Monday, August 15, 2011

A West African Wedding

I'd like to share with you an excerpt of a story I'm working on that highlights some aspects of wedding preparations and customs from a Nigerian perspective. What's fascinating is that there are just as many wedding customs as there are tribes in Nigeria. I'm looking forward to see what the amalgamation of Urhobo (the tribe to which my family belongs in Nigeria) and Ngemba (my fiance's tribe in Cameroon) wedding customs would look like.


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It was getting harder and harder to ignore her ringing mobile phone. From the ringtone Osaro knew it was her fiancé’s sister, Yinka. She lifted the right corner of her silk eye-mask, squinting as a bit of sunlight hit her eye. Just as she reached across the bed to pick up the phone, it stopped ringing. She put her hand on her forehead, biting her lip.
Why can't Yinka leave me alone? I have so much to do getting this wedding organized. She groaned. No use trying to get back to sleep now.
She got up and knelt by the side of her bed. There was so much on her heart to share with the Lord. As she opened her month, she heard a soft voice cross her heart. Though you walk through the midst of trouble, I will revive you. She recognized the words from Psalm 138. She furrowed her brow.
Twelve minutes into her prayer hour, her phone rang again. The ring tone told her it was Kola. She wished she’d turned the ringer off.
“Hi Babe.”
“Yinka says she’s been trying to reach you. Why aren’t you answering your phone?”
Osaro was taking aback. She moved the phone from her ear and gave it her ‘dirty’ look. Kola was becoming increasingly annoying as their wedding day neared.
“Osaro are you even listening to me? Yinka is quite upset. I don’t have time to be refereeing between my fiancée and my sister!”
“Kola, I-”
“Listen, just call her back and apologize. I’ll speak to you later.”
The call was disconnected. Osaro shook her head. How come I never noticed how whinny Kola can be? She stared into space for a full minute.
“Lord, please help me.”
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Osaro clicked the Save button after entering her notes from her last patient visit. She closed the application and opened Internet Explorer. She typed in ‘breast augmentation + breast cancer’ in her search engine’s Web Search field. As she waited for the search to run she heard a knock on her door.
“Come in!”
“Hey girl! Ready for lunch?” Osaro’s best friend and business partner, Kay, entered the room, the fragrance of her signature perfume coming in with her. Kay seemed to glow.
Well, why wouldn’t she? Osaro mused. She has a husband who is totally devoted to her and she doesn’t have to deal with the stress of in-laws.
“Sorry Kay. I can't make it. I'm psyching myself up to call Yinka.”
Kay rolled her eyes. “She’s not causing trouble between you and Kola again, is she?”
“No, of course not.” Osaro replied a little too quickly. She picked up her phone, poised to dial. Kay shook head.
“Listen, you better get Kola to tell them to back off, or else for the rest of your life his family will be running you ragged.
“You’re being melodramatic as usual. Kola’s family loves me.” She shrugged. “I’m sure stress is a normal part of planning any wedding.”
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It seemed Kola and Osaro were arguing more than talking these days. Coupled with their increasingly busy work schedules, they hadn’t spent as much time together. For the first time in almost a month they were spending a quiet Friday evening together.
“I finally got my boss to approve my time off. I confess I was afraid I’d have to resume work immediately after we get back from Nigeria.”
Osaro widened her eyes. “But everything is okay now, right? After all this wedding prep stuff I really need that trip to Bali.”
Kola edged closer to Osaro on the settee and took her hands in his. Osaro pulled her hands away, recognizing Kola’s tactic of tactile attention to deflect from something she was sure she didn’t want to hear.
“Please tell me you’ve booked the tickets and the hotel room.”
Kola’s eyes roamed the breadth of his living room, missing Osaro’s gaze by miles.
“Kola? Please tell me something. Anything!” Osaro’s nostrils flared.
“I'm sorry Babe.”
“You’re sorry?!” She leapt from her seat. “What do you mean you’re sorry? Sorry for what?”
Kola leaned back in his seat. “I don’t see why we have to spend all that money for first class tickets and a fancy hotel when we can just as easily go somewhere nearer.”
Osaro put her hands up. “You agreed! You agreed months ago! If money is the problem you know I can afford it.”
“There you go again! Throwing your money in my face! I didn’t say I couldn’t afford it. I just don’t see the need for such a grandiose display!”
Osaro took a step back as if she’d been slapped. Her eyes filled with tears. Kola quickly bridged the space between them.
“I'm sorry Osaro. I didn’t mean… It’s just that you can't relate to being responsible for a very large family. You know I have to send money home every month. Yinka’s husband is not pulling his weight and I have to help with her children’s school fees-”
“I didn’t choose to be an only child Kola. I won’t apologize for my family’s wealth. Anyway, you more than anyone knows how hard I worked to achieve all I have!”
Kola clenched his fists and asked quietly, “Are you saying I didn’t work just as hard to achieve what I have? Or do you think you’re better than me just because you got a good head start?”
Osaro couldn’t believe what she was hearing. How did things get out of hand so fast?
The ringing phone interrupted her thoughts. Kola turned towards the sound. Osaro, eager to resolve this issue between them, reached for his arm.
“Let the machine pick up.”
Kola moved out of her reach. “It could be my mum, or someone from the family.”
Immediately Osaro felt her heart rate climb. I've got to do something! At this point I don’t know if Kola’s family is the problem or if his perception of himself and his family is.
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“Hello.”
“Ekasun oh!” Kola recognized his aunty from her voice and the traditional Yoruba greeting. Because he knew that Osaro felt excluded when he spoke to his family members in Yoruba, he answered his aunty’s greeting in English.
“Aunty! Good evening Ma?”
“Ah you want to speak Oyinbo. Okay oh. How is your wife?” Her voice dripped with saccharine sweetness, belying how she really felt about Osaro.
“She’s fine aunty. How are you?”
“I thank God oh. I can't complain. Not that anyone would notice.” Kola rolled his eyes. His father’s older sister was the matriarch of the family and was not above causing a little ‘innocent’ trouble to get her way.
“Aunty is there anything I can do to help?”
“Well my son, now that you ask, I'm really more concerned about you and your wife. I don’t want to cause any trouble, but does she understand that by marrying you she is marrying your entire family? She may have all the money in the world, but in our custom she has to show the family some respect. And my son, from what I'm hearing and seeing, she is not respecting you oh! At all, at all!”
Kola brought a shaky hand to his forehead. He needed to get away from Osaro’s presence because he knew an Osaro-bashing session was imminent, and Osaro being the astute lady she was, would guess what was being said just by his half of the conversation.
“Aunty, can I call you back?”
“Ah! What is the problem? Is your wife there with you? You mean you can't talk in front of her? My son oh! Who is the man in this relationship? This is not the way to start oh!”
Kola felt his head would explode. He looked at Osaro for inspiration. She just had a bemused expression on her face. Without saying a word he left the living room and walked into his bedroom. He shut the door behind him and sat on his bed.
“Sorry aunty. Please continue.” Even as he apologized he glared at his reflection in the mirror on the wall opposite his bed in disgust.
“Do you know that your wife’s mother had the audacity to send her driver all the way from Benin with one hundred yards of lace, yam and kola nut? What type of tradition is that? We are the husband! Doesn’t she think we know what to bring to Benin when we are coming for our wife? Maybe she controls her husband but that is not the way we do things oh! No!”
“Aunty I think she just sent those things as a gift. I'm sure she didn’t mean to offend you.”
“Eh! You are defending them! Is that how it’s going to be in your house? I feel sorry for you. In case all that Oyinbo living has confused you let me remind you how things are done.
“Our family will take twenty-one tubers of yam, a sack of salt, a bag of kola nuts, a drum of palm oil, forty-five dry fish, twenty-one bitter kola, a carton of sugar, five pineapples, honey, a bunch of bananas, a basket of oranges, a goat or ram dressed up with shades, coral beads and asho oke material, palm wine, cartons of beer, schnapps, whisky.”
Kola’s head was reeling. This wedding was going to cost much more than he could afford. How could he do all this, plus take Osaro to Bali? They should have just eloped instead of involving family.
“Aunty I will do my best.”
“Ah that’s not all oh. Your best had better be very good. We have to show those people that we are a family to be reckoned with otherwise your wife will think she can just walk all over you.”
“Aunty, Osaro is not like that. I'm sure that you will love her when you meet her.”
“Ah, ah! I already love her! I'm a Christian, ke! But things have to be done properly and in order.”
A soft knock on his bedroom door reminded Kola that an argument with Osaro was waiting for him. He took a deep breath. He hated having any form of conflict with her. He loved her and was convinced beyond any doubt that marrying her was God’s will.
“I'm coming honey.” He called out, even as his aunty was adding to his list of To Do’s.
“Don’t forget oh. We also have to bring plenty money. We must be able to bring more money than her parents’ request.”
“Aunty I really have to go. My bride is waiting for me. Oh, and please tell the family that Benin wedding traditions are not the same as the Yoruba ones.” He gently pressed the phone's End button.
Aunty was speechless.

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Ufuoma Daniella Ojo is a Technical Author and Software Trainer. She lives in London and is currently editing her first manuscript titled The Sower, working on some new stories on relationships and is trusting God for connections leading to publication.

7 comments:

  1. love the excerpt of the book you are working on. I wanted to read more.
    I hope your preparations are going smoother.

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  2. Congratulations on your upcoming marriage! I'll be interested in hearing (and seeing photos) on how your two families bring the two traditions together.

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  3. Hi Ufuoma,
    I really enjoyed your wedding blog. I hope and pray that it gets published.
    Jennifer Ann

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  4. Love the excerpt above! Those frictions are present in every marriage, and they do not soften over time. You do, however, learn to cope with them more effectively and not take them so personally. Great realism. Hope your wedding preparations are going much more smoothly. Prayers for a successful marriage.

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  5. What a lot of culture we all bring to a marriage without even realizing. It is simply the way things are done! I look forward to reading more.

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  6. Congratulations on your upcoming wedding! Looking forward to seeing photos :)

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  7. Congratulations on your upcoming nuptials! I enjoyed that excerpt. All cultures have their own traditions. It was interesting to take a look at these African ones.

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