Rebecca Jacobson
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How I Survived My First (and Second) Malawian Wedding

November 23, 2009 @ 5:53 AM | Permalink

Malawian weddings are marathon affairs. Numerous parties lead up to the day, and smaller celebrations follow the main event. But prior to Saturday, I had only heard about the revelry (and literally heard — the wedding parades honk their way through town, a train of cars parceled up in white and pink ribbon, camcorder-toting passengers pouring out the windows). I still have yet to experience the pre- and post-festivities, but this weekend I made up for my wedding deficiency by attending two (two!) ceremonies in one day. I questioned my stamina at points, but my day of wedding hopping proved an ultimate success. After seven hours, I’ve emerged with a few tips for surviving Malawian weddings. Though you could take the tack of my friends Thoko and Nkhwachi (BYOB — no alcohol is served at the nuptials), consider heeding the following advice.

1. Don’t know the couple? Don’t worry! I knew neither pair and still received gracious smiles from the newlyweds. Provided you follow tip #4, you’re golden.

2. Arrive early. Or even on time — the wedding will probably start late. When I showed up to the first wedding ahead of schedule, I befriended a few nattily-dressed men wearing “OFFICIAL” labels affixed to their lapels. No such thing as a free lunch? Ha. A bit of pleasant conversation earned me a heaping plate of rice, meat, and relish. My still-full stomach didn’t complain when the evening meal consisted of two cold samosas, a die-sized hunk of meat, and half a plain muffin.

3. After carbo-loading, make a fool of yourself on the dance floor. Or, more precisely, in the parking lot. Here, you’ll find family and friends awaiting the couple’s arrival, shirtless drummers, and fur-clad children performing war dances. Ladies, make sure your chitenje (wrap skirt) falls off frequently — that’ll really get the guests howling. I knew some of the traditional dances, but others were unfamiliar — including one in which a single chitenje is knotted around the waists of a man and woman, locking them in choreographic, gyratory union.

4. Bring lots (and lots and lots) of small Kwacha notes. Though couples do receive gifts that would be at home in the U.S. (tableware they’ll never use and too many toasters), the wedding itself resembles a business proceeding. I zoomed out of the first wedding before the monetary donations began, but I arrived at the second with the gift-giving already underway. Four hours later, when I left, the money-fest was just ending. The MC, dressed head-to-toe in bold geometric print, summoned donors, who tossed 20 and 50 Kwacha notes into a wide wicker basket as hit Malawian songs spooled on repeat. Some notes fell to the floor and became tangled in the bride’s train. At a table to the side, three women furiously rifled through the bills and sorted them into piles. The draw can be upwards of $700, which is usually just enough to recoup the expenses of the ceremony.

5. Don’t expect cake. Though you might luck out at some ceremonies, guests at the second wedding I attended had to shell out additional Kwacha for foil-wrapped slabs the size of domino tiles. These contained not cake but sticky blocks of unidentifiable pulp (fig was our best guess).

If these tips fail, turn to those old standbys — befriend the children, admire the sumptuous attire, and estimate the intensity of the groom’s hangover.

Now go forth, merrymakers, and rejoice.


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Rebecca: I love the ending and I LOVE the second picture with the bright blue guy and the sepia tobacco. Angela

Angela Allen on Trafficking in Tobacco 2009-09-29

Thanks Angela! The second photo is my favorite as well.

Rebecca Jacobson on Trafficking in Tobacco 2009-09-30

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