Posted by: Claire Liew29 APR 2013
Finally the date of the biggest wedding since Will and Kate's had arrived. It happened in Nyangao and I was invited. I had my £6 ticket and a new outfit and wasn't thrown by the last minute change of date. I received my official invitation the day before - a yellow, plastic biro with a pull-out scroll confirming the location and time - very secret service.
A seamstress had turned some fabric into an amazing two-piece outfit that fit perfectly and came complete with puffy 1970's shoulders. It could have been a (bigger) disaster as I left the design up to her having no creative skills but she produced a fashion miracle for little more than £2.80. Thankfully the evening temperatures dropped to 27 degrees as it was akin to being wrapped in a curtain. Turns out all the other guests took the opportunity to wear "western-style" dresses. I haven't seen that much nylon since my shell-suit made its last outing in 1989.
On arrival at the Einbeck-Petro Hall on the outskirts of the village, we realised that Tanzanians had been hiding the fact that they can queue after all. Dozens of guests were waiting to be checked in and to exchange their "Invitation Biro" for food and drinks vouchers. Turns out no pen, no entry. We also received a schedule of the evenings events which, after cashing in some vouchers for warm beers we discovered was already running 2 hours behind schedule. Shocker.
Music pumped from the arena-sized speakers as the families and bridal party arrived. Each was introduced by the compere to much waving and applauding, as they danced down the aisle to the fairy-light adorned stage front-centre. The bride and groom in their matching white outfits looked solemn as they entered and were sprayed with fake snow; we watched as they fed each other cake and champagne 3 hours behind schedule, then we joined the conga line that filed past them to pass on our congrats.
When it was time for food at around 10.30pm, all 350 of us formed another dancing line that inched hip to hip ever closer to the chips, chicken, suspicious pink frankfurter and cabbage-salad feast. All covered in the mandatory tomato chilli sauce. More warm drinks all round.
The highlight of the night was the present giving, timetabled post-food and after several beers. Gifts were danced down the aisle and presented to the bride and groom. There were double mattresses and bed-stead's carried aloft by small teams. I began to wish we'd bought more than a set of cutlery.
Tanzanians are not big drinkers on the whole and by midnight most people had redeemed their 4 drinks vouchers or passed them on to one of the village alcoholics. After the bride and groom departed in the most wedding-like of the 6 cars in Nyangao, we made our exit, driven home by our neighbour and chief surgeon Dr J. He had also enjoyed his 4 warm beers, demonstrated by the large amount of clapping and lesser amount of steering wheel contact that was going on as we careered along the sandy tracks to the dulcet tones of Michael Buble.
As weddings go this was a grand Tanzanian example costing over 6 million shillings. It doesn't seem to matter where you are in the world, the price of getting hitched is a serious setback. I like the idea of selling tickets for it but I doubt the tradition of dancing gifts down the aisle will catch on at home. Somehow, a Denby gravy boat and a £50 John Lewis voucher don't have the same je ne sais quoi as a double bed...