The African way
May 20, 2009
April 12, 2009
I sit patiently in the front office of Fractal’s NGO in the heart of Fractalville. We dropped in for a few minutes to ask some wholesome advice into turning the depressing dump into a habitable home. We’ve a grand vision for our 3-room iron sheet-roofed concrete home: energy-saving solar panels that power 2 small lamps and charge our cell-phones, our ENO hammocks that provide solace, hanging tables that are convenient and simple, and bookshelves that are mounted on the wall. Things, we discovered, aren’t as simple as going to Home Depot, purchasing a power tool, drilling a hole, and inserting screws into the sheet rock.
An hour later, I was still sitting in the office. Seated across from me, the NGO accountant extended her hand to give us an invitation to her niece’s introduction ceremony. We graciously thanked her. A bit unsure of attending a ceremony where a stranger would introduce her fiance to her parents, I tried to cover my surprise when Sara told me that I should wear a busuti and Fractal should wear a kansu with a sports jacket. The gomesi, or a busuti, elegantly conceals any semblance of curves and makes the beautiful voluptuous figure of an Ugandan woman into a mass of shiny fabric that disapprovingly hides any skin. A busuti with its silk folds, high peaked sleeves, and huge bowed sash would swallow a petite person (like me!). Hannah, NGO board member, assured me that I would look smart.
A few days later, I got a call from the NGO secretary, who informed me to come into the office for the measurements for the gomesi. What! MEASUREMENTS FOR THE GOMESI! When I arrived at the office, 2 NGO colleagues greet me with the maroon fabric. They informed me that the chairman of the NGO decided to purchase the fabric for the gomesi and kansu. This, they say, is the African way.
Soon after that they ushered me into a seamstress’ shop. The tailor wasn’t there, but her assistant looked me over and retorted that the gomesi would be ready the next morning (just a few hours before the event). When I inquired whether she should take my measurements, she assured me that she eyeballed the measurements correctly when she looked me over. As I leave the Africa’s Best Tailoring Shop, I’ve images of the GOMESI engulfing me.
The next day we waited eagerly to be picked up at nine in the morning. The chairman, the treasurer, the program director, and the secretary arrived at one in the afternoon, and Frank the treasurer excitedly handed me the gomesi. I thankfully accepted the kind-hearted gift and I proceeded back into the house to be helped by the secretary into the six meter river of cloth. I decided that the gomesi was a cross between a sari and a Victorian-era dress. Anna first wrapped me around the thick shawl–the kind that aunties of my parents’ Orthodox church adorn in winter. Then I stepped into the gomesi with its PUFFED sleeves. Since Anna wasn’t well versed in wearing a gomesi, the gargantuan sash took twenty minutes to be fastened around my waist.
We arrived only three hours late, and the ceremony hadn’t started. A crowd of smartly dressed women and men clad in both traditional and western attires waited uncomplainingly under a white tent embellished with pink ribbons in the roasting sun. Not even an hour in the gomesi, I felt I stepped into a sauna. We were escorted right to the front. Since there was no room inside the tent, we sat bathing in the warm sun. After singing the Ugandan and the Busoga anthems, we tolerated (for the next seven hours) the conversations between two professional gabblers, who represented the two families and who were employed by them, for the event. The first–couple of hours–was the greeting. The children, the adolescent girls, the teenaged boys, middle-aged women, the senior-women danced their way into the aisle between the two tents. They welcomed the groom’s family. The families shared their Busoga kingdom membership donation certificates to verify that they were from different clans. The last hour the groom’s family, who came bearing gifts, covered every inch of space with gifts: baskets of tomatoes, pumpkins, pineapples, rice, sugar, onions,the leg of a cow in a burlap sack, matooke, soaps, sofa, goats, and chickens. The chairman informed us that the material goods have replaced the traditional monetary bride price.
Right after sunset, the buffet lunch was ready. As I stood up to walk to the line, the sari part of my gomesi came undone. Frank motioned to me that my dress was dragging on the floor, and I gathered it together without showing my embarassment. I was too tired to care about it after a few minutes, but was glad to see the food.
As I used the chapatti to scoop up the sauce, I watched Fractal furtively try to avoid the video camera as he attempted to sneak the rice into his mouth with his fingers. The last three years Fractal has been finessing the art of eating with his fingers. Even though he impressed relatives in India, he was still self conscious of his fine motor skills.
We got back a little after nine. With a new perspective. I decided that our hour and half long wedding wasn’t that bad.