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Sunday, May 10, 2009


Wending through gardens and homesteads on a path barely wide enough for our motorcycle, Scott and I made our way to a pre-wedding "introduction" ceremony this afternoon. In the old days, this would have been a smaller and more impromptu negotiation between the families for exchanging women (to marry used to require giving a sister or other close female relative to the bride's brothers in exchange for her!) or later for paying the goat bride price. In the last few years, with influence from Baganda culture, it has morphed into a full-scale party which rivals the wedding for preparation and expense. The groom's delegation comes to the bride's home, bearing a pre-negotiated load of gifts. His relatives and the brides sit in the yard under temporary pole and tarp shelters, made festive with balloons and the ubiquitous decorating material: toilet paper. All the neighbors are there too, easily a hundred people or more, anyone who helped contribute to the inflated budget or who is attracted to the blaring tinny music or who wants a peek at the fun. There is much good-natured jesting and verbal riposte around a dramatic search for the right girl. The bride's family will parade out 3 to 5 young women at a time, often with sparkling chiffon wraps over their heads and faces, and he will have to decide if one of the hidden women is the right one. Once that is settled, the gifts are presented and evaluated. In today's case two very good looking goats were brought, and let me say the people of Bundibugyo are all about goats. The first was passed but the second, which was trailing twin kids, caused a lot of flurry and argument. Proverbs were exchanged in a witty way, until finally the bride's family accepted the supposedly sub-standard goat with the addition of some money. Marriage is more than the formalization of a passion, clearly there is a large element of the pragmatic, of money and family and loyalty and alliance, of survival. We did not stay through the whole ceremony.

The day reminded me of a picture of redemption. Today's bride was a school girl some years ago whom I wept over, a girl who ran away after being abused by a teacher, who dropped out of sight while she bore a child. Improbably, there she was, dressed in white, with styled hair and her strikingly beautiful face, being received into the family of a Congolese bishop. Those goats were for her, a symbol of her value. Her lost education, her stubborn refusal to implicate the father of the child, her abrupt graduation into the maturity of motherhood as she continues to raise the little boy . . all were forgotten in this day. Straight out of Hosea, a concrete picture of our hearts, loved by God not because we are innocent but because we are we.

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