A few nights ago, I attended a Pular wedding. My host mother was late to come home due to attending what turned out to be the first part of the wedding, and–as I was helping with dinner–we had a conversation that went, in full:
HM: You’re going to help at a Pular wedding.
Because I am dumb, I assumed she meant sometime in the future. She did not, as evidenced by her watching me eat melon after diner and looking impatient. Finally, I got:
HM: I’m waiting for you!
HM: *sigh* We’re leaving now.
And so we did. I put on a jacket and she shoved me into a taxi. As we arrived in the neighborhood where the wedding was happening, she cheerily pointed out the women’s prison. So that was fun.
When we got in, she said hello to everyone and left me in a room full of her distant relatives without much in the way of an introduction. As in, I don’t think people knew why I was there or what my connection to my host mother was. They thought I was a French woman there on vacation.* Nonetheless, they were very accomodating, and a younger relative turned herself into my translator for the evening. Let it never be said that Senegalese folks will not roll with the punches when a stranger shows up to a family gathering.
I explained that I’m a student and that I speak a little Wolof, which delighted everyone for the approximately 30 seconds it took for them to learn that I don’t speak Pular, the first language of most folks in the room. Once I told them I was American, they decided that either I couldn’t speak French/was a good target for English practice, so the rest of the evening carried on in a weird mix of Pular-to-Wolof-to-French–to (occasionally) English on their end and French-to-Wolof-to-Pular on mine.
However, things went pretty smoothly for the first two hours, as we were just watching Indian soap operas. I think the show’s actually a PSA about autism, because the protagonist’s autistic daughter drives most of the show’s plot. In this episode, she had run away, and her father was trying to convince the police to help find her. Despite not having seen the show for a month, the plot was easy to follow.
In the second Indian soap opera (no autistic child, and much more confusing romantic intrigue), the same wedding was still happening that has been happening every time I’ve seen it this month. They have a healthy 5:1 reaction shot to dialogue ratio, so it’s slow going.
By this point, my host mother’s possible second cousin (who looked to be all of 15) had adopted me. I think he was the younger brother of the groom, whose house we were in, but I’m still not sure. But–after a confusing three hours where I wound up being force fed fish and rice at midnight and then sleeping on the floor with my host mother while the griot woman prayed–he was the one to show me to the door when the bride rolled up.
It was, at this point, 3:30 in the morning.
The bride was fully veiled, but it kind of looked like they had just used a blanket to cover her.** She remained fully covered through her entrance into the house, ascent to the apartment, and the (long) sermon/blessing by the imam. Then she was led into the conjugal bedroom. My host mother tried to show her to me (like a zoo animal, I swear) and was annoyed that she had locked the door. I assume the poor woman had gone to bed, because it was nearly 4 in the morning at that point.
While she was doing whatever she was doing, the rest of us ate yogurt porridge. I love yogurt porridge, so this was fine, but since it was 4 in the morning my body was really confused as to a) why I was awake and b) why, if I was going to be awake, I was sober. So the yogurt porridge went down weirdly.
At around 4:30 in the morning, my host mother finally finished up her bride-attending duties and we left for home (the groom walked us to our car, so who knows when he got to go to bed). I still have no idea what the bride looks like, though I am pleased to have been a guest at her wedding.
If nothing else, the wedding was a nice reminder that I actually am a little bit integrated into my family’s life here. Even when not with my host mother, I recognized several of the guests–her sisters and cousins, mostly, and (to my delight) my teenaged host cousin, who made faces at me when we were bored. I was basically hanging out in a stranger’s house for six hours, but I got along okay, both linguistically and socially.
tl;dr: Went to a stranger’s wedding. Ate some porridge. Didn’t die. Hoo-hah!
* Not assuming this–this was the first question asked to gauge who I was.
** Almost no one here veils, so I don’t think it’s an article of clothing that folks have just lying around. Also, according to my French teacher this is a purely Pular custom, not a Senegalese one. She’s Wolof, and said her wedding party was pretty much nothing like this. Also, apparently the bride has to remain veiled for a whole week, yeesh. (Though this may be more of a “do it around the older relatives” thing now.)