Sekai Nzenza On Wednesday
“They served small plates of food at the wedding as if we are Europeans,” complained our neighbour Jemba after a trip to Harare to attend his niece Chiwoniso’s wedding.
As usual, Jemba sat on the bench in our kitchen hut in the village, smoking tobacco rolled in old newspapers.
He was recovering from a bad bout of flu which he blamed on the wedding planners, the kombi driver, the bride and groom, the church, the caterers and everyone who thinks a wedding in the city is better than in the village.
“That was not a fun wedding. It was a fundraising show to support the costs of the wedding,” Jemba said.
Then he told us how he failed to dance, laugh or feel really happy at his niece’s wedding in Harare a couple of weeks ago.
My cousin Piri kept on interrupting Jemba and adding more information as if she was in the kombi that took Jemba and 15 others from his Moyondizvo family to Harare for Chiwoniso’s wedding.
Chiwoniso is Jemba’s eldest brother’s daughter.
She grew up here and finished her secretarial course at a college in town then got a job as a receptionist with a mining company.
Jemba’s extended family had assembled at St Columbus School at 3am.
Men wore heavy coats, while women covered themselves with blankets because it was freezing cold.
They squeezed into the kombi.
Apart from the driver, everyone fell asleep immediately as the kombi drove along the potholed rocky roads all the way to Hwedza Mountains.
They arrived in Harare at 7am and were dropped off at Tete Mary’s place in Chitungwiza.
Tete Mary is Jemba’s father’s sister.
She is married to a Malawian retired hotel cook and they have a huge house with two toilets, two showers and a bath tub.
Although there was no water in the house and the toilets were not flushing, everyone had a chance to freshen up with water from three small buckets fetched from a nearby communal water pump.
They drank plenty of tea accompanied by white bread with margarine and mixed Sun jam.
When everyone was full, the kombi came back and they went to the wedding, leaving their blankets and bags at Tete Mary’s place.
I saw Jemba arrive with the rest of the village guests.
The church was almost full by the time they arrived.
Jemba wore a checked brown and cream suit, a legacy of his days working at Hwange Safari Lodge.
He also wore a Greek fisherman’s cap that he had inherited from his late brother, Chiwoniso’s father.
His shirt was white complemented by a red tie and pointy white shoes.
The women wore suits in different colours — red, green, blue and burgundy.
Piri saw the village guests coming in and she whispered, “Weddings are good Sis. How those suits survive in the village, I do not know.”
She was laughing softly and holding her mouth.
The service went on for two-and-a-half hours and most people from the village kept on falling asleep.
But the pastor would not stop hammering the message that a good marriage is destroyed by hupombwe, infidelity.
Some people repeatedly said Amen. With his head leaning against the wall and his face covered by the cap, Jemba was sound asleep throughout the service.
After the church ceremony it was time for a photo shoot of the bride and groom, the wedding party, parents of the groom, aunts, brothers and sisters.
The group left for Harare Gardens in the city for the wedding photos.
Everyone else was instructed to go to the reception hall in Hatfield, not too far from the airport.
Jemba escaped from the kombi and joined Piri and I in the car.
“Makachena baba, jealousy down,” Piri said, shaking Jemba’s hand and admiring Jemba’s suit, black belt with silver skeleton buckle, silver chain over the white shirt and white shoes.
“In that thatched bedroom of yours in the village, how do the rats leave this suit alone?” Piri asked.
“Even village rats know that you do not gnaw a good expensive suit. This suit is Italian-made. See?” he pointed to the label on the sleeve that said “Valentino, Milan.”
For another two hours people waited inside the reception hall while others sat outside.
There was a bottle of water labelled with photos of the bride and groom and a note to say “Thank you for sharing our special day with us.”
The wedding team finally arrived just after 2pm.
There was a lot of singing and ululating to welcome them.
It was a grand arrival, with the seven bridesmaids and groomsmen performing synchronised dancing to Oliver Mtukudzi’s song “Shamiso.”
Piri went to the front and danced.
This was the highlight of the wedding.
Later on, Jemba said, if he had a car, he would have left the wedding then.
The food came at 3pm.
By then, the village guests looked tired and their lips were dry.
Piri pushed her way to the caterers at the back of the hall and brought the bad news that there was not enough food because there were too many people, especially children.
And yet the invitation card had specifically said no children. Piri said everyone was going to eat but the food would be rationed.
When the food finally got to us, it was on a paper plate with a small lump of rice, coleslaw, one small piece of roast chicken and plenty of cold brown gravy.
The forks and spoons had run out. We washed our hands at the garden tap outside and used our hands to eat the chicken, rice, gravy and coleslaw.
“Muchato wemabhoyi mudhorobha,” said Piri laughing and making mocking references to African weddings in town.
“We cannot afford to have these expensive European-type weddings in town. Let’s get back to the village and kill the beasts and have a feast the way it used to be.”
Long before the war and independence, people came back from town to celebrate weddings in the village.
Now we go to the city for weddings.
We did not wait to be invited to a wedding.
People came from far and wide.
They ate and drank until they were full.
“These vegetables are cold,” said Tete Mandivava, Jemba’s aunt from the village.
She fingered the coleslaw and frowned. Piri pointed to the salad and said, “This here, Tete, is called coleslaw made from cabbage, vinegar, eggs and something else.
“Europeans eat it like that. It’s healthy. When you come to town, you eat what the town people eat,” Piri said, gently tapping Tete’s shoulder.
“Forget the food Europeans eat. Why not make a big pot of sadza and big pot of meat? Then stop preaching and allow us to dance, ” Tete said, licking the gravy streaming down on her rough hands that are so used to pulling weeds and doing hard village farm work.
“Ah, ya, these weddings are not fun anymore. And I am still hungry,” she said.
“Me too Tete, me too. If only I could find a cold beer to sooth myself and get into this wedding mood,” said Jemba.
Like most churches, there was no beer served at the wedding.
Only water and soft drinks.
Two guys moved around with a crate of soft drinks. When the meal was over, the MC said we were running out of time because the reception hall closed at 5pm. It was time for speeches from the parents, aunts and friends of the bride and groom.
He strongly urged the relatives to make the speeches short. They were not short. The MC intervened each time to stop the speaker from speaking for too long.
After the long speeches, the MC announced that it was time to offer gifts to the bride and groom. Each person was to line up with their present and register it with two clerks who wrote the name of the person giving the present.
Each present was announced so we all knew who gave the smallest and the biggest present.
The parents of the groom gave a stove and $400.
The stove was brought in, still in its original box. Everyone ululated.
Because Chiwoniso’s parents are late, Jemba represented the father. He gave $20 and said a heifer was waiting for the groom and bride back in the village. We clapped hands the loudest. For Jemba, this was such a big effort. That heifer was worth $400, almost the same price as the stove.
For the next hour, the MC announced presents.
There was music in between and people got up to dance. Before the song was over, the MC interrupted it and asked for more presents.
The village guests’ gifts varied from $3 to $20.
Others simply stood there and told the MC that due to transport problems, they could not bring their presents which included buckets of maize, sweet potatoes, chicken and goats to celebrate Chiwoniso’s wedding.
At 5pm, the MC announced that all the village guests who came by kombi should prepare to leave because the kombi was waiting. Jemba asked for a couple of dollars so he could buy beer on the way. I gave him $5.
Then he held Piri’s hand and said, “I want to marry you in the village where there will be drums in the church, no written programme, and no electricity or water problems.
“There will be plenty of beer and meat. Our village wedding will be cheaper and more fun. People will dance, joke, laugh and sing, the way it used to be.”
Dr Sekai Nzenza is an independent writer and cultural critic.