To all those still paying attention, Bethany and I would like to issue an apology. We are sorry we have not blogged in a VERY long time and we promise to do our best to keep this from happening again. When we got back from Thailand/Cambodia it was hard for us to sum up 2 of the greatest weeks of our lives in a blog…we had so much to say but it was as if we just couldn’t get the point of it out. We wanted to talk about every detail, and unlike our past exploits and adventures it was difficult to summarize and condense. It was magical, and we hope to blog about it soon, but we are still unable to put together a cohesive, yet readable summary.
In the meantime, you get some random thoughts/comments from my brain. I understand if most of you decide to stop reading now… J
Last weekend I attended a Beja wedding celebration. I haven’t been to anything like it since I arrived, so I decided to jump at the opportunity to go once one of my staff invited me. The whole thing started out as I would have expected: I was welcomed with another staff member and we sat down, men separated from women (women nowhere in sight) and we ate some food out of a communal dish with about 5 other men I didn’t know. After the meal came the real learning experience.
As all of the men started filing out of the tent where we ate another group moved in and I was informed that the negotiations would be starting. “Negotiations?” I asked. “Haven’t they already agreed to terms?” Yes and no was the answer I received. Apparently agreements have been made, but in order to seal these ‘arrangements’ (aka bride price) a state representative meets with two men, one representing the bride and the other the groom, and they all sign and agree…if things are going well. There are, apparently, cases where misunderstandings or changes in plans are brought to the table and arguments start up, and negotiations can be ongoing for a long time. In this case there was a small debate over something fairly inconsequential – and it seems to me the less important an issue is in the East the more it has potential to make trouble – and they ended with signing.
Once both representatives signed the groom was congratulated and all the men shifted to another area. Keep in mind I haven’t seen any women yet. None. Nowhere. Zero.
At this point the dancing begins. At our wedding we had a square dance. At my friend’s weddings we have had everything from slow traditional dances to down and dirty club dances. At this wedding we had a male only traditional dance.
The dance was, uhm, unique. The ‘professional’ dance troupe started it all off with a professional ‘famous’ singer by dancing in circles, swinging their swords, jumping as high as they could, and fighting mock battles. All the while men, young and old, would run through the dancing area to shake swords and pound their fists when the singer said something they agreed with. It was quite chaotic, and very un-rhythmic. The crowd would undulate in and out, and men would run into each other and act macho, as though they wanted to pick a fight. It was seriously like a lot of punk rock concerts I went to growing up, and the men seemed almost juvenile in the intensity of their unbridled excitement.
I asked my Beja colleague what was going on…why do the men run up and down, and shake swords and fists. He told me that they are saying “I am brave, I am a hero” when they do this. They are running up when the singer says something about their tribe, or about their ancestors. He sings mainly about tribal issues and being strong. Right…at a wedding…songs about being a hero and fighting…not about love, or the relationship…fighting.
As I was pondering the deeper meaning things really began to break loose with the walls of onlookers collapsing into the middle and everyone jumping around, waving their swords, running into each other, yelling, and barely keeping rhythm with their movements. Then the moment us Kawajas fear the most came…the old man that thought that perhaps the Kawaja wants to be involved…perhaps he would enjoy being forced into this celebration. It is always either the older ones, or the younger ones that force you into these things. The older because they don’t understand that you have no similar traditions and are clueless about what they expect of you, the younger because they know you are clueless and want to laugh with/at you. Well, the old man pulled me up, pushed me into the throng and before I knew it I was slowly keeping time, waving a sword, with a group of Beja men around me shouting and smiling at my presence.
It was confusing. Scary even. I had a sword in my hand and lots of men around me had swords…and they thought it was fun to be aggressive. I don’t like weapons. I don’t like being around them, and I don’t like holding them. Most of all, I don’t like holding them and having them hit by other weapons and not knowing how to respond. I kept smiling through it all, anxious for the time when the sword was in someone else’s hand who knew what was going on. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad experience…it was fun…it just stretched me a bit because being confused is one thing, but being confused when people are waving instruments of death is quite another.
Needless to say, I lived. I think the groom may have eventually seen his bride that day also… J
A boy and his mother are taking the bus from Kassala to Khartoum and the boy has brought a live chicken along to sell for money on the way. The chicken begins making a lot of noise so a man that is very irritated by the volume of the chicken’s cries comes up to the boy and asks “How much for the chicken?”. The boy gives him a price and the man agrees. As soon as the chicken is in his hands he throws it out the nearest window and turns to go back to his seat. The boy’s mother begins yelling at the man “Why did you do that? What were you thinking…” and just keeps yelling. The man walks up to the boy and says, “How much for your mother?”
Pretty good joke. I just love that the joke involves something as ‘normal’ in Sudan as bringing a live chicken on a bus.