Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Yesterday I got married. At least I think I did. I certainly feel very married today. What started out as a plan for marriage negotiations between my family here, the Contehs and Saidu’s family, the Timbos gradually evolved into a full-fledged traditional African wedding, complete with sharing of water, a goat, kola nuts, calabash, bride price, wedding feast, dancing and drumming, palm wine and so much more. Actually, it was a wonderful day and every aspect was either great fun, deeply meaningful, thought-provoking or inspiring. The day started in the kitchen, of course, where Sallay and Mabinty and others were preparing a feast to welcome the Timbo family to Mapaki. Timbos arrived somewhat late (by Canadian, not Sierra Leonean standards) and my brothers, Kouame and Kannal decided that the Timbos would need to pay a fine for their tardiness before they could meet with me. While the family was arriving and settling in, therefore, I was whisked away to several safe hiding places…chief’s parlour, women’s store, behind the family home, etc., guarded by the village headman, my sister and mother, women of the village and sundry others. Negotiations for my release ensued, though I started to worry when the waiting dragged on long enough for the women dancers and drummers to discover and make quick work of the palm wine, which disappeared as the drumming became louder and dancing more intense. Finally Sallay and Mabinty announced that the negotiations were successful and I was allowed to join the rest of the waiting throng in the parlour of the guest house where representatives of all generations of both families assembled, surrounded by neighbours and friends on the porch and hallway. How to describe the next few hours! Well, parables and wisdom abounded from both families, symbols of life and peace and love were solemnly circulated and shared, gifts and kind words and encouragement were exchanged, the goat munched away on grass, I perched on my straw mat where I was asked if I would accept Saidu’s love by accepting (or not) the Timbos’ calabash and 100 kola nuts wrapped in leaves and bound with white thread (for peace). I said yes, to the relief of all, was welcomed and thanked by all the Timbos and then was encouraged to think of the wisest person in my family who would forever play the role of mediator, should Saidu and I ever experience strife and signify my choice by handing to that person the calabash and kola. My choice, of course, was my father, the chief, who happily agreed to play this important role in our future lives (though I can’t imagine ever calling on him in this function). More sharing and this time the Timbos thanked all who had a hand in raising me, from the babies to the aunties to the elders in the village, all of whom received a token of thanks in the form of several thousand leones in an envelope, often shared among a group (my family, all the male or female students in my household, the eldest women in the village, etc.). My “bride price” was handed over and I’m told that some of this will come back to the Timbos when the Contehs provide me with the pots I’ll need to set up house at their compound in Makeni. The rest will be used to buy bags of rice to share among the Conteh family. We ended the day with a big meal of rice, introducing the Timbos to Mapaki’s library (they were suitably impressed), chatting with and saying goodbye to friends who came from numerous locales to participate in this event, and then crashing around 7pm. Today we are comfortably sitting side by side in the library, each of us plugging away at a computer…Saidu writing work reports and me getting caught up with overdue school work. We talked a bit this morning about yesterday, and both are still not sure if we really are married or not. I think that, after consulting the chief, we will formalize this traditional wedding and register it with our local district council. Historically, few traditional weddings have been registered or formalized, but this requirement is now part of the new "gender" laws designed to protect the rights of women.

I’ve had some emails asking where we would set up house. Well, the plans are that we will continue living arrangements much the same as they now are with me based in Mapaki and Saidu staying where he needs to for his job (Mapaki, Mayagba, Makonkorie, and Makeni). I’ll spend weekends at the Timbo compound in Makeni, a wonderful egalitarian, shared living arrangement with Mother Timbo, Saidu’s daughter, brother, sister, sister-in-law and various nieces and grandchildren. We have a very comfortable room in the house and have as much private or shared time with people I really like as we want. Everyone helps with maintenance in whatever way they can and meals are either shared or not, depending on each person’s whim or wish. The house is situated on the edge of the town with two magnificent forested hills and a corn field as a backdrop and the market or “downtown” area a short walk away. The family has lived there for decades and so are friends with most in the neighbourhood. I’m feeling very privileged to now have a village home in Mapaki and a town home in Makeni. Other plans in the works…we are going to try to start rebuilding the small herd of cattle that Saidu kept before the war, cattle that were his “savings” for the children’s education but were stolen and slaughtered by rebels. Added to this will be some goats and sheep and all will be cared for Saidu’s uncle. My dream is to also eventually use these to produce milk and cheese, two commodities I have yet to see here. And of course, the work that I am doing with schools and PSI and cdpeace and the chiefdom will continue as before. We hope that one day Canadian immigration will see fit to open the door to enable Saidu to visit Canada, but expect that will be a long time from now. We’ll see. In the meantime, thanks to all who have sent well wishes. Photos are posted here.

Photo - Mother-in-law Mrs. Rebecca Timbo, me holding my mom, Saidu and grand-neice MJ.