The sun was going to set soon, as I sat outside on a chair in the chilly air, with a hot cup of sweet, milky tea in my hands, that July evening. I was to find out that the sun set every day around 6:30 in Kenya, with never more than a 20-minute variation throughout the entire year. We also discovered that July and August are when Kenya experiences it’s ‘winter’. And chilly it was, especially at over 6,000-foot altitude!
It was our first full day in Kenya, and we were at a wedding. That morning, when I was dressing for the occasion, I had been anticipating my first African wedding, but several surprises were in store for me.
The wedding was scheduled for 10:00 a.m. I was to learn that Kenyan weddings rarely start at the time announced in the invitation. They usually start one or more hours later. When one comes at the set time for a wedding, they will often meet the people still cleaning the church, putting up decorations, and setting up the sound system. I’m afraid this poor westerner still can’t get used to weddings starting so ‘late’! The gathering crowd sat and sang songs and listened to announcements and testimonies for what felt like an eternity to this novice, wondering what on earth could possibly be taking the wedding party so long!
Finally, they arrived, at last! I eagerly turned to see the wedding party, to receive my second surprise of the day. The groom came in dressed in a smart western suit, followed by the bridesmaids in pretty western dresses and the accompanying groomsmen, also in matching western suits! Finally, in came the bride, resplendent in (you guessed it) a beautiful white, flowing wedding gown. Hey, I thought I was in Africa! Where are the colourful African clothes? It seems in the 1980s in Kenya, at least the part of Kenya we lived, everyone wanted to be modern, which translated to western. Things are changing now, and people realize they can be both modern and African. We see much more of a desire to return to things African in this country, but that wasn’t the case in much of Kenya in our early days here.
The ceremony was finally over, after the vows, the exchange of rings, lots of singing and celebration, and the signing of the marriage license. Everyone filed out and the reception began outside the church building, with feasting and seemingly endless numbers of people presenting their wedding gifts to the beaming couple and making the appropriate accompanying speeches. By this time, jetlag had once again taken me hostage and my brain only barely took in what was happening. But I sat in the happy glow that surely was radiating from the newly married couple…or was that the sun getting ready to set? Whatever the source, I was happy to be here in this beautiful country with these amazingly hospitable people, eager to learn more about my adopted country. It would not be until many years later that I would come to discover the true African culture behind weddings here, which even today, to the casual observer looks very western on the surface. That discovery would not happen until our own daughter got married. But that’s a story for a later time…