The bride's parents living in Kitwe, in Zambia's Copperbelt, my arrival in Lusaka was followed by a six hour bus ride north. Leaving an hour late, the bus service itself wasn't half bad, great even, at African standards. Well serviced busses, good seats, no overselling and, on the way back, LCD screens in the backs of seats and handouts of good headsets. Sadly, the screens were showing Tom and Jerry cartoons on all six channels.
Lucy and Hussain met in early 2008, shortly before I met them when visiting the country. Niamh and I became proper friends with them when we lived in Lusaka in 2009/10 and maneuvered them through some rocky patches. We ended up being best man, me sort of representing Hussain's family, and matron, sort of like first bridesmaid. Sadly, the high cost of flying and limited holidays for Niamh meant that I was the only one, of us two, to attend.
The wedding was pretty darn decent.
Lucy and Hussain had already gone through a civil ceremony in December and were set to do the traditional/public wedding in March, when Hussain's mom suddenly fell sick and, shortly after, died. Hussain spent time in India, where he hails from, coming back a few weeks before the date of the rescheduled wedding.
The morning saw a ceremony in the garden of an overpriced hotel on the edge of Kitwe, where I had a role to play as best man. This was followed by a photoshoot and, in the evening, a dinner at the same hotel with about 160 guests.
A Zambian wedding is quite similar to a European or American wedding, though a few things are notably different:
+ The bridal party wear matching clothes. The best man and supporting men wear the same suits, the bridesmaids wear matching dresses. This is more common in the US and perhaps the UK, but not in Europe.
+ An MC presided over the whole evening, moving from program point to program point.
+ The wedding party comes in late, after pretty much everyone else has arrived. When everyone else is 'in', the bridesmaids and supporting men, but not the matron and best man, come in dancing, African style. In this case, the three boys and girls had been training, with a choreographer, for some six weeks prior to the wedding, to get the routine exactly right. They come in and leave the room after a few minutes, dancing, in a way announcing the arrival of what is to be the center of attention.
+ This is followed by the entrance of the kids, in our case three, throwing rose petals on the path to the high table, in preparation for the wedding couple. Directly behind them are the matron and the best man, together shaking their booty, African style, celebrating the future arrival of the wedded couple. The latter drop off the kids at the high table, before heading out again, dancing.
+ Next are the newlyweds themselves, who have to come in, somewhat dancing, directly followed by the matron and the best man, also dancing, until they arrive in the middle of the room, where the wedded couple do a bit of a slow dance, in this case Hussain strutting some Bollywood stuff, before the four head to the high table.
+ Lastly, the supporting girls and guys come back in again, dancing, to take their place at the high table.
+ After dinner, the cake is cut by a knife brought in by one of the supporting guys or gals. In this case, the six had designed a dance routine, where the knife was passed on from person to person until it arrived with Lucy and Hussain. Then, the cake is cut by the wedding couple, together with the matron and best man.
+ Or not. The cake isn't cut at all, but a small, precut, piece of cake is stabbed at, followed by the wedding couple feeding each other with the pieces. Then, the best man takes one of the layers of cake and the four slowly walk up to the parents of the bride. All four kneel down, the best man presents the cake to the wedded couple, who present it to the parents.
+ The cake is prepared starting six months in advance and can be kept for years. It's not eaten at the wedding. One layer each goes to each family, one layer is kept for the firstborn to be old enough to appreciate the meaning of the cake, indeed, which can take years, while the last layer is for those that weren't present.
As best man, I was told I had to put together a speech on Thursday. I, and the wedding couple, we're lucky in that August 18 has been a busy day in history. The basis for my speech is below.
Its been a bit of a rocky road for these two, but, slowly slowly, they've been getting their stuff together, to the extent that, after a few false starts and some sad personal drama, we are now sitting here, ready to, finally, and properly, congratulate Lucy and Hussein on their wedding day.
And it's an auspicious day. In 1587, on this day, the first immigrant child was born in the Americas. Helium was discovered in 1868, on this day, [the Martian moon Phobos is discovered in 1877, on this day,] women get the vote in the US in 1920, [in 1958 the first Asian, from Bangladesh, swam across the English channel] and in 1942, 5 years before independence, Indian freedom fighters hoisted the Indian flag in Mohammadabad.
I first met Lucy and Hussein in April 2008. Lucy was still working for Health and Development Networks, as was I, she as country coordinator in Lusaka, and her and Hussain had not yet been together long.
After a long few days of work, Lucy and I partied at the Dutch ambassador's residence, in celebration of the Dutch queen's birthday, and, amongst other bigshots, got to hang out with Kenneth Kaunda. Then, our taxi broke down and Hussain came and rescued us. We had a few drinks, as well as cigars, at the hostel I was staying at.
When Lucy went to powder her noise, Hussein confided in me that he knew from the moment he saw Lucy that he was going to marry her. Now, the rest is history.
[Or rather, the last 4.5 years were history. Now it's a new beginning.]
Also on this day, Patrick Swayze was born in 1952, Robert Redfort in 1936, Roman Polanski in 1933 and, somewhat earlier, in 1414, the Persian poet Jami, considered to be the last great classical Persian poet, first saw the light of day.
Jami's most favorite work is a rendition of the love story of Yusuf and Zulaikha, lifted from the Quran, but also, in a shorter version, found in the bible. Zulaikha was the daughter of the Mauritanian king, who dreams of this extraordinary man, Yusuf, or Joseph in the old testament.
So, here is a piece of Jami's work. It's Zuleikha who is speaking about Yusuf. And as with other classical Persian poets, there's a lot about love.
O joy too great! —O hour too blest!
He comes—they hail him—now, more near,
His eager courser's feet I hear. Oh heart! be hushed within my breast,
Burst not with rapture!
Can it be? The idol of my life—divine,
All radiant, clothed in mystery,
And loving me as I adore,
As none dared ever love before,
Shall be—nay, is—even now, is mine!
"The one sole wish of my heart," [she replied,]
"Is still to be near thee, to sit by" thy side;
To have thee by day in my happy sight,
And to lay my cheek on thy foot at night;
To lie in the shade of the cypress and sip
The sugar that lies on thy ruby lip;
To my wounded heart this soft balm to lay;
For naught beyond this can I wish or pray.
The streams of thy love will new life bestow
On the dry thirsty field where its sweet waters flow."
The poet was born in the town of Jam. It can mean both 'twins', or 'cup', or even chalice, like a "wine goblet", the poets name, then, meaning "of the wine goblet". So I rest my case.
Since this morning's ceremony, we know what the most important pillar of marriage is. And It's said that mixed marriages produce the most beautiful babies. So here's to a productive future!
To the newlyweds!