Being a bridesmaid has been different for every wedding I’ve been in (that would be eight). But the most unique was last weekend when I was a bridesmaid here in Uganda.
In America, I’ve been asked to be a part of the wedding party months in advance (even over a year!).
Here it was four weeks before the wedding.
In America, I usually help the bride with wedding plans, go shopping with her for various items, help her think through the details, put together invitations, etc.
Here the bride lost her phone and lives in another part of the country, so there was practically no communication with her before the wedding.
In America, choosing the bridesmaids’ dresses is a big ordeal. It can involve multiple shopping trips, not to mention trips to a fitting room. Then measurements are sent off as a dress is ordered. Months later, there is a fitting, alterations, and another send off. A few weeks before the wedding you hope to receive the dress fitting perfectly.
Here I showed up the day of the event and was handed my dress when I was supposed to be changing. (For both days of events…more to come on this.) I had never seen it before, didn’t even know what color it would be. I had certainly never tried it on. I did send measurements in advance, so I was able to work with what was there. (Like any seasoned bridesmaid, I came with a bag of safety pins. They came in handy for both me and the flower girl.)
In America we have a rehearsal the night before the wedding. Here we don’t. This leads to some confusion, careful imitating, and occasional mistakes for the random Muzungu (white) bridesmaid who has never even attended a wedding in Uganda before this.
In America we have a wedding ceremony, usually in a church. Then there is a reception that is often at the church, or somewhere nearby.
Here Friday afternoon/evening was the Give Away/Introduction party. (I seem to get different answers everytime I try to ask about the distinction between the two, and I have decided they were a two-in-one package for this wedding.) It involved a big lunch, singing, dancing, exchanging gifts between the couple and their families as well as the maids and other guests giving gifts, a brief message from a pastor (Dr. Rev. Ben Tumuheirwe for those of you who konw him), cake, and many other things I am sure I missed or didn’t totally understand since it was all conducted in Rukiga. The only time there was really English that day was when the m.c. was encouraging the bridesmaids to smile, and thanking me for smiling, from the microphone. The wedding ceremony in the church was the next morning. Then we drove 2 1/2 hours to the groom’s village for a party there. (We crammed over twenty adults and children in a 15-passenger van to get there.)
In America, weddings are typically on Saturdays, and in the afternoon or evening. The earliest I’ve ever heard of a wedding happening is 10:00 am, and that is quite stressful for the bridal party to be ready on time.
Here the ceremony in the church was schedudled for 8:00am. But after a late night with the Give Away party, the couple was encouraged to change the time to 9:00am. That would never happen back home (that early, nor changing the time)!
In America the bridal party always comes in before the bride/couple whenever entering the church, reception, etc.
Here the bride/couple always went first, with the exception of flower girls going in front.
In America the bridal party usually spends a significant amount of time taking pictures after the ceremony with a professional photographer.
Here we stopped at a hotel with a small garden for less than ten minutes while a friend took pictures.
In America the bridesmaids and groomsmen are always matched up and “partners” for the whole experience.
Here there were many more girls (some quite young) a part of the festivities than guys. And not all the girls from Friday were bridesmaids on Saturday. I really didn’t even meet most of the groomsmen until after the event began on Saturday evening. But I did get paired up with one at that time…which was helpful when walking along muddy foot paths in the mountainous area while wearing high heals and a long skirt. He even translated some things for me to keep me from being in the dark all the time. (People often tell me they think I’m understanding when I’m not…apparently I’m really good at active listening, even when I don’t understand the words.)
In America creating the guest list can be a difficult task, not to mention the seating chart for the reception.
Here basically anyone you know, or who has simply heard about the event, might show up and enjoy the meal. No need for tables, and chairs are just a bonus. A matt on the ground is totally fine. Heck, the grass works too!
I’m sure there are many other differences and interesting things that occurred…like being asked to stand up as the only white person present, and wave to the congregation during the ceremony…but I will stop there for now.
All in all, it was a privilege and fun experience to be in Evath & Moses’ wedding. (By the way, I had no idea who the groom was before Friday evening…)