Thursday, July 2, 2009

Blast from the Past: Part 1

The thing about Africa is that nothing it really reliable, except perhaps that the AK-47's the police and soldiers tote around are always loaded. So the unreliable bits include things like... electricity. Water. Phone lines. Internet. As a result I've had a terrible time finding an opportunity to connect to the internet while there is actually power. Thus! I give you a blast from the past! Travel back in time with me to when the power was out and all Billy wanted to do was play Monopoly! (Over... and over... and over...)
June 28th
I’ve noticed I’m settling into a routine, which is nice because it’s starting to even out how much sleep I get. The sun rises and sets early here, and I’ve started to follow its example. Brenda and Zoe were teasing me last night because it was hardly 8:30pm and I was absolutely falling asleep in my chair. Then of course I woke up at 5:30am or some silly hour like that.
Today is the day Phil is supposed to get here, and I have a sneaking suspicion that that means things will start to move significantly faster than the nice, relaxed pace I’ve been at so far, hahaha.
Yesterday we went to the Bahá’í House of Worship, and it was so interesting! There is a religion, created by a Prophet called Baha’u’llah that encompasses a whole bunch of other different religions that I had never heard of. The House is located up high on the top of a hill and has a domed top similar to a mosque. The whole thing is circular and there are doors on all sides that are left open so the breeze can come through during service. Service itself was pretty straight forwards, someone comes up and reads a section of the Bible, or the Qu’ran, or the Tablets of the Bab, and so on. Then in between every few readings there is a song by the choir. The choir sits in the middle of the worshippers and just sort of picks up between every few readings. There is a really nice echo in the House, the same as a Church, but without the heavy feeling I get when I’m surrounded by intense stained glass windows and pipe organs. Also, there is no priest or over-seeing holy individual. Every week there is a theme that anyone who wants to read a prayer focuses the prayer on. As you probably got from farther up, there isn’t any one religious text either. It was interesting to sit and listen to prayers read in Luganda, Kiswali, English... there was even a Persian chant at one point. The whole House feels very calm and airy, it’s really quite relaxing and pleasant.
After the service the worshippers split into groups. Most of the adults went a little farther down the hill to a shorter, round building with a flat roof that they called the Centre for a talk on the theme of the week. The kids and some of the other adults grouped together for the equivalent of ‘Sunday School’. First the younger kids were sat down on benches at a table and they practiced that nursery rhyme ‘The more we get together’ in Luganda and in English. I decided to stay with the kids, having no real pull to go to the talk, and they thought it was hilarious when I tried to learn the Luganda words to the song with them. Especially the two little siblings who didn’t speak English; I think that was the most I saw them smile all morning. In all fairness, my Luganda is terrible, so I can’t blame them. Words are so closely pronounced that I’m sure what actually came out of my mouth – despite my best efforts – did not always mean what I intended it to mean.
After the singing they were divided by age and language for ‘lessons’. I went with the middle age group to learn about Manifestations of God.
Now, how many manifestations of God can you name? Bearing in mind that they want people, Prophets, Messengers of God. I, being a pretty non-religious person, had only three that came to mind. These were the ‘big three’ of Muhammad, Jesus and Moses. Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
Oh how I was to be surprised.
First they asked the kids to name these Manifestations and give the date the Prophet came, what the followers were called and what the religion was called. Well, I was infinitely out of my league. They started naming people I had never heard of. There are at least eight Manifestations that these kids could name. So there is the Bab, the Baha’u’llah, Jesus, Krishna, Muhammed, Moses, Buddha and Zorastor. There is also debate about whether Abraham counts. I don’t generally think of Buddha and Krishna as Prophets, but they’re certainly holy so sure, why not? Anyway, we talked about the four aspects of each of these Manifestations and named them, and I can now recite things like ‘the Prophet Muhammed arrived in the year 600 AD, his followers were the Muslims and they practiced Islam’, ‘the Manifestation of God The Bab arrived in 1844, his followers were the Babis and they practiced Babí’. The kids thought it was hilarious that I was having such a rough time keeping all of these people straight because to them it’s very basic. Aiya!
After the House of Worship we drove back to the house and prepared for my first African rain. It dumps here! Think Calgary’s worst thunder storm as their standard rainfall. It was intense, but had a wonderful effect on the amount of dust in the air. I am gaining a new appreciation for heavy rain.
The rest of the day was pretty low key, and then in the evening we went over to the Salon. The Salon is just what it sounds like, a hair salon, owned by a family friend almost right next to where Jaja (Phil’s mom) lives. It’s where all the adults, and thus all the kids, gather to talk and hang out. The noise was incredible! You have the women all meeting to discuss a wedding that’s going to take place this weekend, the men all drinking and laughing, vendors and other locals having a good time as they hawk their wares, and children wrestling, bopping each other in the head, picking up the younger kids (who yell in excitement or cry blue murder), roaring like tigers, screaming, begging their mom’s for a treat or attention and then the regular bustle of an African Salon filled with gossip and the blare of the local radio station.
It was very loud, to say the least. The people are all kind and welcoming, and I was introduced to another wave of family friends. It’s terrible, I can’t keep anyone’s name straight anymore except for the little kids.
The end result is that if I end up coming back from Gulu for any reason I’ve been invited to the wedding on Saturday. Brenda’s sister and a very nice fellow by the name of Scott are getting married up at the Bahá‘í House of Worship in the African style. Even after a lengthy discussion this morning with Brenda I’m not entirely sure I understand how this is hugely different from a Western style wedding, but part of it seems to be how the wedding is paid for. Because it’s terribly offensive to not be invite the whole family these weddings are huge, and therefore expensive. So at the meetings held each week to organize the wedding pledge cards are passed around and people are asked to donate some shillings to help offset the cost of the wedding. This could be anything from 20 Shillings (less than 1 cent CDN) to 5000 or 20,000 Shillings ($2.50 and $10.00).
‘Family’ is a much more encompassing expression in Africa than in Canada. There is the standard nuclear family (mother, father, siblings), and then there is the extended family (grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc.) but the extended family has to be considered for the maternal and paternal side of both the bride and groom. Then add friends of the bride and groom, their children, and any friends that come but don’t want to go alone and so bring a friend of their own for company. Ok, we’re now at what I would consider to be a fairly large Canadian wedding. BUT WAIT! THERE’S MORE!
Women born in the same month often get together in a sort of ‘womens club’, kind of like Bridge night or book club or what-have-you. They all have to be invited. So to give an example Jaja was (I believe) born in August, so the four women who get together with her because they were also born in August and grew up with her have to be invited. That applies to the grandmothers, aunts, mothers-in-law, female friends, etc. So now the number has increased again. As I listened to Brenda explain the process of this African-style wedding I just couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer size of it. Other groups like the ‘womens group’ kept being added, and while there is of course some overlap, a lot of it is pulling more and more people into the celebration.
I don’t think I will get married in Africa.

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