scree-covered slope. It has been a long haul, and no doubt there have been some reservations overridden to reach the top. I tried to read the faces of the father and mother as they paraded back to their places after their little interlude in the limelight. I could not read them, either. They had made their point. They are on the top of the hill and for a time it is theirs.